Thoroughbreds Gane a new lead on life
RACHAEL Gane knows how to handle feisty Thoroughbreds.
The 33-year-old Colac woman has ridden horses all her life, first competing at pony club events before moving on to higher level competition.
Now, the racehorse trainer has also taken on the job of re-educating Thoroughbreds once they have retired - or failed - on the race track, finding them new careers and saving them from an abrupt end to life at the knackery.
"Thoroughbreds are terrific, forward-thinking horses that excel in a range of disciplines," Rachael says. But she warns ex-racehorses' suitability - like all breeds - varies wildly, depending on temperament and education. "Racehorses are often thrown into racing at young ages, without a lot of preparation for loud and intimidating race days. They can be dangerous when they haven't had a lot of re-education, or when ridden by a less-experienced rider in an unfamiliar situation."
RACHAEL began her career as a track rider after leaving school, exercising horses for the late racehorse trainer Tony Downey at Lynleyvale stud at Moriac. She then worked for South Australian show-jumper Nick Cove and rode track work for other trainers, while pursuing her own show-jumping goals, often on ex-racehorses.
But it was a smart little chestnut mare, Minnamurra Senganga, who gave her real insight into the Thoroughbred's versatility.
Rachael says the mare was not afraid to give her all for her rider. What she lacked in physical attributes, Minnamurra Senganga, a B-Grade showjumper, made up for in a willingness to try her best, even when faced with high jumps and big crowds.
"She was the most trying mare, she had plenty of personality," she says.
As Rachael graduated from ponies as a young rider, ex-racehorses gave her inexpensive access to competitive horse sports such as show jumping and eventing. "We didn't have a huge amount of money so I had to get bigger horses 'off the track' and retrain them myself."
Now, Rachael trains such racehorses for eventing, showing and jumping. She has four ex-racehorses being retrained, mostly as eventers, in her stable on two hectares at Coragulac just out of Colac. "Most of the Thoroughbreds I've had have strong personalities, they tend to be cheeky," she says. "Many are difficult; they've failed at a new sport after racing, or didn't get along with their owner. But if you can work with them, they become very giving."
Steps to retraining
RACHAEL first rests the horses for six months on quality pasture.
"They're often quite fatigued, so need time to chill and relax," she says. During this period, the ex-racer's body changes from that of a lean athlete to a more rounded, natural shape. Then, retraining begins with rebuilding confidence. Rachael teaches the horses to slow down, both mentally and physically, and refines how they move and respond to the rider.
"My philosophy is I try to finish on a good note, no matter if it is 10 minutes or two hours of training. If you finish on a good note, they can have time off and will start again where they finished off."
Newly retrained horses are then taken to training days, gradually building outings so they get used to the atmosphere of competitions. "A lot are nervous, many don't like being racehorses, they've been revved up, taken places they don't like," she says. "All of sudden they've got 20 kids galloping at them - that will flip some out."
Rachael believes Thoroughbreds are best suited to eventing or showing. On occasion, older Thoroughbreds with experience under a more professional rider can also make good horses for young people learning to ride.
In her own competitive riding, Rachael has had great success with ex-racehorses, including 16-year-old gelding Simple Dreams. He won the Best Performance Thoroughbred at Warrnambool's Shipwreck Coast showjumping championships in January.
Before coming into Rachael's care, the gelding spent years in a paddock as he was difficult and needed more work. "Without the work he kept trying to buck," she says. "He still bucks, but he'll give more warning now."
Another competition gelding that was showing promise began "jacking up, throwing himself on the ground" in high-pressure situations. Fortunately, Rachael found a role for him with Riding for the Disabled. This environment, where he simply has to walk and trot while being led, suits the gelding. "When he isn't under pressure he's fine," she says.
Looking forward, Rachael says she will continue retraining horses and grow her horse education business. She will also maintain her stable of racehorses, and hopes for some better luck. "I've had horses with ability but a bad run of injuries," she says.
"Cimarron Rose won at Kilmore, paying $87 dollars, but I didn't have money on her, I don't bet," Rachael laughs.
But her big dream is to further her show jumping. "I've never had a horse to jump World Cup on," she says. "I'd love to get that horse, and whatever comes from there."
Time for another start
BELLARINE PENINSULA equine champion Murray Lamperd has taken Under the Clocks from retired racehorse to the giddy heights of top-level international horse trials in the past three years.
The 10-year-old Thoroughbred collected $14,150 in jumps racing winnings, but it's his latest gig that has seen him reach greater heights.
Murray and Under the Clocks (below) competed in last month's Badminton Horse Trials in Gloucestershire in the UK, one of the world's hardest events, finishing a respectable 62nd out of 84 competitors.
Murray says Under the Clocks, who raced for Cranbourne trainer Mick Kent over flat racing and hurdles, was a real head-turner. "Under The Clocks is a sensitive horse, and I take that into consideration in his training, which includes a combination of flat, show jumping and fitness work," Murray says. "I just love Thoroughbreds; they are a good type with the right attitude, you just can't beat a retired racehorse."
A new career
THE finer points to retraining Thoroughbreds:
Rachael says ex-racehorse are often too difficult for inexperienced riders and "unbalanced". An unbalanced horse has not been trained to carry themselves and their rider in a smooth, controlled and confident way. A balanced horse responds without resistance to directions given by the rider.
"Untrained horses don't know how to go into a frame (a balanced shape), you have to teach them to accept the bridle and soften into the bit," she says.
Racehorses are ridden on the race track wearing a bridle and bit. While they respond to a jockey's signals to slow down through pressure on the bit, this response needs to be refined for other disciplines.
The horses need to be taught to not pull against the bit and instead, respond to less forceful signals.
Despite the training, many excitable, "hot-headed" horses remain undisciplined and will always react to certain triggers.
Taking off with speed
A CHAMPION on the racecourse, Xlerate (right) went on to big things after he finished racing, winning the Garryowen trophy at last year's Royal Melbourne Show with Alex Berwick aboard.
The bay horse, sired by famous New Zealand stallion Zabeel, who also sired Melbourne Cup winners Might and Power, Efficient and Jezabeel, sold for $650,000 in 2001 in New Zealand then moved to Hong Kong to race.
He was trained by John Moore and won four races and placed four times from 15 starts, before moving to Sydney in 2007 to race under trainer Gerald Ryan. He won twice more in Australia before retiring with winnings of $653,811. He then started his new career as a show horse.
Source: Weekly Times Now