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As Reliable as Rudolph: Taz the Standardbred Spreading Christmas Cheer

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Having shared over twenty years together, there are few things horsewoman Jenny Hanson and her standardbred Taz don’t know about each other.

Jenny was just sixteen years of age when she first came across the shy pacing-bred standy, who raced as ‘Melton Bontasman’, during her work at Daryl Gross’ Townsville harness stables. 

Despite being quite a nervous fella, Jenny was entrusted to work with the young colt as she seemed to be the person he connected the most with.

“It was quite unique for such a young person to be paired with a three-year-old entire, but Taz was scared of everyone except me and so I got to work with him”, Jenny explains.

“Only being a pony, standing at around 14hh, Taz was kinda written off.  He wasn’t the flashiest, most successful racehorse, but he always tried. That’s what made me fall in love with him”.

After ‘striking a deal’ with Daryl, young Jenny solidified her commitment to Taz by arranging to cover some of his costs.

“I started off by paying for Taz’s nomination fees and other little things I could manage as a teenager”, Jenny explains.

“By the time Taz retired, I’d grown up a bit and was able to purchase him. I worked towards getting my harness training and driving licenses and Taz continued his career in harness under my name, along with my partner at the time”.

During his racing career, Taz was cited to have ‘had a few knocks to his confidence’ and so Jenny decided to break him to saddle and introduce some cross-training.

“I took to riding Taz up the local river, to freshen his mind up a bit and build his fitness”, Jenny explains. 

“Taz was a lovely horse to ride and as quiet as a mouse. I could put raw beginners on him and he’d go out safely for a ride and really take care of them.  This was even before his proper education began. He’s always been trustworthy”.

“I drove Taz in his very last race back in 2005, which he won. It was really special that he got to retire on a high”.

With his racing career behind him, Taz’s ridden training kicked up a notch and Jenny introduced the keen standardbred to barrel racing and other ‘sporting’ disciplines.

“I spent a lot of hours working with and educating Taz”, Jenny recalls.

“He took very quickly and naturally to barrel racing, bending poles and other sporting activities and we joined the Woodstock Horse Sports Club. Taz loved it and became very good at it. He could scoot, he was honest and he tried his guts out”.

“Taz was going very well by the time our club hosted the NQ Games in 2010.  He competed in and won many classes and held his own against some really competitive, purpose-bred sporting horses”.

Soon after, an injury at an event resulted in Taz being diagnosed with a slab fracture. This injury marked the end of Jenny’s riding partnership with Taz, but not the end of his remarkable journey under saddle.

Taking a few years off to recover, with Jenny spending thousands of dollars on medical care, Taz stepped into a new role as a mentor to up-and-coming riders.

“I had to stay off Taz once he was back in action, as he would fire up whenever I was in the saddle. That was always the way our relationship went; he thinks he has to perform and try to impress me. 

“We’ve built a trust over the years and he’s so loyal. Taz will do anything I ask of him without a second thought.

“Once he got going again, Taz started to take some of the kids around and teach them how to sport. He’s so safe, he has a heart of gold and his mind is phenomenal”.

Additional to his leadership duties, Taz also assumed the role of Chief Reindeer for the Sports Club’s annual ‘Santa run’. This is a role Taz has continued into his mid-twenties.

“Taz started pulling the cart many years ago and has brought so much joy to the kids”, says Jenny.

“We wrap him up in tinsel and lights and he rolls up from two hundred metres down the road where it’s dark, to really set the scene and make it a bit magical”.

“We’re looking to make some changes to the ‘sleigh’ this year, moving Taz from a big, heavy four-wheeler to something a little lighter for the old fella. He just loves having a job to do and we hope he can keep up his Santa commitments for many more years to come.

“At twenty-five years old, Taz is still taking riders around and showing them the ropes. He’s currently being ridden by an adult regaining her confidence.

“We’ve shifted properties a few times over his life, but, regardless of where we go, Taz acts like owns the joint. To be fair, he’s probably right”, Jenny says with a laugh.

“It gets bloody hot up here (near Townsville) and Taz knows how to open the door when the air con is on. He’ll stand just in the doorway to catch the breeze.

“Our vet, Margaret Preston, who has tended to Taz for a couple of decades now, says she won’t be able to be involved if he ever needs to be put down. Having nursed Taz through a series of significant health battles across his life, including the slab fracture and Ross River Fever, Margaret considers Taz, even with his ‘senior moments’, like family and very special to her.

Best mates of many years, Jenny reflects on the impact Taz has had on the lives of the people he’s encountered during his racing and riding careers.

“Put simply, Taz is just a legend and he’s touched so many people over the years. Everyone loves him and he’s been a fantastic ambassador for the standardbred”.