Different strokes for different folks. Varying strategies for thoroughbred re homing organisations

On my recent trip to the UK, I was astounded to see variations in horse cultures from countries with a common ancestry. I would like to discuss specifically, the variations in relation to the perceptions of the Thoroughbred horse and how those perceptions and history influence the best practices for organisations committed to the welfare of horses at the conclusion of their racing careers.

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Until  recently 95% of police horses in Australia were thoroughbred

In Australia, the Thoroughbred has always been recognised as a competitive equestrian and pleasure horse, as well as a supreme racing athlete. The Thoroughbred is a relatively new breed of horse, beginning its development only 400 years ago and has been in Australia for the country’s entire equestrian history. It is the foundation of the only recognised Australian breed, the Australian Stock Horse.

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The all purpose Australian stock horse sports some of the best thoroughbred blood lines in the world

Up until only 20 years ago, Thoroughbreds were double registered as Stock Horses and Thoroughbreds. The Stock Horse foundation has some of the best racing blood in the world. When Australia burst onto the international equestrian scene, they did so on the Thoroughbred. Our second Olympic Games, brought us three equestrian medals; two gold and silver all on the backs of Thoroughbreds. image

The highly successful Australian olypic team from Rome 1960 all ride thoroughbred horses 

From that time forward, the Thoroughbred has been the backbone of Australian equestrianism. Up until recently, the Thoroughbred was trained to the highest level in dressage, show jumping and eventing. The introduction in any serious way of the European Warmblood and other foreign breeds is relatively new, occurring in the last 30 years or so.

A market for the Thoroughbred exists and always has. Some damage to the market has been done by the introduction of the foreign breeds, but largely, Australia appreciates and utilises the abilities of the Thoroughbred. The focus for the rehoming of Thoroughbreds in Australia needs to be education of riders, particularly those who have been influenced by the current fashion of the foreign breeds. Professional retraining of Thoroughbred horses, in numbers that can supply the hungry market and to a lesser extent, the renewed promotion of the Thoroughbred as a competition and leisure horse.

The UK has an historic and rich horse culture that goes way back before the advent of the Thoroughbred. In fact, in the 10,000 years of history of the UK, the Thoroughbred is a very new addition. Breeds have, over the millennia in the UK, been developed for specific purposes, such as, war horses, Draft breeds, riding breeds, carrying and carriage breeds.

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Purpose bred horses in the equestrian environment of the UK. Top left the Irish sport horse, top right Spanish breeds found there way into the UK with the Romans. Bottom right the ancient Cleveland bay developed as a load carrying horse.

The original English-bred horses were combined with an infusion of Arabian blood only recently, to develop the speed and stamina of the modern Thoroughbred. The Thoroughbred has not been needed for any specific purpose, other than racing.

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Only in recent times were these three foundation stallions added to the equestrian landscape in order to develop the modern thoroughbred.

So in the UK, the Thoroughbred is a racehorse, the Irish sport horse is great for jumping, hunting and eventing, the European Warmbloods and Spanish breeds suit dressage, with various breeds of ponies and mixtures of the aforementioned breeds having served as pleasure horses. There has been no need to bring the Thoroughbred into the equation.

Now with large numbers of Thoroughbreds leaving the racing industry and with greater expectation of the population in relation to horse welfare, Thoroughbred rehoming organisations in the UK need to promote the use of the Thoroughbred in the various equestrian fields. Money is being spent promoting competitions featuring Thoroughbred classes and awards are given for Thoroughbreds excelling in open competition. This needs to be the main focus of this rehoming market, but it needs to happen in tandem with an educational focus giving potential Thoroughbred owners the tools and support needed to make the rehoming of these ex-racehorses an enjoyable experience.

So two surprisingly different market places. Australia with an existing market, requiring a focus on education and supply to the market and the UK still in the process of developing an accepted and viable market, but also with a requirement for education and support for that market.
I have been retraining Thoroughbreds for nearly 30 years and it wasn’t until I visited the UK recently with a focus on Thoroughbred rehoming, that I became aware of the acute differences in the horse cultures and the varying requirements in the field of Thoroughbred rehoming throughout the world.

Each market must be assessed and focused on the most relevant issues in its unique environment. There is no doubt that each market in each country with a thoroughbred industry will face its own challenges and must develop strategies to siut their particular needs.

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Education, training and support are esential elements of any thoroughbred re homing program . 

Largely, I think a three-pronged approach of establishing a market, producing a product and then developing an industry around the development of the product, is the way forward for the Thoroughbred racehorse. Rehoming industry, these three elements will be required in all environments but each in varying portions determined by the individual market places.

Personally, I am happy to be involved in such a worthy cause in a positive way, it’s disappointing to see some of the passionate anti-racing organisations wasting their energies in a negative way, rather than working positively to produce a better outcome for horses at the end of their racing careers.

 

A diamond in the rough. Finding the hidden horseman

 

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When I first started working with the inmates at St Heliers prison, I would go up for a week at a time in order to train the inmates in the skills required for them to do their part in the retraining of the ex-racehorses from the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust. Horses donated to the Trust, go to St Heliers to let down before we commence working them. Most racehorses, when they leave the track, have had no socialisation since they left their mums as foals. Generally, for most, if not all of their lives, they are wrapped in cotton wool, stabled and spelled in individual yards so they don’t get hurt. Because of this, they miss out on learning the critical social skills required to be a horse. Imagine keeping a kid in an isolated room, sometimes letting him see other kids, but not allowing him to play, touch or interact. You feed him what he needs, you keep him immaculately cleaned and healthy in the body, lock him up from say, one until twelve years of age, give him very little education and no communication skills and then send him to high school. The result would be terrible for the kid. Well that’s where a racehorse often is at the end of his racing days. At St Heliers, we have big paddocks where we put five or six horses in together, often with a horse that has already been socialised or better still, an old tough draught horse. Let the old fella teach the young fellas how it’s done.

