The decision to rehome a standardbred at their end of their harness racing career is one of the most bittersweet commitments an industry professional can make.
Whilst there is excitement at the many years of adventures that lie ahead for the horse, there’s often trepidation when pondering where the horse will end up and a tinge of sadness at the impending farewell.
These were the exact emotions experienced by Georgina Coram, when it was time to decide what to do with nine-year-old pacer Sudden Explosion, affectionately known as Murphy, upon his retirement from racing.
The third in this particular line of Coram-bred racehorses, with his mother and grandmother both born on the family’s Bangholme farm, Murphy had a shaky start to life.
“Murphy was born with contracted tendons and it was touch-and-go as to whether he’d survive”, Georgina explains.
“For the first six weeks of his life, Murphy had his legs treated daily. The vet would put a splint on one leg and then change it over every twenty-four hours.
“He was such a good little boy; he’d just lie down and hold his leg out for the vet to wrap. Somehow, he just knew what was going on and that we were trying to help him”.
Murphy’s sweet nature continued on throughout his life, which enabled Georgina to manage the young horse on her own, as his owner-breeder-trainer.
“I come from quite a renowned trotting family, dating back to my grandfather, Ben Coram, who was the trainer/driver winner of the 1937 Interdominion”, says Georgina proudly.
“After my father passed, my mother and I took over breeding standardbreds and I left school. Mum continued on as a trainer throughout the years, but as she got older I applied for my own license.
“Murphy was the first horse I’d ever trained and raced. He has always had a brilliant temperament, which meant I would take him to the races on my own.
“Usually, I like to have someone travelling with me just in case something goes awry on the trip. But, I always felt really safe loading, travelling and managing Murphy myself. He was such a darling.
“It was very special to have Murphy give me my first training win, in the first race at Yarra Valley’s Melbourne Cup meet [in 2017]”.
After amassing $11,868 in his forty-two-race career and retiring sound, Georgina knew Murphy deserved a wonderful retirement.
“Murphy had been standing around the paddocks for a couple of years and I started to think that, being so quiet and kind, he’d make good little riding horse”, Georgina recalls.
“I was scrolling social media one day and I saw the Hero program pop up. I wondered whether they’d be interested intaking him, but I’d heard from a few industry friends that it was difficult to have horses accepted in the past.
“I wasn’t sure, but decided to submit an application anyway. I couldn’t believe it when, within an hour, I received a call that they were interested in Murphy and that they would arrange for a veterinarian to come out and check him over.
“The vet check was done the following week and everything moved pretty quickly. I was quite emotional when the truck collected him, to take him to the retrainer’s property.
“That’s what happens when you breed and train them yourself; you’re there feeding, caring and working with them night and day. You’re all they know for many years and it becomes a special relationship”.
Serendipitously, building beautiful relationships with her horses has been at the core of Jodie Lenton’s horsemanship journey.
“I’ve had the pleasure of owning several standardbreds since getting into horses around five years ago”, Jodie explains.
“I only started riding in my early-forties and spent about a year having lessons, before purchasing my first standardbred.
“It wasn’t long before I added more to my little herd. Today I own two standies of my own, along with a half-share in another mare with my best friend, who also owns two additional standies. So, there’s five between us, all paddocked together and besotted with one-another. We just love the breed!”
One of these ‘lucky five’ is Murphy, who was sent to Hero Retrainer Nicole Touzel from Marzel Park, upon acceptance into the program.
“It had been about three or so years since I’d checked what the Victorian harness industry were doing in the rehoming space”, Jodie explains.
“It was a really beautiful thing, to see how Hero had developed and that trainers, owners and breeders were able to sign their horses up, as I know there are so many industry professionals who just love their horses deeply.
“One of the mares I already had at home, whom I share with my best friend, has the most gorgeous nature. I really wanted my next horse to be related to her in some way. I looked up her lineage and saw she was by Alabar stallion Grinfromeartoear. I went into my search hoping to find another of his progeny.
“As I was scrolling through the Hero website, I thought it was remarkable just how much thoroughness and care was taken to check over the horses prior to acceptance.
“I saw Murphy’s profile listed, but there wasn’t anything that stood out or really grabbed my attention. But, I clicked open his profile and saw that he was also by Grinfromeartoear and I thought it was fate; I knew I just had to have him.
“I called the retrainer, Nicole, and she was just so lovely and honest. I was assured Murphy had the most kind, wonderful temperament, although he had only been in Nicole’s care for about three weeks by that stage.
“Although I was very keen, Nicole said she wanted Murphy to go through a six-week retraining program, before being rehomed. Unfortunately, at the time there was heavy rainfall and flooding in Northern Victoria, so Nicole said that the six weeks would likely push out a little, as their property was so wet and they were busy helping neighbours and friends.
“After twelve weeks, right before Christmas last year, Murphy was finally ready and I arranged transport for him. He was the most beautiful horse from the second he stepped off the truck. He had brilliant ground manners, even after a huge trip from Victoria to the Central Coast of NSW”.
Murphy’s lifecycle of love from birth, through racing and into retirement came full-circle when he landed in Jodie’s care, to be agisted at the acclaimed Glenworth Valley outdoor adventure centre.
“I visit my horses every single day. To me, the relationship is the best part about horses”, Jodie says.
“I love just taking a walk with my horses giving them a million kisses, cuddles and treats. The riding is a bit of fun on the side; they get their session with a professional trainer once a week and I also ride once a week. The rest of the time is spent just spoiling them and filling up their bellies.
“My horses are my family members, first and foremost and they all have a home for life. Even though I’ve had two standardbreds go through major surgeries, costing tens of thousands of dollars, I’d still do it again in a heartbeat”.
Although Jodie regards herself as ‘just a trail rider’, her modesty masks an enormity of love and the most wonderful lifestyle provided to her racing retirees.
Jodie’s meticulous care for her horses has not gone unnoticed by those who value it the most. Georgina was simply overwhelmed when Jodie reached out with an offer to send photos and updates of Murphy enjoying his life beyond the track.
“I’m just so pleased with how everything has worked out”, Georgina says.
“If the Interdominion is held in Sydney next year and I go, I hope to get up there to say hello to Murphy and Jodie.
“I know when I see Murphy, I’ll cry. When you breed your own horses and have them such a long time, they become very special.
“A lot of my mates involved in harness racing breeding would get such a thrill to see their horses go into such awesome homes like what Murphy has found”.
With the Hero program now offering industry professionals the opportunity to waitlist horses to send to retrainers, or to fast-track the rehoming process by listing horses on the Direct Off The Track (DOTT) section of the Hero website, there are some fantastic options available to support racing participants to transition their standardbreds from the track into loving homes.
Sharing in Georgina’s gratitude for the ‘amazing experience’ with Hero, Jodie was quick to praise the process of sourcing a horse through the program.
“When I bought Murphy, the amount of support and free educational resources provided by the Hero program was just incredible”, Jodie explains.
“It’s clear Hero really cares and wants to set new standardbred owners up with the perfect grounding for horse placements to be successful”.