With no ponies of her own at home, passionate equestrian Emerson Chesterfield took up work at a local harness racing stable to get her daily horse fix. It wasn’t long before the young teenager fell in love with the sensible, forgiving nature of the standardbred.
“I started working for Aaron Coad Racing when the stable was based in Broken Hill”, Emerson explains.
“I was still at school at the time, getting up early to work a couple of hours before heading to class. I would spend my school holidays at the stables.
“I learned to strap and got to attend race days as stablehand. Aaron and his team were great teachers, as were the standardbreds. It and wonderful experience and I loved being around the horses”.
It was through her stablehand duties that Emerson met a gentle standardbred named Keith (who raced as Kiss of Death). Little did she know it at the time, but Keith was destined to become a pillar in Emerson’s horsemanship journey.
“Keith has the most fantastic personality”, says Emerson.
“He was very patient with me and brilliant to stand and hang around the stalls with. I grew very fond of him and it was great to see him in full race work.
“Keith might not have been a terribly successful racehorse, but he had a fantastic attitude and he tried really hard”.
With Aaron Coad racing making a move to Merbein Victoria, Emerson found herself longing for days in the stables and time with her beloved ‘Keithy George’, as he became affectionately known.
Nurturing their daughter’s passion for horsemanship, Emerson’s parents were supportive of her decision to take on Keith when he retired from racing. In fact, they went so far as to drive three hours from Broken Hill to Merbein every Saturday morning, so that Emerson could spend the weekend ‘playing ponies’ before making the long return trip home on Sunday evening.
“I’d spend time with Keith on the weekends, washing, spoiling and pampering him”, Emerson recalls.
“I can’t thank my parents, particularly my dad, enough for giving up their weekends to travel and stay with me, just so I could mess around with my standy.
“I’d never started a horse under saddle before, but had always wanted to. Keith was the perfect horse to go through this process with. Absolutely nothing bothered him and even trying to de-sensitise him was really boring. He’s just brilliant in every way, like a schoolmaster.
“In all the time I’ve been working with Keith, there has never had an incident under saddle where he’s misbehaved. This is a testament to standardbreds and how fantastic and willing a breed they are”
Inspired by her experiences working in the harness stables and with Keith, Emerson enrolled in a photonic therapy course for horses and plans to work full-time in this career pathway when she finishes school.
Through her studies, Emerson trained her eye for equine biomechanics and picked up some niggles in Keith’s body stemming back to his career on the track. After a little rest time and being used as a ‘practice pony’ for Emerson to develop her bodywork skills, Keith bounced back into action.
“There’s always more to learn I’m really keen to equip myself with information for how I go about training and caring for my horses”, Emerson explains
“Of all the horses I’ve worked with over the years, the standardbreds have stood out for having such heart. They’re so calm and patient.
“When I started out as a stablehand I would sometimes accidentally put the harness gear on the wrong way. The standies would just stand there unfussed if I put a leg in the wrong hole, until I figured it out. This is what made me fall in love with the breed”.
Having made a great start to their competition career, bringing home a trove of ribbons from their first outings together, Emerson has been impressed by Keith’s unfussed nature and willingness to try new things.
With an interstate move to Adelaide planned for early next year, with Keith’s paddocking a priority in the planning, Emerson is optimistic about their future together.
“I’ll be finished school, turning eighteen and able to get more into equine rehabilitation”, Emerson explains.
“Keith will come with me when I move and, with less strain on travel, we will hopefully get to some more competitions. I’m really keen to do some more dressage and there should be more events in my area.
“Keith is like so many of the standies I’ve worked with, in that he always tries so hard and has such a wonderful attitude.
“I hope more people consider taking on a standardbred, as they’re such beautiful horses and will do just about anything for their human friends”.