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Once they have had six months of lessons from the other horses and time to let down from racing, the inmates start to work with them. The inmates do around six weeks with each horse; natural horsemanship for want of a better word. Work in hand and lunging usually, no riding. The inmates do courses at the local TAFE in horse management, stable maintenance, farriery etc. In the first group of inmates I was involved with, there was a guy named Digger. Digger was a nice bloke, very polite and respectful – a fair effort when you consider I am an ex-copper. Digger was there when I gave all of the boys as a group, a lecture on what we do, how we do it and what was expected of them. Digger was quiet when I started to work hands-on with the horses. He stood back and carefully watched what I was doing and unlike some of the other boys, he wasn’t going to tell me what he knew and what he had done. Digger was fit with a hard look about him, and between you and me, about 10 kgs lighter than he is now. He seemed to have respect around the place, he was a trainer who worked out in the gym, did some boxing, and was always eating an egg to get his protein intake up. Gradually I got to work with all of the guys and Digger was one of the last. I asked him what he knew about horses and he told me he had done a bit with them as a kid. So Digger comes into the round yard with a horse they had christened Cranky. Now I knew Cranky’s reputation, the inmates didn’t know that as a racehorse, he was known as Evil. Cranky had his ears back constantly whenever a person was around and he would turn his backside to you if you went near him. He had bitten one inmate on the head, causing a nasty gash and scaring him out of the program. Digger was in the round yard working with Cranky under my instruction. He had chosen Cranky as his horse as he knew he had issues and had felt sorry for him. We were in the yard working on getting Cranky to lunge in a halter; he kept stopping and presenting his backside to Digger. Now Digger was very passive towards the horse and he needed some assertiveness. Eventually, with a bit of instruction, Cranky was lunging around the yard but quickly knocked up and decided he had had enough so he put the breaks on and was going nowhere. Very passively, Digger tried to encourage him forward, I gave him the spiel, be as firm as you need to be but as soft as you can be. Digger was too soft, not what you would expect for a tough bloke who had been in and out of prison all his life. I tried to talk him into a little more assertiveness, but he just wasn’t getting a result. After a while of ignoring Digger’s efforts to get him to go forward, Cranky decided to back up. Well that was it! Digger flogged him with the lunge whip and Cranky surged forward out of control, “Steady mate, steady.” I called to Digger, “Whoa, whoa.” I preceded to explain that there are a lot of grey areas between black and white and you need to just do what needs to be done, not over do it. Digger was red faced, fired up and a little embarrassed. In jail, you can’t let anyone get on top of you. This was the issue I assumed, conditioned reflex when someone is having a go at you, attack is the best line of defence. I went back to the hotel that night and couldn’t get that episode out of my mind. Digger had a very good feel and he could make a horseman but he needed to learn to control his emotions. The more I thought about it, the more I thought to myself, ‘I bet this is the way he leads his life. It’s probably why he finished up in jail.’ The next morning at the prison, I had decided that Digger could make a horseman and I was going to do my best to make it happen. Digger came up to me at the beginning of the day while I was standing by myself and said, “You know what happened yesterday? That’s how I live my life, that’s how I got here.” Who would have thought?…. We sat down and talked about him and where he had come from and Digger started to loosen up. He had a long-term girlfriend, whom he was loyal and seriously committed to and they had a son. At some stage, Digger’s good mates had started to warn Digger that they felt his misses was up to something shifty. Initially they didn’t go into detail, but told him to keep an eye on things. Digger wasn’t concerned, as he couldn’t see any issues and life went on. A mate started to warn him that another mate may be making some moves on his girl and Digger wouldn’t have it, “He is a good mate, he wouldn’t do that to me.” And after all, he trusted his girl. His mates kept giving him the heads up but he didn’t believe it and didn’t want to believe it and he did nothing proactive, didn’t raise it and went on with his life. One night his girl was staying away from home, they had been having a few issues, but she had sworn there was no-one else. Early in the morning, a mate turned up at Digger’s house and forced him to get into his car, “You need to see this.” he said. He drove Digger to where his girl was staying and he went into the house and saw his mate’s wallet on the table. He then found his wife in bed with his best mate, All his denial became an uncontrollable rage and basically he flogged the guy to within and inch of his life. Digger got eight years for the assault, which they also called a home invasion. Some would say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” The reality of the situation was that had Digger taken some action earlier, instead of doubting the honesty of his mates, he would probably not be in jail. Sure the relationship might have been over, but he would be out on the street. In a much smaller way, this is what Digger had done with the horse the day before. Digger told me he had worked as a stockman in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, “The things I have seen done to horses I won’t even tell you about, but I always believed there was a better way. I like what you do and I want to learn how to do it.” he said. Digger had committed and I could tell that his loyalty would not allow him to let the horses, or me, down. He decided to stick with Cranky and committed to him as well. Long before I had turned up, even though Cranky had some bad traits, Digger believed there was good in him and he was going to prove it to everyone. It was about a month when I returned to the prison for my next visit and I was working in the yard with a horse. Digger was standing watching from outside, with a horse standing quietly beside him with its head basically resting on Digger’s shoulder.

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Eventually, my focus went from the horse I was working on to Digger. “That’s not Cranky?” I enquired. “Yep,” came the reply with a cheeky proud smile, “that’s him.” “No way!” I replied in awe, “I can’t believe it!” This guy was a horseman, some people are born with it. Digger had been taken off track by outside influences and he would always have to control his temper, but he had what it took, he could get inside a horse’s head. Digger became the backbone of the program in prison, as he was passionate and committed.

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I decided that when he got out, I would employ him immediately, but I hadn’t seen him ride. When Digger had about two months to go on his sentence, I turned up with a saddle. “I want to see you ride.” I said. He was apprehensive about getting into a dressage saddle as he was used to a big western or stock job. Digger had become an expert at working in hand and I knew all he needed was to learn to sit still and he would ride as good as anyone. I put him up on Cranky, “Okay, put your legs here, sit up straight, relax your shoulders.” he did this well, “Now just do the same things you have been doing on the ground.” Cranky rounded into a nice frame, he bent calmly around Digger’s inside leg and walked off in a dressage frame. By the end of the lesson, Digger and Cranky could have won a preliminary dressage test – really! This was the horse’s first ride off the track and Digger’s first time in a dressage saddle and I couldn’t have been prouder. Digger now had two months to work on his riding before he would be released. I left Cranky with him, I couldn’t have done a better job myself so why would I take the horse away? Digger came to work with us at the TRT.

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                                                    Digger part of the team

On his first day, we did an exhibition at Equitana Sydney, what a culture shock. From the prison with a few inmates, all just existing from day to day, to assisting in front of a crowd of hundreds in a team that was earning respect. Digger took it in his stride and I think he felt he had arrived where he needed to be. Digger worked with us for two years, training dozens of horses.

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                            Digger re trained dozens of ex racehorses with the TRT

He finished Cranky’s training and we found him very good home. Digger had completed a farrier’s course in prison therefore saving us tens of thousands in shoeing costs. Unfortunately, we don’t pay that well.

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                                       Cranky once his retraining was complete

Digger had a new girlfriend who had a couple of kids. She had been the wife of a mate whom he was looking after, who had died of cancer. She was a great lady and really good for Digger, eventually one thing led to another and they became a couple. Digger was being loyal to his mate in looking after his wife and kids and she had a good man. They had a child and eventually Digger had to move on. He needed to make the money he could, working for himself. He had given me two good years on the outside and became a great mate.

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Digger would do anything for me as I would for him. I wished him all the best and off he went, he now works for himself as a farrier and horse trainer. Recently he helped me out at a course for soldiers coming home from conflict with PTSD, I can’t tell you how proud I was of him. He was a teacher and I heard him give the same advice that I had given him, “Be as firm as you need to be, but as soft as you can be.”

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                               Digger up the front with the soldiers he is a teacher

Irish/Arabian hospitality

Today I present for the Irish horse welfare trust in swords just out of Dublin. The hospitality of the Irish has been fenominal. I have visited numerous studs trainers and horse facilities. The horse culture is rich, historical and varied. It’s a whole different ball game to down under. I will do everything I can to promote the fact that thoroughbreds can make it any field, traditionally they have not been the choice of most Irish riders largely because of the variety of purpose bred horses over here.

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I have to thank the Godolphin/Darley organisation for what they have done for me while I have been away they are the pinical of professionalism in thoroughbred training and breeding, if everyone followed their lead in training and management the world would be a better place for horses. Of course it’s nice to have sheik Mahammad funding things but the reality is racing is a rich mans sport if you can’t afford to manage and treat horses correctly you shouldn’t be in the game.image

            Be. Our diggs at Godolphins Kildangan stud in Ireland 

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godolphin Darley head and shoulders above the rest in breeding training and caring for thoroughbred horses 

Part 5 “Mirrabooka” Horseman of the southern cross

A week later the Team for the 1956 Olympics is announced; Wood, Jacobs, Crago, Barker, Winchester and Thompson. Both Roycroft and Morgan are conspicuous in their absence. It was largely believed that Roycroft, in his 40s, was omitted due to his age. Most of the riders selected were in there 20s or early 30s.

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Roycroft was not impressed; he believed he had done enough to be selected. He had put his life on hold at the time, which for a father with a young family, was a much bigger deal than some of the young guys who were being supported by their parents. He had shown his abilities and he felt he had more than equaled all of the other trialists. It came down to age, something he couldn’t control. Roycroft was far from finished, though outwardly he supported the effort, just below the surface of his polite exterior was a burning desire to prove that he could do it. He would now have to wait for the next opportunity and continue to improve himself in four years and being four years older, push for another chance. As always, the challenger needs to be good enough to knock out a champion to prove his supremacy, take the referee out of the equations by being so good that they can’t leave you out. And in doing so, he would leave no stone unturned.

