Homesman is where the heart is

18 March 2024 Written by VRC

When Homesman won the Group 1 TAB Australian Cup (2000m) in 2021, the victory held extra special meaning for the owners, occurring shortly after the passing of part-owner Michael Gudinski. Gudinski was involved in several horses co-owned by Lloyd and Nick Williams, including three Melbourne Cup winners. The Australian Cup was Homesman’s second Group 1 victory, adding to his 2018 Underwood Stakes (1800m) win. With Jye McNeil in the saddle, Homesman crossed the finish line in a thrilling finish ahead of Best Of Days by a nose, with Chapada finishing third. Affectionately known as ‘Homer’, his devoted strapper Tayla Simpson was first in line to rehome him when it was time for him to be retired. Here she shares the details about their relationship throughout his racing career and how that has evolved into a post-racing match made in heaven.

“I was working on the ground as a stablehand and strapper with Anthony and Sam Freedman at their Pinecliff stables when I first met Homer. It really was love at first sight.

He has the personality of a saint and I claimed him as my horse from the beginning. He was instantly a stable favourite and everyone loved him, but I made sure everyone knew that he was mine. It is hard not to fall in love with Homer as he is the easiest horse in the world to do anything with. Nothing fazes him.

I always made sure I was available to go everywhere with him – track gallops, trials or races. He was always my number-one priority.

When I learned that he had been retired, I instantly started contacting everyone to make sure they knew I wanted the first option of offering him a home after racing. I just needed to know where he was and what their plan was with him. He was spelled for about six months and then I got a text message from Sam Freedman one Monday afternoon saying, “Homer’s looking for a home”. It took me about two seconds to respond, “I’ll take him!”. After just a couple of days I drove up to Macedon Lodge with the float, loaded him up and brought him home! Best decision I’ve ever made.

Homer’s life now compared to when he was racing is quite different. While in training he would work six to seven days a week doing track work, treadmilling and swimming. He’s the sort of horse that naturally carries a bit of extra condition, so keeping him fit and lean was a priority. His diet and nutrition was pretty strict, but I always found ways to sneak him an extra biscuit of hay or a few apples and carrots. He loves his food, and I think you could convince him to do absolutely anything for a snack.

His day-to day-life now is very laid back. When in work he’s only ridden four to five days a week. We started his retraining slowly and correctly, and I am in no rush with him. And to Homer’s delight, his diet is far less strict – whatever he wants, he gets!

He’s a smart horse, learns quickly and gives me the feeling that he has everything to be a really nice competitive horse. He has adjusted to life off the track as if he’s been doing it for years, and hasn’t batted an eyelid at anything.

Tayla and Homesman training for his new career.

He has been in one show purely for some competition exposure. Once he settled, he went around like a gentleman and even came home with a couple ribbons, as well as some lovely comments from judges.

Unfortunately, in October he kicked through a fence and acquired a nasty wound to his hind leg, so he was in bandages for 12 weeks. He handled his box rest and treatments like a champ, and his laid back, unflappable temperament really helped his speedy recovery, with no complications.

When he started to come back into work I just got on and picked up where we left off. He truly is one in a million.

I am back working for the Freedman team and am also an equine vet nurse. The racing community really is one big family and I love working in it.

My work schedule allows me some spare time for riding and competing on weekends, so when Homer is ready I plan to take him out to some dressage competitions. I can’t wait for everyone to see just how much of a legend he really is, win or lose. Homer makes friends wherever he goes.

At the end of the day, I just want to have some fun with him and make sure he’s happy and healthy. It doesn’t matter if he ends up competing higher up the grades or we plod around the lower levels. As long as he comes home with me, I’m a happy owner.

I just adore Homer and am forever grateful that I get to own a horse like him. Being offered him was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I just couldn’t say no to. He really is my heart horse.”