There's nothing standard about these versatile ex racehorses
Updated: Jan 26, 2023
THE honest Standardbred was once the poor relation of the racehorse world.
While the Thoroughbreds had a chance of finding a life after racing, the Standardbred was far less likely to get that opportunity.
In the past 20 years – and especially since 2015 when Harness Racing Victoria set up its “HERO” rehoming program – things have really changed and they can be found in any number of occupations, without a sulky in sight. They are cherished by pony club kids and can be found every weekend at a club, playing games and doing their lessons. Those who work with them are quick to praise the generous animals.
Professional trainer Mitch Fox, who is currently campaigning the Hero champion Kasbah Kid says they are “trainable, sensible, willing and well-exposed”.
“Some trainers canter their horses as part of their race training regimes, this is something Kasbah Kid did and it’s meant that his transition to saddle has been easy,” he said.
“He’s the most reliable horse we have on our show team. We can always count on him to put his best hoof forward and not be overwhelmed by atmosphere.”
Another in the show ring, Kylie Gleeson’s Suzie, a 13yo mare by US sire Jet Laag, has numerous supreme awards and champion under saddle sashes.
The grey mare recently won the Hero Series Championship although she had only been under saddle for five months.
“I have been taking in Standardbreds for a while now,” Kylie said. “I take mostly broken downs or ones with issues and I spell them and get them right, then we head out and show.
“Suzie is an exception. My neighbours and small trainers Marilyn and Frank Cauchi and myself own her. She was broken to harness by Frank and ended up in the paddock. She had four foals before I finally took her to turn show horse.
“We have a good team who we show with. Jeremy Quinlan drives them in harness, Faye Gillespie straps and Sebastian Bellamy from Fairfield Equestrian Services rides my horses and Suzie.”
Standardbreds have also become popular endurance mounts, holding their own beside the Arabians who are the accepted long-distance mounts.
The Standardbred Endurance Facebook page has 860 members, and they were quick to tell how well the breed copes with distance rides.
Jess Goulding has completed three 160km rides, including the Tom Quilty Gold Cup.
Ang Lea, who is preparing her off-the- track pacer to compete in endurance, says they have everything needed for the discipline.
“In my experience Standies are great types, possess awesome temperaments and are incredibly athletic and tough,” she said.
“As a professional equine bodyworker and riding instructor, I think a sound Standardbred is one of the best all-round prospects - especially at their very reasonable price point, in what is currently a seller's market.
“I've taught ripper pony club mounts and I am smitten with my Standy endurance prospect - she's super strong, wonderfully trainable and has low heart rates.
“She can beat my galloping Clydie Cross across the paddock, when she's trotting.”
Susanne Wells agrees.
“My qualifying horse (to open rider) was a Standardbred. Really good, lots of heart, some nice heart rates (I remember 29), only limited by some old injuries from his racing career. Incredibly tough gutsy horse and probably my favourite of all time.”
Standardbreds are also excelling at barrel racing.
The Hero program is also supporting a Standardbred-only barrel race in Pakenham South on the January 29 and a newcomer section for those new to the discipline.
Kylee Paul and Whiskey Business, aka Minty, and have been barrel racing for four years and during that time have won and placed in various divisions, competing both in Victoria and interstate.
“We recently went to the barrel racing national finals in Tamworth where we had two good runs but the biggest achievement was winning the pole bending against 70 other competitors,” Kylee said.
“We also compete in sporting horse and have a barrel race coming up this Sunday that is run by them and also has a Standardbred-only barrel race sponsored by Hero.” Standardbreds can be best mates too as Mark Carson found with Stocker, now named Mr Brown.
“My wife got him unbroken about seven years ago between bouts of breast cancer,” Mark explained.
“She spent a little over three years with him until she died. I had another Standie but couldn't afford both so I sold my horse as Jenny's Mr Brown was her legacy.
“A promise I had to make to her was I wouldn't ride Browny. For a few years I didn't ride at all then a friend who does endurance convinced me to come for a ride on Browny.
“It took a while for us to bond as he was Jen’s horse and he tolerated me because I had treats. We are a pretty wonderful team these days. We train most days and he loves to compete.”
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