Grieving the sudden and heartbreaking loss of her riding horse, Leah Kinman was offered solace in the form of a retired trotter looking to start a new chapter beyond the track.
Members of Leah’s extended family were involved in harness racing and had purchased, trained and recently retired the sweet-natured standardbred gelding named Shadow.
“When she heard that Stormy had passed away, my daughter’s nanna sent a text me to offer her condolences and the opportunity to take on a young standy”, Leah explains.
“I actually had met Shadow some years prior, having attended the yearling sales where he was purchased by a syndicate group that my partner at the time was involved in.
“Shadow stayed in the family and was trained by my daughter’s uncle Shannon Edwards, who is a reinsman based in Hamilton.
“Although I was very raw from the shock of losing such a special horse, I thought it would be lovely for Shadow to live his whole life within the one family and so I agreed to bring him home and see how he went.
“I had no expectations, especially as I had never trained a young horse from scratch before.
“I spent a lot of time doing in-hand training with Shadow in the beginning, so we could focus on building a bond together.
“Once we had a good connection, and had ticked a few health checks off, I sent Shadow off to be broken in by a trainer. He took to riding so well and I feel that the time we spent together prior to him be started under saddle gave us a great foundation to build on”.
Leah’s patient, kind approach to horsemanship paid off, with her journey with Shadow moving from strength to strength throughout their first year as a partnership.
“Shadow had only been under saddle for a couple of months before he went out and competed in the Camperdown Agricultural Show. He was just amazing.
“We went to a few shows across Shadow’s first season and he placed in nearly every single one of them, even when competing in open rings against other breeds of horse.
“He’s just such an old soul and very relaxed and easy to take away from his pony friends and enjoy a day out.
“We’ve been to some pretty busy events, out trail riding through the bush and into indoor arenas with lots of activities. Nothing fazes Shadow.
“In fact, it seems that the bigger and busier the event, the better behaved he is. He’s just so calm and willing”.
As fate would have it, one of Shadow’s harness stable buddies, a gelding who raced as Corporal Bill (affectionally known as Bill), found his way into a new home upon retirement with Leah’s best friend Sara Church.
Together, the foursome of horse and human friends spend their weekends travelling to trails, clinics and events, exploring new territory and chalking up some wonderful experiences together.
“Shadow and Bill were paddock buddies back when they were racing and the bromance has continued on”, Leah explains with a laugh.
“I had never shown horses before and it was actually Sara who suggested we throw the horses on the float and go out and give it a try together.
“Whenever we take the boys out they start smooching and loving on each other. It’s so great that they have each other’s company and for Sara and I to be able to catch up and enjoy some horse time together”.
The social side of standardbreds is something which has spread beyond Leah’s adventures with Sara, having received much support from other standy owners along the way.
“It’s been really great going to shows and meeting likeminded people”, Leah says.
“Even at the bigger events, everyone is very welcoming and reassuring. When we were at the SPPHAV State Showing Championships, Shadow was a bit worried about a tent flapping near the ring. The lady next to me told me not to worry, as everyone in the line-up was either working with a green horse or had been through the process before. This perspective turned a competition into a training opportunity and I was really grateful for that”.
Thinking back over their first year together, Leah is astounded by the sheer amount of positive experiences she’s shared with Shadow.
“Shadow is just incredible and the things he’s learned and things we’ve accomplished in just twelve months is insane”, Leah gushes.
“Shadow tries so hard and is really in-tune and takes care of me. He is so versatile and such a great example of what standardbreds are like and can do.
“My experience with Shadow has been the most challenging, with him being the first young horse I’ve had to educate, and rewarding achievement ever.
“I’ve felt so much self-satisfaction at having learnt and gone through this experience together, right from the very beginning.
“Shadow just tries his heart out at everything that I ask of him. He always gives me his all and is so willing and eager to please.
“Standardbreds are just such a beautiful breed of horse – everyone should have one!”