Morgan was filthy; he had no doubt that he had gotten off on the wrong foot with Mairinger. But he should have been shown more respect; no-one had worked, or was willing to work, as hard as him. There was talk that he was a risk due to his professional status as a football player. In these days the Olympics were strictly amateur, any hint of professionalism could be an embarrassment to Australia in the midst of holding its first Olympics. This didn’t placate Morgan and as he argued the point, he tried to rebuke his professional status but underneath he felt no matter what he did, he had ruined his chances of making it to the Games. Morgan wasn’t finished and he pooled his resources and garnished assistance from friends and relatives. When the Australian Team left for preparation in England, he was hot on their heals. Maybe someone would pull out, possibly an injury or illness, and should that opportunity arise to grab a spot, he would grab it. He entered all the competitions that the Australian Team entered and on most occasions beat most of them. He was proving to everyone that he was the better athlete and he would show them that they had made the wrong choice. Mairinger would have to admit he had made a mistake.

Maringar could not help but admire Morgan’s tenacity, what a competitor, what commitment, what potential. Morgan’s efforts were not wasted and they had been noted and stored by Franz for a later date, but for now he needed to focus on the task at hand.

The Australians competed at every opportunity, they rode borrowed horses and with limited preparation performed admirably. They developed a reputation for dash and courage, riding rounds on the cross-country fearlessly at high speed, but unfortunately there is nowhere to hide in the dressage arena and weaknesses were exposed by keen but green riders on horses sound and honest, but unfamiliar.

The Australian riders were gathered in a hotel room in Stockholm Sweden, the location for the Melbourne Olympic equestrian events. A newspaper article heralded the arrival of the Australian Jumping Team with a cartoon depicting an Australain aboriginal riding a kangaroo in the style of a bushranger.

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Dave Woods, the Captain of the Team, throws the paper on the table, “Looks like they are taking it pretty seriously.” he said with an air of disappointment.

“Any publicity is good publicity.” replied Horden. He had achieved his goal, Australia would compete and anything more from this point forward would be a bonus.

“Look on the bright side,” said Bunty Thompson, “if we don’t aim up no-one at home will even know about it!”

Crago is quick to find a positive in the room full of doubt. “Yeah, and when we win the gold medal no bastard will know about it either.”

The men’s laughter is broken as Mairinger enters the room. “Good to see you in good spirits gentleman, could I have everyone gather around the table for a moment please?”

Tomorrow the competition begins with the Dressage. To prepare a horse properly for the Olympics takes five years, we have had five months. Dressage is the specialty of the Continental riders, they have practiced it here in its classical form for 2,500 years. You have worked hard and are well on the right track, however five months can be no substitute for generations of tradition.

Do not be surprised or dejected if, at the end of the first day, we are behind. The second day is ours – speed and endurance. It has been generations since the Europeans rode this style for practical reasons. In Australia however, your lives have been based on it. As children you trotted miles to school, jumping all obstacles on the way. As adults you have ridden as stockmen, for hours mustering cattle and sheep. This is where we will come to the fore.

Gentlemen, you are the first Australians to compete on horseback at the Olympic level. Where you place is irrelevant, you have achieved your Olympic Dream. We are here, go out and do your country proud. The enormity of what has been achieved hits home suddenly and the relaxed air is gone. Yes they were behind the eight ball, but it is not the Australian way to just go out there and compete. There is stirring in the gut of the men as they contemplate the task at hand and they will certainly give it a serious crack.

In the warm up area for the cross county, Dave Woods rides up to Brian Crago who is about to start his round. “Lickety-split mate, don’t look back.” Crago replies with his usual humorous vibe, “By the time I finish this round they’ll be mentioning my name with
Betty Cuthbert and Dawn Fraser.” He smiles but his normal confidence is dented by the enormity of the occasion.

The starter commences the countdown with Crago on his horse standing in the 10 second box. Today he is riding for his country, it’s not about money it’s not about impressing the girls, this is the real deal and he will give it all he has. “4,3,2,1” Crago explodes out of the box and he attacks the first jump like it is the last he will ever ride; he is away. Over the loud speaker, the commentator crackles “And there goes the 3rd Australian rider, after a very poor day yesterday the Australians have been impressive to say the least on a daunting course, their previous two riders have gone clear and fast, and a good ride by this rider Crago, could actually see them in the standings.”

Crago rides like a man possessed, the crowd cheers as he shows no respect for the intimidating cross country course, his borrowed horse is bold, not the kind of horse he is used to, but he has obviously bought into Crago’s belief that nothing is too hard. At the halfway point, Crago’s round is the quickest to this point and he is starting to make ground on the rider in front of him, a German competitor who started his round a minute in front of his. It gradually becomes apparent that Crago will need to pass him. It is touch and go as to whether he should try to pass him prior to the next jump. Crago decides that patients is the better option and he slows his horse to a trot in order to let the German negotiate what is a fairly complicated water combination. A massive woven log of 1.2 meters with an equal spread,  a 1.5 meter drop into the water, one stride to a structure of giant woven bottles in the water with a height of 1 metre, two strides then up a 1 metre bank to exit the water.

The crowd has gathered at this jump though the line is straightforward, the water is relatively deep and many have fallen here today. The German’s horse is struggling with the round; he is obviously tired and needs to be urged on with the crop. He is put off slightly by the crowd, and finding a bad takeoff point at the first element, he scrambles over the massive woven log dragging his back end, the landing in the water is awkward to say the least  the one stride to the next element becomes a bumbling trot, he stops and hesitates before launching At the jump, his impetus all but gone The rider urges him on, he jumps early but the heavy water holds him back and he lands in the middle of the woven bottle element. The jumps construction is flimsy and with the horse scrambling all over it, it begins to disintegrate. The horse is now in a horrible tangled mess, trapped, his hindquarters awkwardly in the air he is unable to free himself and it is a life and death struggle to keep his head above water level.

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The German is thrown clear and is stunned as he surveys the scene and he hasn’t got a clue where to start. No one from the crowd moves to help. Crago, who has been held up and has watched the drama unfold, can see that if nothing happens quickly this horse will get a lung full of water and will be doomed. Crago jumps from his horse, and without hesitation enters the water. In a split second he is at the horse’s head, placing his knee under the horse’s cheek he holds the horse by the nose. Once he has broken the alignment of the horse’s spine, the horse surrenders as a zebra to a lion. The struggling ceases immediately and Crago holds the horse calmly, reassuring him until help arrives and the jump is dismantled. Crago releases the horse who has a big shake and is led, hardly the worse from the experience, out of the water.

There in no doubt Crago has saved his life. Unfortunately, Crago’s round is a mess and he now has 60 penalties for dismounting on course and with the extended delay in rebuilding the course the individual times are horribly mixed up. Crago receives ridiculous time penalties but they are irrelevant, the 60 point penalty for the dismount has ended the Australian Team’s slim chances of a medal.

Later in the day, Teams are seeing to their horses, washing down and packing up. The German Coach approaches Franz Mairinger. “A nasty incident out there today Franz.”
“Yes, you almost lost a horse.”
“But you lost a medal, what that rider did is tantamount to treason.”
“It is a pity about the medal, but that horse would have drowned.”
“There are many horses Franz, sometimes sacrifices must be made. No doubt your rider will be disciplined”.

Mairinger is disgusted at the attitude of the German Coach, who obviously puts medals well ahead of horses’ welfare. Franz loves the competition but not as much as he loves his horses.
“This attitude is the reason I left the School, the love of horses is being lost on the continent. These Australians still have the belief that a horse and rider are partners; the horse is not a machine to be discarded at the drop of a hat. It is for this reason that they will win medals, no, not at these Games, but as long as they can maintain this honest respect for their equine partners, the medals will come.”
The German scoffs at Franz’s honest spoken heartfelt words. “Beautiful words Franz, but words do not win medals.”

