Here is Heleena’s story with her beautiful Standardbreds.
I have wanted a horse ever since I can remember. I spent my early years trying to persuade my parents that a suburban backyard was definitely big enough for a Shetland pony! But my family was non-horsey, so apart from a few holiday trail rides each year, I was limited to movies and magazines. Then school, university, work and life generally got in the way. But the itch to own a horse never went away. So my 33rd birthday present to myself was riding lessons, then lots of trail rides. After a few years I was ready for my own horse. I had my eye on one in particular!
I had met a lady who re-trained and rehomed retired pacers – my friends and I had regularly taken her horses out trail riding. I came to love the breed during that time. One brown Standardbred mare called Indie was my favourite. Her HRA name is Apache Cam and she was no good as a race horse with 3 races under her belt, no placings. Indie had come back to be rehomed as her owner of a few years was moving overseas. I had spent many hours on the trail with Indie and adored her.
So Indie became my first ever horse and my horse of many firsts – not in ribbons (though she did get a few of those), but in the many experiences she introduced me to and lessons she taught me. She was the horse I learnt to float, she took me to my first clinic, helped me learn to plait a mane (not impressed!), was the first horse I took to a show and yes the first horse I won ribbons with.
She also taught me how to be a better rider and trainer. Unexpectedly, although she had many trail hours behind her, once I took her into an arena she became flustered easily. Everything was back to pacing, ambling etc – so it was another whole new learning experience for me to accustom her to arena work, and basically re-learn trot and canter there. She was also very spooky, with a big shy on her, so I had to learn to deal with that too. We got there in the end and she became a lovely riding horse. Two of my most awesome riding experiences have been with Indie’s dressage training – the first time I got a horse to work in a frame with light contact – and the first time I experienced the power and grace of a horse that had true self-carriage. The most amazing feeling. And all this from a horse who I was told early on that I would never even get to work in a frame!
I showed her under her race name of Apache Cam and her first show was amazing – Bungendore Show. She did well in led classes, but excelled in the ridden, winning novice ridden and taking out Champion Ridden Standardbred against a few open Standardbreds! Indie was doing well in the show ring and ended up with 2013 SPPHA NSW equal 4th High Score for Best Ridden Standardbred.
I couldn’t have received news of this prize at a better time. Towards the end of 2013, I had developed a back/neck condition. I was in a lot of pain and had several months off work and riding. Chronic pain is hard to deal with and depression and other mental health issues are a common side effect. I had my husband and dogs to keep me company inside, but I am glad I had Indie too – she was often the reason to get out of bed and out of the house into the sunshine. When I got the news of our award, I wasn’t sure if I could return to riding. It would be a hard road back and I had a lot of physical rehabilitation. I would have to re-learn how to ride again as my body no longer functioned the same way – some things would work one day, but not the next. The prize reminded me how much I had enjoyed riding and showing Indie and the Standardbred people I had met. It made me all the more determined to get back to riding. (So thanks to all the volunteers who have/do run the SPPHA – you make a huge difference, not only to the lives of these horses but also to lots of people!)
And as Murphy’s law would have it, when I was starting to get back into riding, Indie started to have soundness issues. Tried many things to help her but no joy. Eventually arthritis was diagnosed in both hocks – partial joint fusion causing her soreness in her back and elsewhere. A long lay-off was on the cards and an uncertain prognosis as a riding horse. It was a condition that might fix itself over time but also no guarantee.
I decided to get another young standardbred to start working while Indie (hopefully) recovered. I had come across a Standardbred re-trainer based at Narooma – Phil and Sophia May of Southern NSW Standardbreds. I contacted them asking if they had a horse that might suit. They had the perfect horse – Ellie (HRA name Adios Shannon), a lovely young Four Starzz Shark mare. She is a blingy chestnut with a lovely white blaze and 3 white socks – gorgeous! Even more impressive though was her movement – huge potential for showing and dressage. Ellie had never made it to racing – having had a serious hoof injury at one point. But I was lucky her owners cared enough to send her to Phil and Sophia.
So I have been prepping Ellie for showing. It was a slow start – she was sidelined for a few months last year with a persistent hoof abscess from the wet wet winter. Our first show was in January this year at Bowral where came away with Supreme Standardbred! Most impressive though was her temperament for her first time out – actually had a snooze on the sidelines while we were waiting to go into the show ring. Couldn’t have asked for better! I have huge hopes for her this coming show season – I hope to compete in the Harness Racing Off The Track Series and get out to as many shows as we can. Fingers crossed, I’d like to be competing in open classes by 2018 (or sooner!). I also hope to get to some dressage competitions as well – that is my ultimate goal with Ellie, to take her as far up the dressage grades as we can. But she is so lovely, that I feel she needs to have a good crack at a show career as well! And meanwhile, Indie has been enjoying paddock ornament status.
I was lucky during my time with Indie that I started up with my dressage instructor extraordinaire, Angela Bennett of ALBEquestrian. Angela has helped me tremendously with Indie and Ellie, taught me so much about riding and is a well of enthusiasm. She has been so supportive of my passion for dressage and for Standardbreds – for which I am eternally grateful!
And I have just adopted my first horse from the SPPHA – who some of you might remember. He is Bohdi – a gorgeous young Standardbred with big movement who is also another Four Starzz Shark horse – really loving this line as potential performance horses. I plan to bring him on slowly over the next year and I am hoping that he will enjoy a dressage career. Although I am sure we will also get out to a few shows along the way! Thanks Sam for entrusting him to me and to Amanda & the SPPHA for arranging his adoption.