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Heroes for RDA Changing Lives, One Standardbred at a Time

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A new collaborative initiative has been announced, providing a specialised role beyond the track for retired harness racehorses through placement in Riding for the Disabled Association of Victoria (RDAV) centres across the state.

The Heroes for RDA program brings together two pillar organisations operating in the life after harness racing sector, HRV Hero and Raising the Standards, to assist RDAV to source more horses to meet the ongoing demands of centres which provide equine-assisted activities for people with disabilities.

“The Heroes for RDA program is helping to streamline the process so that more standardbreds can secure a bright future in RDA centres”, says Hero Operations Manager, Tara van der Minne.

“Hero will work with harness racing industry participants to identify RDA horse prospects, then provide oversight across the initial veterinary assessments which are an integral component of the rehabilitation process.
“Through consultation with dedicated Heroes for RDA Retrainer Nic Tassone, Hero will coordinate behavioural assessments and the logistics of transporting horses from racing operations around the state to the Raising the Standards retraining complex.

“There are many moving parts to this initiative, but it’s exciting to have such a passionate team working cohesively towards meaningful outcomes for the Heroes for RDA standardbreds and the many people whose lives will be touched by these wonderful horses”.

L-R: Nicole Tassone (Raising The Standards), Adam (Grinning Assasin), Adam Catton, Lynne Coad and Pam Browne of RDA Doveton.

The retraining regime set out for the Heroes for RDA horses follows a proven structure which has seen around a dozen standardbreds complete retraining with Raising the Standards and go on to become successful RDA program horses.

“I’ve been fortunate to work alongside many wonderful educators and volunteers at various RDAV centres over the years, to learn about the specific needs and criteria new program horses must meet in order to be accepted as RDA program horses”, says Raising the Standards Founder and Retrainer, Nic Tassone.

“Although standardbreds are widely recognised for their calm temperaments, it takes a very particular combination of low-reactivity and a kind, friendly nature to make a suitable RDA horse. 

“These natural traits are enhanced through focused retraining, which introduces horses to a variety of scenarios and activities they’ll encounter in RDA, in a very systemised, positive manner.

“This approach not only helps horses to gain the confidence and experience needed to pass their RDA assessments, but also cuts down the time and resources RDA centres will need to allocate to a new horse, if much of the exposure and desensitising has already been taken care of”.

With many RDA centres operating with small-but-mighty teams of volunteers, the support to source well-trained horses through  this initiative is a welcomed resource.

“We are extremely grateful to Hero for facilitating the outplacement process of standardbreds exiting racing and to Nic Tassone from Raising the Standards to agree to be a dedicated standardbred retrainer for Riding for the Disabled Association of Victoria” says RDAV President, Tanya Twaits.

“We are in constant need of horses for our programs, to ensure we have suitable horses for our participants’ needs and goals. 

“The collaboration with Hero and Raising the Standards is a beautiful way to provide a new life after racing for standardbreds, who will become loved and valued RDA team members.

Adam, meet Adam.

“The retraining Raising the Standards undertakes is thorough, thoughtful and completely centred around the needs of a RDA rider and RDA Coach.  Additional horses like these will allow more people with a disability to benefit from the life changing RDA programs”.

The Heroes for RDA program recently placed its first horse on trial with the Doveton RDA centre, operating out of Myuna Farm.

Eight-year-old gelding Adam, who amassed $14,410 in earnings as pacer ‘Grinning Assassin’; a nod to his champion sire Grinfromeartoear, underwent several months of intensive retaining with Nic at Raising the Standards, before graduating to RDA.

“I initially took Adam into my herd thinking he would be my own horse, as I was looking for a safe mount to get back into the saddle haven taken a few years off after I had children”, Nic explains.

“I knew pretty soon after starting Adam under saddle that he was something special and I would inevitably lose my horse. 

“He’s just so forgiving and gentle and kind; it was clear Adam had bigger and more important things to do than potter around my paddocks.

“When you have a horse who takes absolutely everything in stride and has such a huge heart, you do everything you can to share him with the world.  He really deserves to be part of a bustling network of people, to be loved and be adored by many.

Adam in training

“I was always meant to be a pitstop in Adam’s journey; a home-between-homes and the link between harness racing and his wonderful new RDA family”.

After many months of consultation and planning, future Heroes for RDA standardbreds like Adam will be placed into RDA centres via a central database coordinated through the RDAV Head Office.

The organisations involved in the Heroes for RDA program share a diverse range of roles and responsibilities, whilst also inviting external contributors to provide additional support.

“It takes a lot of time, energy and resources to adequately prepare a standardbred to go through the transition from racing to a safe RDA horse”, says Nic.

“We hope that this fantastic program can grow from modest roots to become a thriving initiative which facilitates the placement of many standardbreds into RDA, for many years to come.

“Already, the Heroes for RDA standardbreds have received wonderful support from the harness racing industry, with operations like major breeding stud Alabar Farms, who stood Adam’s father Grinfromeartoear as a sire, assisting with agistment and care provisions for horses prior to their acceptance into the program.

“Prominent feed company Mitavite has also been of great assistance, partnering with Raising the Standards to provide nutritional plans, supplements and feed for standardbreds undergoing their transition from racing to ridden life.

“Heroes for RDA is not only creating beautiful life after harness racing stories for the standardbreds involved, but the program bolsters the tremendous efforts of RDAV by preparing a steady flow of sound, well-trained horses to quite literally take the reins from horses aging out of the program, so that centres can continue their great work well into the future.

“Any help we can get along the way would be most welcomed and we look forward to continuing to share the tales of Heroes for RDA horses in training and their lives in RDA via the Hero, Raising the Standards and RDAV social channels”, says Nic, on behalf of all of the organisations involved in the Heroes for RDA program.

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