Maringar approaches Crago who is shattered that he had let his Teammates down. Crago speaks before Mairinger can get a word in. “I’m sorry Franz, I really am, I’ve let you down. I know I cost us a bloody medal. I’m sorry Franz. I just couldn’t leave that horse to drown mate. I just couldn’t do it.”

Mairinger, smiling, places his hand on Crago’s shoulder, “You have nothing to be sorry for. If anything, I want to thank you.”
“Thank me? For what?”
“For reminding me of the reason I took this job and how much I love horses. We certainly have something here amongst us Australians that is sadly missing elsewhere. I am heartened by what I have seen and found here amongst you and your Teammates. We will be back.”

Maringar places his arm warmly around Crago’s shoulders and they walk off. The ice has been broken, now the serious work with four years to prepare horse and rider for the next Games to be held in Rome, begins. No stone will be left unturned.

re training the ex racehorse part 10

 

Once the work in hand and lunging are established it is time to start the horse under
saddle. All of the systematic work previously carried out has led us to this point.
If the horse is working with the four essentials, forward contact on the outside reign,inside flexion, tempo and Rhythm you can be pretty certain that there will be a smooth transition to the ridden work.
By this time, any idiosyncrasies the horse may have should have been exposed, if at any time you are uncertain about mounting the horse seek experienced assistance.
Every workout at this point should move through work in hand into a minimum of 20
minutes lunging or however long it takes to have the horse traveling as you would like him to whilst ridden.

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“Prince Thorbro” blue print for the life of a racehorse.

My old man was a punter and a pretty serious one at one stage. As I got more and more involved in horses Dad and one of our mates, Thorny, decided they would breed a racehorse. Dad decided he wanted to enjoy the journey, a good idea considering most horses bred to race don’t even make it to the track.

Dad got into it, researching bloodlines and decided what he wanted to breed. It so happened that a girl I was working with was looking to lease her thoroughbred mare as a broodmare for a season so Dad looked at the breeding and it suited the stallion he wanted to use. Now truth be known, all thoroughbreds trace back to four stallions and it wouldn’t matter which bloodline you follow, it will lead you to some champion who did something impressive within a generation or two.

So we picked up the mare, she was small, not 15 hands but she was solid. We put her on the float and drove her to the stallion up in the Hunter Valley. This was all an adventure for Dad who hadn’t had much hands-on experience with horses. We met the stallion, a big solid fella of 16 hands. County was his name and as Dad constantly reminded us, he was the son of Vain and he was by the great Wilkes. Didn’t mean much to me but it had Dad psyched.

You should have seen the excitement when we got news of a positive pregnancy test, champaign all round! We picked the mare up and bought her back from the Hunter. She spent the rest of her pregnancy in a paddock full of massive shire horses at a friend’s property in Kangaroo Valley. Dad visited her every couple of weeks and gave us in-depth reports of how the pregnancy was going. As the big day approached, Dad moved down to the farm and stayed on his own with the mare, he wanted to be there for the birth “in case there were any issues” not that he would have known what to do in any case. He got there 10 days before the birth because “they do sometimes come early”. 10 days after the due date, Dad was still waiting. Finally, it looked like this would be the day, the mare was waxed up and things were looking imminent. Dad sat with her in the heat all day long. The foal didn’t arrive so he sat there all night; still no foal, he was starting to worry. At 6.00 am he went to bed exhausted, at
7.00 am the caretaker woke him up to say “Congratulations you have a new foal.”

The excitement cancelled out the disappointment of missing the birth. “Prince Thorbro” had arrived. There was much conjecture over the name but it had to have the word Prince in it, one of our friend’s big draft mares had died in foal a couple of days earlier, her name was Princess and Dad had nursed her through her final hours.

I was with Prince as early as I could be on the day he was born. I wanted to implement some imprinting principles. Ideally you want to be there at the birth, but you can only do your best. I sat with Prince and his mum all day, by the end of the day I could handle him all over, I could restrain him, move him around with finger pressure and touch him all over. He had had the clippers on him a halter and was leading gently, he was happy to be with me and his mum was fine with it.

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In the first week I put him on and off the float, bagged him down and put a girth on him. After a week, I left him alone with mum to do as he pleased. My friend wanted to separate him from the herd so he wouldn’t get hurt, but I wanted him to have the opportunity to live as naturally as possible. No one educates horses as well as other horses. Prince spent the next six months with mum at Kangaroo Valley in the herd of giant Shires playing with foals his age that were as big as his mum.

At around six months, we brought him to Sydney with mum, we had a paddock in Coogee believe it or not. In the middle of the eastern suburbs of Sydney, backing onto a Defence Force property, I had about five horses there, a round yard, a massive dam and a full cross country course which I had built to train on.

Prince was an independent little fella who didn’t hang around with his mum, but spent time with the other horses. He ate with mum and this worked well because she was a great eater, he learnt that if he didn’t eat up, he missed out. Being a good eater is imperative for a good racehorse, you can’t run without fuel.

Prince spent less and less time with his mum. At the same time, I had a half draft mare in the paddock, she was to have foaled but it had turned out she had a phantom pregnancy. She went through the whole process and nothing happened, she did however produce plenty of milk, which Prince discovered. I’m not sure who adopted who, but Prince was soon feeding happily from the big girl, he was happy with his wet nurse, she was happy with her surrogate foal and mum got rid of that pesky foal who was eating all of her tucker and ruining her boobs. Shortly after, we returned Prince’s mum to her owner. Mum didn’t fret, Prince didn’t fret and it was the easiest weaning you could ever ask for. Dad spent more and more time with Prince, he hand fed him and spent day on end just hanging around with him, it was good for both of them.

I did loads of groundwork with him over the next year or so and I think he saw me as his big brother, the imprinting done at birth was worth every minute, he trusted me implicitly, farriers, vets, dentists none could believe how easy he was to deal with. On one occasion, when someone left the gate open, Prince, my leopard Appaloosa, our son’s miniature pony Tuppence and Archie the shire horse; and at that time the biggest horse in the southern hemisphere, decided to go exploring. I was working at the Mounted Police at the time and we got a call to say that there were horses running loose on Anzac Parade. The location was about halfway between my paddock and Randwick Racecourse. I had my fingers crossed that the runaways were horses from the track. No such luck; the motley crew had galloped for about three kilometres down the medium strip on Anzac Parade in peak hour traffic. Anyone who knows Sydney, knows how busy that road is in the morning. Luckily no one was hurt and Prince made the papers before he even started racing. I rode the big draft horse home with the motley crew following behind.

 

It was about this time that tragedy befell my family. My younger brother, aged only 27, died of cancer. It was devastating. We all have to deal with this stuff in our lives, but things like this really do change who we are, sometimes for a while, sometimes forever. My Mum and Dad did it tough, you’re not supposed to outlive your kids. Prince became a bit of a crutch for Dad and he spent every minute he could at the paddock, sometimes just sitting and quietly watching and sometimes hand feeding or fixing fences. Prince was a great distraction – something to focus on. I just made myself busy. Prince was a part of that, I just kept busy as it stopped me thinking; I don’t think I’ve ever stopped being busy since.

image

As a result of our constant hands-on contact with Prince, he was like part of the family. He was the centre of every conversation – he was something positive we could all share. By the time Prince had reached the age to be broken in, he was so well handled it was just a matter of getting on and riding him. I worked and educated him as I would one of my eventers, or a Police horse. He worked around the streets of the eastern suburbs calmly in the traffic, he built a nice dressage foundation and popped over a few fences. To get him used to working confidently amongst other horses, we did troop drill with the Mounted Police. We worked in a section of four and even did a practice for the Police Musical Ride with the Police Band. We did light half-pace gallop work around a local Australian Rules football field. His dressage was going so nicely I decided to enter him into a competition. He performed admirably at a local show and came home with a first place ribbon. He competed up to elementary level.

image

Occasionally I rode him to Maroubra beach before light and did laps at the canter in the soft sand, before coaching a rowing crew at the same beach and then going to work at the Mounted Police followed by working my competition horses in the afternoon. As I said, I kept busy. We did the same thing at Brighton beach. When we lost our paddock at Coogee, we kept Prince at an abandoned lawn bowling club at St George in Sydney’s south; a few warm up laps on the green, a 10 minute trot through parks and along grass verges to the beach. When the tide was out we could gallop half pace on the firm sand or in ankle deep water for 15 minutes without having to stop, it was a bit hairy in the dark but what a wonderful experience on a warm summer’s morning. We went swimming in Botany Bay once a week, right next to the runway at Sydney airport, he didn’t even sweat jumbo jets taking off and landing beside him.

