Natasha Pettingill has a long-standing affinity with the standardbred.
From her first riding lesson on canter aboard trusty steed Rusty, who flew under the ‘champ with a stamp’ radar because he pre-dated the freezebrand, and the substitutes who stepped in to fill the gaps when her performance-bred horses were out of action, standardbreds have always seemed to find their way into Pettingill’s paddocks.
“As a vet, I’ve had a lot of ex-harness horses offered to me,” she said. “I quite like the standies, so I’ve been happy to take in a few over the years and some have turned out to be quite brilliant.”
Pettingill is a member of the Australian Carriage Driving Society, regularly competing in Combined Driving; the carriage driving equivalent of eventing.
She recalls taking a green, natural, free-legged mare Gypsy out on the circuit years ago as a back-up while her competition mare was in foal, only to find themselves gracing the winner’s circle on numerous occasions.
“I remember this one time Gypsy and I went to a large event and one of the phases included a dressage test. There was an individual prize awarded to the best dressage performance across the entire weekend and I was pretty chuffed to find we won.
“When I spoke to the judge afterwards, he praised how lovely our test was. I asked him if he knew my horse was a standardbred, to which he replied that he did indeed and that was the best part about it.”
Over the years, Pettingill has fine-tuned a process for transitioning ex-harness horses from quiet, lightweight sulkies into heavier-set pleasure driving carts and other new types of gear.
Much of this retraining occurs via groundwork, with horses being long-lined and sometimes even being broken to saddle to improve balance, bend and to establish new movement patterns.
Fortunately, Pettingill has the perfect training set-up at her property an hour north-west of Melbourne, which features large grassy verges and access to endless miles of sprawling trails.
With plenty of new sights and sounds, including fast-moving traffic, native wildlife and even the odd bridge crossing, trainee standies are put through a range of scenarios that set them up to make confident all-rounders.
Despite a long history taking in standardbreds direct from their racing connections, Pettingill has recently joined the HRV HERO team as an acknowledged retrainer.
“It will be wonderful to access more standardbreds needing a second chance beyond the racetrack and to be able to provide them with the training and skills they’ll need to find great pleasure harness homes,” Pettingill said of her appointment.
Her first HERO pupil is a tall five-year-old gelding called Nemo, who amassed $59,890 as pacer Paying Your Way.
Nemo has settled into his new home well, buddying up with sidekick pony Skittles and is taking well to retraining under Pettingill’s expert guide.
She hopes to work with Nemo over several months of steady training, with a goal to take him out to a couple of events and then find him a loving home as a pleasure-driving partner.
You can follow Nemo’s development and Pettingill’s retraining methodology via her Facebook page Taraleigh Training.