1 Dec 2023

Working horses adjust to new life off the track

From Country Life, 7:30 pm on 1 December 2023
Chanelle Dickie

Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Chanelle Dickie has taken dozens of retired racehorses under her wing at the Selwyn Equestrian Centre.

But she says the hardest thing is always letting them go to their forever home.

"I don't know many horses I've let go that haven't put tears in my eyes as they go down the driveway," Dickie tells Country Life.

Located at Burnham, the horse trainer is part of HERO - a rehoming and re-educating programme caring for standardbred's that have fallen off the pace.

"It's run by Harness Racing New Zealand," Dickie explains.

"It's their scheme to show they care about the life after racing and the standardbred breed," she says.

Chanelle Dickie

Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Most of the horses Dickie re-trains come from the Canterbury region. However, there are also HERO re-trainers in Auckland, Southland and North Canterbury.

She says even though the horses haven't had riders on them, it's usually quite easy to break the horses into saddle.

"They've had a bridle on, a bit in their mouth, they know how to steer and stop.

"Essentially the only thing they need is weight on their back and the pressure of your legs on either side, that's new to them."

Once retrained, Dickie says it's quite easy to find horses new homes through the HERO programme, but there's a strict vetting process.

"We only ever let them go if they have another horse at home, as they're a herd animal.

"And they have to come here and ride in front of me and show me their skills," she says.  

Not all harness racing horses can be rehomed for riding, due to either an injury or their attitude.

However, there are other options for these horses, Dickie says.

Females can become brood mares while males can be a good paddock mate for another horse, she explains.