Finally it was time for Prince to become a racehorse. One of my friends, Karen from the Mounted Police, was married to a vet who had decided to take up training racehorses. Karen was a great rider and horsewoman, short-listed for the Sydney Olympics. She was to ride Prince in his trackwork, I couldn’t have asked for more.

Prince floated from the trainer’s place where he lived, to Rosehill racecourse for work each day, with Dad turning up regularly to watch him work and keep us up to speed on his progress. Prince lived in a paddock, no stressed-out stable life for him, he was very happy. His training came along nicely and when he spelled he came back to me and when possible we snuck in another dressage day, even race-fit he was obedient and relaxed.

The day came when Prince was ready to race. He was to start at Cessnock, a country track in the
Hunter Valley. Myself, Dad and our mate Thorny, the Thor in “Prince Thorbro” traveled three hours in the car, it was a stinking hot day in the high thirties. Prince arrived and was more fired up than I had ever seen, pawing and anxious in the tie up stalls. Karen got him out of the stall and walked him around the parade ring and we went to checked him out; he was in awesome condition. However, as he was not stabled, his coat was bleached out and he had gone from a dark bay to a wishy-washy light brown colour – almost buckskin. Two experts stood beside us as we watched him parade, “Now you can tell this one hasn’t got a hope, look at his coat you can tell he isn’t healthy, probably shouldn’t be here, looks wormy.”

image

 

They went to the barriers, one horse played up for a long time, refusing to go in. Prince stood sensibly until the troublemaker was scratched. The tension was terrible it was like your first kid’s first day at school, all excitement and pride and still concern for how he will cope.

They were off. Prince jumped well and went to the front immediately, he had led in a race. We heard his name over the loud speaker! “Prince Thorbro leads by a length and a half.” We looked at each other with a satisfied smile; the journey had finally come to the racetrack. Prince was battling on, Dad and Thorny, as seasoned punters, were concerned, could he hold on? I was choked up with the emotion of my baby running in a race. They hit the straight, Prince still had the lead, the finish line was looming and it looked like he was gonna win! Was he gonna win? He is gonna win!! He is gonna win!!! Woooohoooooo!! He Won!!! He Won!!!! He Won!!!!!

image

Now to say we were excited was a serious understatement, I lost all control of my emotions; I was like another person, I was almost speaking in tongues. My gosh, we had won a maiden at Cessnock, there was no doubt in my mind that the serious, hands-on approach of breeding, raising, breaking and pretraining Prince made the experience all the more emotional but what must it feel like to win the Melbourne Cup? I don’t think I have another level of emotion to go to, I fear I would just spontaneously combust into a pile of ash on the ground.

I can’t imagine owners who have just paid the bills and seen a few track work sessions could possibly feel the way Dad and I had felt that day, what a sense of achievement. Prince pulled up well and we celebrated well into the night. Prince went on to win a couple of races and at one stage someone offered us four times what we thought he was worth but we were never going to take it. What a joy it was to be involved to such an extent.

Prince retired as a four year old and went on to do a few more dressage comps. Almost from the day he stopped racing, I used him to give lessons, such was his education and the trust I had in him. I gave my kids and others lessons on him and he would lunge beautifully with constant rhythm and tempo allowing total novices to develop their seat or pop over jumps kindly and calmly, coping with clumsy hands or lack of balance.

One of my students, who particularly loved Prince and had many lessons on him, was moving to the country. She was a vet student and had spent a year with me learning horsemanship and riding skills. Prince went with her, as I knew he would be well looked after.

Prince is now in his 20s and is fat, happy and gets ridden occasionally and life is good.

This is how the life of a racehorse should read. I learnt a lot from Prince and he helped our family through a tough time, we couldn’t have done it better.

“Prince Thorbro” blue print for the life of a racehorse.

My old man was a punter and a pretty serious one at one stage. As I got more and more involved in horses Dad and one of our mates, Thorny, decided they would breed a racehorse. Dad decided he wanted to enjoy the journey, a good idea considering most horses bred to race don’t even make it to the track.

Dad got into it, researching bloodlines and decided what he wanted to breed. It so happened that a girl I was working with was looking to lease her thoroughbred mare as a broodmare for a season so Dad looked at the breeding and it suited the stallion he wanted to use. Now truth be known, all thoroughbreds trace back to four stallions and it wouldn’t matter which bloodline you follow, it will lead you to some champion who did something impressive within a generation or two.

So we picked up the mare, she was small, not 15 hands but she was solid. We put her on the float and drove her to the stallion up in the Hunter Valley. This was all an adventure for Dad who hadn’t had much hands-on experience with horses. We met the stallion, a big solid fella of 16 hands. County was his name and as Dad constantly reminded us, he was the son of Vain and he was by the great Wilkes. Didn’t mean much to me but it had Dad psyched.

You should have seen the excitement when we got news of a positive pregnancy test, champaign all round! We picked the mare up and bought her back from the Hunter. She spent the rest of her pregnancy in a paddock full of massive shire horses at a friend’s property in Kangaroo Valley. Dad visited her every couple of weeks and gave us in-depth reports of how the pregnancy was going. As the big day approached, Dad moved down to the farm and stayed on his own with the mare, he wanted to be there for the birth “in case there were any issues” not that he would have known what to do in any case. He got there 10 days before the birth because “they do sometimes come early”. 10 days after the due date, Dad was still waiting. Finally, it looked like this would be the day, the mare was waxed up and things were looking imminent. Dad sat with her in the heat all day long. The foal didn’t arrive so he sat there all night; still no foal, he was starting to worry. At 6.00 am he went to bed exhausted, at
7.00 am the caretaker woke him up to say “Congratulations you have a new foal.”

The excitement cancelled out the disappointment of missing the birth. “Prince Thorbro” had arrived. There was much conjecture over the name but it had to have the word Prince in it, one of our friend’s big draft mares had died in foal a couple of days earlier, her name was Princess and Dad had nursed her through her final hours.

I was with Prince as early as I could be on the day he was born. I wanted to implement some imprinting principles. Ideally you want to be there at the birth, but you can only do your best. I sat with Prince and his mum all day, by the end of the day I could handle him all over, I could restrain him, move him around with finger pressure and touch him all over. He had had the clippers on him a halter and was leading gently, he was happy to be with me and his mum was fine with it.

image

In the first week I put him on and off the float, bagged him down and put a girth on him. After a week, I left him alone with mum to do as he pleased. My friend wanted to separate him from the herd so he wouldn’t get hurt, but I wanted him to have the opportunity to live as naturally as possible. No one educates horses as well as other horses. Prince spent the next six months with mum at Kangaroo Valley in the herd of giant Shires playing with foals his age that were as big as his mum.

At around six months, we brought him to Sydney with mum, we had a paddock in Coogee believe it or not. In the middle of the eastern suburbs of Sydney, backing onto a Defence Force property, I had about five horses there, a round yard, a massive dam and a full cross country course which I had built to train on.

