With a strong family background in harness racing and equestrianism, with both sets of grandparents and parents heavily involved in the racing industry and competitive riders, Stacey and Jackie Barker have grown up around standardbreds.
When the time came for the sisters to progress off their first ponies, the paddock full of retired pacers offered an unlimited selection of future riding prospects.
With access to their parents’ one hundred and fifty acre farm, and a penchant for providing a bright future to retired standardbreds, spare paddocks are never empty for long at the Barker residence.
“A while ago we only had two retirees out in the back paddock, but at the moment the numbers have blown out and we’ve got around ten or so waiting for their turn” says Jackie, with a laugh.
“Most of the horses we retrain are ones we ones we raced. But, as Jackie is a driver who regularly heads out to race meets, we occasionally get asked if we’ll take in standardbreds for outsiders who we know well.
“Some of the horses are very special to their racing connections and have really cool stories, so it gets hard to say no!”
Around two years ago, having worked with dozens of standardbeds both on and off the track, Stacey and Jackie decided to formalise their longstanding passion for retraining by starting their own business: ‘Monivae Park Standardbreds’.
The business structures behind Monivae Park, based in Hamilton, gave the program a good footing to apply to become an official HRV Hero Retrainer.
Becoming a Hero retraining operation has provided Monivae Park with additional exposure via the well-established Hero social networks, which helps to showcase horses in training to a larger audience.
There are also development opportunities offered to Hero Retrainers, including advanced registration to participate in events such as the Megan Jones Eventing Clinic for Standardbreds, which was organised and subsidised by the Hero program. Stacey enjoyed lessons at the October 22nd clinic on her special standardbred ‘Guilty Rama’, affectionately known at home as ‘Guilty’.
“We’ve had Guilty since he was a yearling. We raced him for his owners and when he retired we broke him to saddle”, Stacey explains.
“Since then, we’ve competed Guilty mainly in eventing and showing. He’s a lovely horse and we’ll probably keep him forever!”
Also in attendance at the clinic was a Monivae Park graduate, living her own happiest of endings.
Monivae Park Mistress, the show name given to a mare so slow she’d never even made it to the trials, nor received a racing name, has found her calling as a pony club superstar.
Ridden by gun thirteen-year-old rider Ruby Packman, ‘Stumpy’, as she was dubbed when the Barker family picked her up as the “smallest and runtiest of the herd” at a stud dispersal sale, has become a pocket rocket on the pony club scene, winning many fans throughout her adventures.
“We initially loaned Stumpy to Ruby to enjoy whilst she was looking for a new horse, after her pony, who she’d bought from us about a year earlier, tragically passed away from a snake bite” Jackie explains.
“The girls went out to pony club and just really clicked. We didn’t hesitate when Ruby asked us if she could buy Stumpy; they’re just perfect for each other.
“Ruby has gotten really into standardbreds since purchasing Stumpy and they’re great little role models, showing off exactly what standies can do!”
Like Stumpy, Monivae Park has had many special horses pass through its gates over the years, with each horse having its own story.
When asked to reminisce , Jackie recalls a kind gelding called Give Me A Hand (known around the stables as ‘Rooster’), with whom she shared some of her first racing drives.
“Rooster was brought down from NSW by Matt Craven. He wasn’t much good, so his owner, John Starr, and Matt were kind enough to offer him to me to get some experience with”, Jackie explains.
“Rooster was an excellent horse to learn on, but a pretty terrible racehorse. Matt was kind enough to give him to me to rehome once he retired.
“I broke Rooster to saddle and a lady drove over six hours, from near Adelaide, to test ride him. She’d tried many horses after her last mount had passed away and you could see that these two were just meant to be a team.
“Since being rehomed, Rooster, now known to his friends over the border as Teddy, has absolutely cleaned up in the show ring and has a list of exciting awards to his name, including Highpoint Horse of the Year. He was pretty woeful as a racehorse, but superb under saddle!”
Another Monivae Park graduate with a heart-warming story was the full-circle made by veteran pacer Gnotuk.
Named after the region from where he hailed, one hundred and eighty-nine-start pacer Gnotuk was somewhat of an icon in Victoria’s South West, rolling up week after week to steadily top up the funds towards his eventual $93,008 total earnings.
Having fought a long battle with cancer, it brought Gnotuk’s owner Tony Chisholm much joy to see Jackie take the reins in March 2019, for a thrilling win in Mount Gambier.
Sadly, Tony passed away shortly after this. Jackie, feeling a kinship with Gnotuk and wanting to honour Tony’s legacy, offered to retrain and rehome the gorgeous gelding whenever he was finished racing.
Six months later, Gnotuk’s career was complete and he began his transition to ridden training. True to their past form as a partnership, it was on Gnotuk and Jackie’s first navigation ride that they brought home the blue ribbon.
With his striking Black Beauty-esque looks, Gnotuk attracted his fair share of attention from keen horse riders. But it was a moment fated in the stars, when the perfect person came along and offered Gnotuk a home; on the exact same road where he was foaled.
After thirteen years, Gnotuk went home to Gnotuk.
Of a similar generation to Gnotuk, but with a bit more fame to his name, is harness icon Arden Rooney, who is currently stabled at Monivae Park.
The “quirky and quite hilarious” gelding, who amassed $ 1,070,230 in his outstanding career, is looking to make a transition from life after harness racing Hero Ambassador, to someone’s best mate.
“Arden Rooney is a real character and, after being stalled in our preparation due to the rain, we’re looking forward to getting him out to shake hooves with his fans again”, says Jackie.
“He’s got some cool tricks, including smiling on command. We plan to ride him out at some races, where he can flash his pearly whites at the crowd, before taking him out to experience some other riding activities, like pony club.
“We really like to let our horses try a range of disciplines and have them show us what they like to do. It’s then our job to help them to gain some experience and find them their perfect, forever home. That’s the plan for Rooney!”
It’s their extensive knowledge of the ins and outs of standardbreds, both from a racing perspective, then as their guardians as they transition into life beyond the track, that makes the Monivae Park team such a rare gem in the retraining space.
Although their standardbred roots are deep, the Barker sisters acknowledge the vital role the HRV Hero program plays in supporting racing industry participants and retrainers to achieve such fantastic outcomes beyond the track.
“The Hero program is essential”, says Jackie.
“Hero gives the option for more standardbreds to enjoy life after racing. What it’s done so far has been enormous and it’s only going to get bigger and better!”