When Cecile Blanchot was looking to get back into horses after more than twenty years out of the saddle, she knew she wanted to offer a home and new purpose to a retired racehorse.
Cecile had history with standardbreds, having owned a trotter during her younger years in France. But it was the hours researching which horse breed would best suit her lifestyle and interests that cemented Cecile’s decision to search specifically for a standy for her next riding partner.
“I really liked that standardbreds are a hardy horse and lots of people had really nice things to say about their character”, Cecile explains.
Cecile found her way to the HRV Hero website and started to browse the Available Horses listings. It was there she came across a couple of nice horses for sale by Hero Retrainer KARH Equestrian.
“I initially went to see Rose and Kim at KARH Equestrian to meet another horse, who turned out not to be a good match for me”, Cecile recalls.
“Whilst I was there, I saw Bruce standing in the paddock. Admittedly, it was his handsome looks that first caught my eye. He’s a strong, ‘go all day’ type, which was really appealing for the kind of riding I like to do.
“Living up to his racing name ‘Big Bad Bruce’, he was quite standoffish when I first entered the paddock. I had a button on the back of my jeans and when I turned around to talk to Rose he grabbed it with his teeth. The joke was that it was love at first bite”, says Cecile with a laugh. Despite these cheeky ‘teething issues’ at the beginning of their relationship, Bruce and Cecile steadily formed a bond as a partnership.
“Because I hadn’t ridden for so long, I didn’t really know anyone to go riding with. I’d just go out riding up Monument Hill (behind the Kilmore Racing Club) by myself”, Cecile explains.
“I ran into some local riders out on the trails and they noticed Bruce’s brand. They invited me to head down and check out the local riding club for standardbreds (the HRCAV Central Standardbred Riding Group, located in Wandong).
“It was good timing, as Bruce and I had to work on our communication. The lessons at the Club really helped us to work through this, although Bruce made it known that he wasn’t a fan of arena work!
“I also took Bruce to a horsemanship clinic, where we learned some new groundwork skills and a lot about each other”.
During their first year together, Cecile and Bruce chalked up many hours exploring some of Victoria’s most iconic trails.
The pair have a particular soft spot for the High Country, heading up whenever they can find the time to escape.
“I go out as often as I can. If I’m not at work, I’m on the back of my horse, basically”, Cecile says.
“I joined ATHRA (Australia Trail Horse Riders Association) and have done a fair bit of riding in Marysville. Through those rides, I met a lot of the Mansfield group and have trekked up there as well.
“Horses have become a bit of a family hobby. My daughter rides and we and head out whenever possible on weekends and school holidays.
“My husband Steve only recently got into riding and is now trotting and cantering more confidently on trails.
“I also head out sometimes for multi-day rides on my own and sleep in my float. People say I’m crazy to go out alone, but I just take the moment. If nobody is available then you’ve just gotta go!”
Closing in on two years into her standardbred journey, Cecile has grown fond of Bruce’s ‘quirky ways’.
“Bruce is a really funny horse. He’ll pretend to give me a cuddle and then reach behind my back to pick up the bottom of my jacket with his teeth”, Cecile laughs.
“He likes his personal space and tends to stand out on his own in the paddocks. Sometimes he pulls these really grumpy faces at the other horses and acts all tough, but then doesn’t actually do anything. I guess he’s got his ‘Big Bad Bruce’ image to protect.
“Standardbreds are a great breed of horse. You have to put a little work in at the beginning to teach them the basics and to get the canter going, but they learn fast. I recently went back to the local standardbred club a year or so after my last visit. I couldn’t believe how much progress some of the horses had made in that time”.
With plans to ‘explore as much of Victoria as possible’, Cecile and Bruce have many miles of adventures ahead of them.
“I’ve got some rides on my list that I’m really keen to do”, says Cecile.
“Definitely more trails in the High Country, as we love it up there, and I’d also like to take Bruce to Wonnangatta Station sometime.
“I’m having a lot of fun with Bruce. He’s quirky, fun and we both enjoy the same type of riding; just wandering out in the bush”.