Prince was an independent little fella who didn’t hang around with his mum, but spent time with the other horses. He ate with mum and this worked well because she was a great eater, he learnt that if he didn’t eat up, he missed out. Being a good eater is imperative for a good racehorse, you can’t run without fuel.

Prince spent less and less time with his mum. At the same time, I had a half draft mare in the paddock, she was to have foaled but it had turned out she had a phantom pregnancy. She went through the whole process and nothing happened, she did however produce plenty of milk, which Prince discovered. I’m not sure who adopted who, but Prince was soon feeding happily from the big girl, he was happy with his wet nurse, she was happy with her surrogate foal and mum got rid of that pesky foal who was eating all of her tucker and ruining her boobs. Shortly after, we returned Prince’s mum to her owner. Mum didn’t fret, Prince didn’t fret and it was the easiest weaning you could ever ask for. Dad spent more and more time with Prince, he hand fed him and spent day on end just hanging around with him, it was good for both of them.

I did loads of groundwork with him over the next year or so and I think he saw me as his big brother, the imprinting done at birth was worth every minute, he trusted me implicitly, farriers, vets, dentists none could believe how easy he was to deal with. On one occasion, when someone left the gate open, Prince, my leopard Appaloosa, our son’s miniature pony Tuppence and Archie the shire horse; and at that time the biggest horse in the southern hemisphere, decided to go exploring. I was working at the Mounted Police at the time and we got a call to say that there were horses running loose on Anzac Parade. The location was about halfway between my paddock and Randwick Racecourse. I had my fingers crossed that the runaways were horses from the track. No such luck; the motley crew had galloped for about three kilometres down the medium strip on Anzac Parade in peak hour traffic. Anyone who knows Sydney, knows how busy that road is in the morning. Luckily no one was hurt and Prince made the papers before he even started racing. I rode the big draft horse home with the motley crew following behind.

 

It was about this time that tragedy befell my family. My younger brother, aged only 27, died of cancer. It was devastating. We all have to deal with this stuff in our lives, but things like this really do change who we are, sometimes for a while, sometimes forever. My Mum and Dad did it tough, you’re not supposed to outlive your kids. Prince became a bit of a crutch for Dad and he spent every minute he could at the paddock, sometimes just sitting and quietly watching and sometimes hand feeding or fixing fences. Prince was a great distraction – something to focus on. I just made myself busy. Prince was a part of that, I just kept busy as it stopped me thinking; I don’t think I’ve ever stopped being busy since.

image

As a result of our constant hands-on contact with Prince, he was like part of the family. He was the centre of every conversation – he was something positive we could all share. By the time Prince had reached the age to be broken in, he was so well handled it was just a matter of getting on and riding him. I worked and educated him as I would one of my eventers, or a Police horse. He worked around the streets of the eastern suburbs calmly in the traffic, he built a nice dressage foundation and popped over a few fences. To get him used to working confidently amongst other horses, we did troop drill with the Mounted Police. We worked in a section of four and even did a practice for the Police Musical Ride with the Police Band. We did light half-pace gallop work around a local Australian Rules football field. His dressage was going so nicely I decided to enter him into a competition. He performed admirably at a local show and came home with a first place ribbon. He competed up to elementary level.

image

Occasionally I rode him to Maroubra beach before light and did laps at the canter in the soft sand, before coaching a rowing crew at the same beach and then going to work at the Mounted Police followed by working my competition horses in the afternoon. As I said, I kept busy. We did the same thing at Brighton beach. When we lost our paddock at Coogee, we kept Prince at an abandoned lawn bowling club at St George in Sydney’s south; a few warm up laps on the green, a 10 minute trot through parks and along grass verges to the beach. When the tide was out we could gallop half pace on the firm sand or in ankle deep water for 15 minutes without having to stop, it was a bit hairy in the dark but what a wonderful experience on a warm summer’s morning. We went swimming in Botany Bay once a week, right next to the runway at Sydney airport, he didn’t even sweat jumbo jets taking off and landing beside him.

Finally it was time for Prince to become a racehorse. One of my friends, Karen from the Mounted Police, was married to a vet who had decided to take up training racehorses. Karen was a great rider and horsewoman, short-listed for the Sydney Olympics. She was to ride Prince in his trackwork, I couldn’t have asked for more.

Prince floated from the trainer’s place where he lived, to Rosehill racecourse for work each day, with Dad turning up regularly to watch him work and keep us up to speed on his progress. Prince lived in a paddock, no stressed-out stable life for him, he was very happy. His training came along nicely and when he spelled he came back to me and when possible we snuck in another dressage day, even race-fit he was obedient and relaxed.

The day came when Prince was ready to race. He was to start at Cessnock, a country track in the
Hunter Valley. Myself, Dad and our mate Thorny, the Thor in “Prince Thorbro” traveled three hours in the car, it was a stinking hot day in the high thirties. Prince arrived and was more fired up than I had ever seen, pawing and anxious in the tie up stalls. Karen got him out of the stall and walked him around the parade ring and we went to checked him out; he was in awesome condition. However, as he was not stabled, his coat was bleached out and he had gone from a dark bay to a wishy-washy light brown colour – almost buckskin. Two experts stood beside us as we watched him parade, “Now you can tell this one hasn’t got a hope, look at his coat you can tell he isn’t healthy, probably shouldn’t be here, looks wormy.”

image

 

They went to the barriers, one horse played up for a long time, refusing to go in. Prince stood sensibly until the troublemaker was scratched. The tension was terrible it was like your first kid’s first day at school, all excitement and pride and still concern for how he will cope.

They were off. Prince jumped well and went to the front immediately, he had led in a race. We heard his name over the loud speaker! “Prince Thorbro leads by a length and a half.” We looked at each other with a satisfied smile; the journey had finally come to the racetrack. Prince was battling on, Dad and Thorny, as seasoned punters, were concerned, could he hold on? I was choked up with the emotion of my baby running in a race. They hit the straight, Prince still had the lead, the finish line was looming and it looked like he was gonna win! Was he gonna win? He is gonna win!! He is gonna win!!! Woooohoooooo!! He Won!!! He Won!!!! He Won!!!!!

image

Now to say we were excited was a serious understatement, I lost all control of my emotions; I was like another person, I was almost speaking in tongues. My gosh, we had won a maiden at Cessnock, there was no doubt in my mind that the serious, hands-on approach of breeding, raising, breaking and pretraining Prince made the experience all the more emotional but what must it feel like to win the Melbourne Cup? I don’t think I have another level of emotion to go to, I fear I would just spontaneously combust into a pile of ash on the ground.

I can’t imagine owners who have just paid the bills and seen a few track work sessions could possibly feel the way Dad and I had felt that day, what a sense of achievement. Prince pulled up well and we celebrated well into the night. Prince went on to win a couple of races and at one stage someone offered us four times what we thought he was worth but we were never going to take it. What a joy it was to be involved to such an extent.

Prince retired as a four year old and went on to do a few more dressage comps. Almost from the day he stopped racing, I used him to give lessons, such was his education and the trust I had in him. I gave my kids and others lessons on him and he would lunge beautifully with constant rhythm and tempo allowing total novices to develop their seat or pop over jumps kindly and calmly, coping with clumsy hands or lack of balance.

One of my students, who particularly loved Prince and had many lessons on him, was moving to the country. She was a vet student and had spent a year with me learning horsemanship and riding skills. Prince went with her, as I knew he would be well looked after.

Prince is now in his 20s and is fat, happy and gets ridden occasionally and life is good.

This is how the life of a racehorse should read. I learnt a lot from Prince and he helped our family through a tough time, we couldn’t have done it better.

“Prince Thorbro” blue print for the life of a racehorse.

My old man was a punter and a pretty serious one at one stage. As I got more and more involved in horses Dad and one of our mates, Thorny, decided they would breed a racehorse. Dad decided he wanted to enjoy the journey, a good idea considering most horses bred to race don’t even make it to the track.

Dad got into it, researching bloodlines and decided what he wanted to breed. It so happened that a girl I was working with was looking to lease her thoroughbred mare as a broodmare for a season so Dad looked at the breeding and it suited the stallion he wanted to use. Now truth be known, all thoroughbreds trace back to four stallions and it wouldn’t matter which bloodline you follow, it will lead you to some champion who did something impressive within a generation or two.

So we picked up the mare, she was small, not 15 hands but she was solid. We put her on the float and drove her to the stallion up in the Hunter Valley. This was all an adventure for Dad who hadn’t had much hands-on experience with horses. We met the stallion, a big solid fella of 16 hands. County was his name and as Dad constantly reminded us, he was the son of Vain and he was by the great Wilkes. Didn’t mean much to me but it had Dad psyched.

You should have seen the excitement when we got news of a positive pregnancy test, champaign all round! We picked the mare up and bought her back from the Hunter. She spent the rest of her pregnancy in a paddock full of massive shire horses at a friend’s property in Kangaroo Valley. Dad visited her every couple of weeks and gave us in-depth reports of how the pregnancy was going. As the big day approached, Dad moved down to the farm and stayed on his own with the mare, he wanted to be there for the birth “in case there were any issues” not that he would have known what to do in any case. He got there 10 days before the birth because “they do sometimes come early”. 10 days after the due date, Dad was still waiting. Finally, it looked like this would be the day, the mare was waxed up and things were looking imminent. Dad sat with her in the heat all day long. The foal didn’t arrive so he sat there all night; still no foal, he was starting to worry. At 6.00 am he went to bed exhausted, at
7.00 am the caretaker woke him up to say “Congratulations you have a new foal.”

The excitement cancelled out the disappointment of missing the birth. “Prince Thorbro” had arrived. There was much conjecture over the name but it had to have the word Prince in it, one of our friend’s big draft mares had died in foal a couple of days earlier, her name was Princess and Dad had nursed her through her final hours.

I was with Prince as early as I could be on the day he was born. I wanted to implement some imprinting principles. Ideally you want to be there at the birth, but you can only do your best. I sat with Prince and his mum all day, by the end of the day I could handle him all over, I could restrain him, move him around with finger pressure and touch him all over. He had had the clippers on him a halter and was leading gently, he was happy to be with me and his mum was fine with it.

image

In the first week I put him on and off the float, bagged him down and put a girth on him. After a week, I left him alone with mum to do as he pleased. My friend wanted to separate him from the herd so he wouldn’t get hurt, but I wanted him to have the opportunity to live as naturally as possible. No one educates horses as well as other horses. Prince spent the next six months with mum at Kangaroo Valley in the herd of giant Shires playing with foals his age that were as big as his mum.

At around six months, we brought him to Sydney with mum, we had a paddock in Coogee believe it or not. In the middle of the eastern suburbs of Sydney, backing onto a Defence Force property, I had about five horses there, a round yard, a massive dam and a full cross country course which I had built to train on.

Prince was an independent little fella who didn’t hang around with his mum, but spent time with the other horses. He ate with mum and this worked well because she was a great eater, he learnt that if he didn’t eat up, he missed out. Being a good eater is imperative for a good racehorse, you can’t run without fuel.

Prince spent less and less time with his mum. At the same time, I had a half draft mare in the paddock, she was to have foaled but it had turned out she had a phantom pregnancy. She went through the whole process and nothing happened, she did however produce plenty of milk, which Prince discovered. I’m not sure who adopted who, but Prince was soon feeding happily from the big girl, he was happy with his wet nurse, she was happy with her surrogate foal and mum got rid of that pesky foal who was eating all of her tucker and ruining her boobs. Shortly after, we returned Prince’s mum to her owner. Mum didn’t fret, Prince didn’t fret and it was the easiest weaning you could ever ask for. Dad spent more and more time with Prince, he hand fed him and spent day on end just hanging around with him, it was good for both of them.

I did loads of groundwork with him over the next year or so and I think he saw me as his big brother, the imprinting done at birth was worth every minute, he trusted me implicitly, farriers, vets, dentists none could believe how easy he was to deal with. On one occasion, when someone left the gate open, Prince, my leopard Appaloosa, our son’s miniature pony Tuppence and Archie the shire horse; and at that time the biggest horse in the southern hemisphere, decided to go exploring. I was working at the Mounted Police at the time and we got a call to say that there were horses running loose on Anzac Parade. The location was about halfway between my paddock and Randwick Racecourse. I had my fingers crossed that the runaways were horses from the track. No such luck; the motley crew had galloped for about three kilometres down the medium strip on Anzac Parade in peak hour traffic. Anyone who knows Sydney, knows how busy that road is in the morning. Luckily no one was hurt and Prince made the papers before he even started racing. I rode the big draft horse home with the motley crew following behind.

 

It was about this time that tragedy befell my family. My younger brother, aged only 27, died of cancer. It was devastating. We all have to deal with this stuff in our lives, but things like this really do change who we are, sometimes for a while, sometimes forever. My Mum and Dad did it tough, you’re not supposed to outlive your kids. Prince became a bit of a crutch for Dad and he spent every minute he could at the paddock, sometimes just sitting and quietly watching and sometimes hand feeding or fixing fences. Prince was a great distraction – something to focus on. I just made myself busy. Prince was a part of that, I just kept busy as it stopped me thinking; I don’t think I’ve ever stopped being busy since.

image

As a result of our constant hands-on contact with Prince, he was like part of the family. He was the centre of every conversation – he was something positive we could all share. By the time Prince had reached the age to be broken in, he was so well handled it was just a matter of getting on and riding him. I worked and educated him as I would one of my eventers, or a Police horse. He worked around the streets of the eastern suburbs calmly in the traffic, he built a nice dressage foundation and popped over a few fences. To get him used to working confidently amongst other horses, we did troop drill with the Mounted Police. We worked in a section of four and even did a practice for the Police Musical Ride with the Police Band. We did light half-pace gallop work around a local Australian Rules football field. His dressage was going so nicely I decided to enter him into a competition. He performed admirably at a local show and came home with a first place ribbon. He competed up to elementary level.

image

Occasionally I rode him to Maroubra beach before light and did laps at the canter in the soft sand, before coaching a rowing crew at the same beach and then going to work at the Mounted Police followed by working my competition horses in the afternoon. As I said, I kept busy. We did the same thing at Brighton beach. When we lost our paddock at Coogee, we kept Prince at an abandoned lawn bowling club at St George in Sydney’s south; a few warm up laps on the green, a 10 minute trot through parks and along grass verges to the beach. When the tide was out we could gallop half pace on the firm sand or in ankle deep water for 15 minutes without having to stop, it was a bit hairy in the dark but what a wonderful experience on a warm summer’s morning. We went swimming in Botany Bay once a week, right next to the runway at Sydney airport, he didn’t even sweat jumbo jets taking off and landing beside him.

Finally it was time for Prince to become a racehorse. One of my friends, Karen from the Mounted Police, was married to a vet who had decided to take up training racehorses. Karen was a great rider and horsewoman, short-listed for the Sydney Olympics. She was to ride Prince in his trackwork, I couldn’t have asked for more.

Prince floated from the trainer’s place where he lived, to Rosehill racecourse for work each day, with Dad turning up regularly to watch him work and keep us up to speed on his progress. Prince lived in a paddock, no stressed-out stable life for him, he was very happy. His training came along nicely and when he spelled he came back to me and when possible we snuck in another dressage day, even race-fit he was obedient and relaxed.

The day came when Prince was ready to race. He was to start at Cessnock, a country track in the
Hunter Valley. Myself, Dad and our mate Thorny, the Thor in “Prince Thorbro” traveled three hours in the car, it was a stinking hot day in the high thirties. Prince arrived and was more fired up than I had ever seen, pawing and anxious in the tie up stalls. Karen got him out of the stall and walked him around the parade ring and we went to checked him out; he was in awesome condition. However, as he was not stabled, his coat was bleached out and he had gone from a dark bay to a wishy-washy light brown colour – almost buckskin. Two experts stood beside us as we watched him parade, “Now you can tell this one hasn’t got a hope, look at his coat you can tell he isn’t healthy, probably shouldn’t be here, looks wormy.”

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They went to the barriers, one horse played up for a long time, refusing to go in. Prince stood sensibly until the troublemaker was scratched. The tension was terrible it was like your first kid’s first day at school, all excitement and pride and still concern for how he will cope.

They were off. Prince jumped well and went to the front immediately, he had led in a race. We heard his name over the loud speaker! “Prince Thorbro leads by a length and a half.” We looked at each other with a satisfied smile; the journey had finally come to the racetrack. Prince was battling on, Dad and Thorny, as seasoned punters, were concerned, could he hold on? I was choked up with the emotion of my baby running in a race. They hit the straight, Prince still had the lead, the finish line was looming and it looked like he was gonna win! Was he gonna win? He is gonna win!! He is gonna win!!! Woooohoooooo!! He Won!!! He Won!!!! He Won!!!!!

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Now to say we were excited was a serious understatement, I lost all control of my emotions; I was like another person, I was almost speaking in tongues. My gosh, we had won a maiden at Cessnock, there was no doubt in my mind that the serious, hands-on approach of breeding, raising, breaking and pretraining Prince made the experience all the more emotional but what must it feel like to win the Melbourne Cup? I don’t think I have another level of emotion to go to, I fear I would just spontaneously combust into a pile of ash on the ground.

I can’t imagine owners who have just paid the bills and seen a few track work sessions could possibly feel the way Dad and I had felt that day, what a sense of achievement. Prince pulled up well and we celebrated well into the night. Prince went on to win a couple of races and at one stage someone offered us four times what we thought he was worth but we were never going to take it. What a joy it was to be involved to such an extent.

Prince retired as a four year old and went on to do a few more dressage comps. Almost from the day he stopped racing, I used him to give lessons, such was his education and the trust I had in him. I gave my kids and others lessons on him and he would lunge beautifully with constant rhythm and tempo allowing total novices to develop their seat or pop over jumps kindly and calmly, coping with clumsy hands or lack of balance.

One of my students, who particularly loved Prince and had many lessons on him, was moving to the country. She was a vet student and had spent a year with me learning horsemanship and riding skills. Prince went with her, as I knew he would be well looked after.

Prince is now in his 20s and is fat, happy and gets ridden occasionally and life is good.

This is how the life of a racehorse should read. I learnt a lot from Prince and he helped our family through a tough time, we couldn’t have done it better.

Part 9 re training the ex racehorse

Once the work in hand has been established it can be extended to lunge work, utilising the same principles, consolidating the outside reign contact with more forward impedus. Working to the horses easiest side initially, generally the left, the best side should have become obvious during the flexion in halter work, fix a long side reign between the girth and the bit on the right side. The side reign should be adjusted so that when the horse is standing relaxed there is no contact on his mouth this will encourage the horse to reach long and low when he seeks out the outside rein contact. Take a long rope lead, slide it through the ring of the bit on the left side and attach it back to the girth on the same side. Holding the lead reasonably close to the bit ask the horse to flex to the inside then ask him to step across with the inside hind leg. Basically we are now working the horse in hand but with only the inside reign available to us, the outside fixed side reign becomes our consistent outside reign. Walk the horse forward applying all of the earlier described principles developed in the work in hand section, as long as the flexion can be maintained to the inside and contact on the outside reign, the distance the handler is from the horse can be gradually increased. Eventually the horse should be lunging around the handler at the walk on the end of the long lead. Once this is consolidate the horse can be moved into trot.

for further and more detailed information see, “Horses from courses” retraining the thoroughbred ex racehorse,  by Scott Brodie on E book available from Apple I books, kindle, Amazon and other E book suppliers.

 

“Bazaconi” part 13 a devil in paradise ?

I arrived at “The Cedars” at kangaroo valley with Bazaconi and young lucky. Seriously you have to see this place to believe it.
It’s like a landscape out of Jurassic park, emerald green fields, lush sub tropical rain forest all framed on both sides buy an incredible stone escarpment, cliffs hundreds of meters high, the valley is so deep the sun rises there hours after the rest of the world. Wildlife abounds, if you ever had to take a tourist anywhere to show them Australia this is it. Kangaroos wallabies, echidna, wombats, platypus and the most incredible array of bird life, in the morning the kookaburras are deafening, latter in the day it’s the shrill of the bell birds and at night I have sat and identified 10 different frog calls with millions of them calling at once. It’s somewhere most Australians won’t get the chance to see.

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To top it off they breed prehistoric looking shire horses up t0 19 hands and 1000kg, absolutely magnificent. If you ever get the chance to check it out do so, in fact I might run a horsemanship weekend down there at some stage. Seriously, any interest ?

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So. nice place!.
The soldiers i would be working with had fought in various theatres of war, they had a variety of issues, they had all been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and where at different places in dealing with their issues. These guys and girls go off to war after being trained to firstly keep themselves alive and secondly kill when required. They are brainwashed to be good at what they do, they need to be, its life and death. One of them described the stress of being in Afghanistan when things were at the worst he said ” if you sleep, you wake up stressed, everything you do throughout the day is stressful, if you leave the base you are constantly on guard, if you are in the base you are constantly on guard” now we all have stressful days but try and deal with that for 6 months, every minute of your waking day stressed to the max, not one minute where you think I can finally relax.
In my opinion, anyone who goes to an active war zone is effected, as are cops, fireys and rescue personnel it’s just a matter of how much.
The soldiers, when they return, are constantly on guard, the instinct to be watching all the time, assessing, never leaves some of them. Everyone is a potential threat as is every circumstance in our, day to day boring lives, your nerves can only deal with this for so long, many withdraw, we have had guys that haven’t left there houses in 3 years, alcohol and drugs become a crutch, marriage breakdown is standard, I in 10 homeless people are ex service personnel.
Their issues effect at least an entire generation after them. My dads dad came back from Borneo at he end of the Second World War in a hospital ship suffering battle fatigue, he had been following the Japanese army as they retreated and was often the first to come in contact with the atrocities they had committed on Dutch settlers in that region, he saw stuff we aren’t meant to see. He spent two years having shock treatment, he never came back to dads mum, he went off married again, to wives at once, was a terrible womanise,r alcoholic and brutal to his children his children suffered, I think my dad was lucky he left, his children’s children had issues and his children’s children had issues, one was one of the most difficult juvenile offenders in the state. So,four generations effected, most of us are effected in some way by the Second World War, imagine places where they have constantly been at war for hundreds of years? What a mess.

Most of the guys had never dealt with horses before, when they saw Bazaconi and his mate galloping around like wild crazy things, I’m sure their stress levels went through the roof. I hoped I hadn’t bitten of more than I could chew bringing Baz, these guys needed to finish up feeling good about themselves not come away worse then when they arrived.

We talked through general horse and herd behaviour and spent the night at he camp fire getting to know each other. I recited a little banjo Patterson, we had a lovely dinner, they were starting to relax, this was all out of their comforter zones, as I said, just being out of there homes was a big deal for some. Pills to go to bed, pills to wake up, and god knows what other pills, most of our first night revolved around discussion about the best pain killers you can get.

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Tomorrow would be the beginning of the rest of their lives for as many of these guys as I could get hooked on horses, hopefully Bazaconi was going to help not hinder. The mental health of these good people was relying on us.

end part 13