New lease on life
Before his winning ride on Vow And Declare in the 2019 Lexus Melbourne Cup, Craig Williams had partnered another Danny O’Brien-trained horse to a Cup win: an imported UK stayer by the name of Caravan Rolls On, with which Williams won his fifth Geelong Cup in 2014.
While ‘Rolo’ did not quite make it to Flemington for that first Tuesday in November, he has had an interesting career which has now led him to the care of retrainer Fiona McIntyre, where they are currently making magic together in the show ring.
Danny O’Brien and his staff are focused on the horses in their stable, looking after every aspect of their wellbeing. This desire for wanting the best for them does not diminish when a horse retires from racing. They are also just as focused on what happens to their horses once their racing career ends.
Most stables have a rehoming program. They may head into eventing, show jumping, trail riding or just act as pleasure horses, among many other careers.
Bred at Lanwades Stud in Newmarket, Caravan Rolls On began his career on the racetrack under trainer Peter Chapple Hyam, before arriving in Australia with the Melbourne Cup in his sights. He settled at O’Brien’s stables in 2013, where he had great promise, with wins in the Sandown Cup and Geelong Cup. A tendon injury unfortunately ended his career in 2015, after which he moved into breeding polo ponies. Eventually he found his way back to Geoffrey Faber, the Australian Manager of Qatar Bloodstock. A new home was found for Rolo, which unfortunately fell through. A fortuitous phone call to Racing Victoria’s Equine Welfare department was the turning point. Samantha Davison, a former trackwork rider at Danny O’Brien’s stables and who had worked with Rolo took the call, and happily connected her former equine friend with what is now the perfect match.
Fiona McIntyre is a Racing Victoria Acknowledged Retrainer (and in 2020 won the accolade for Acknowledged Retrainer of the Year at the annual Equestrian Victoria awards). For more than 25 years she has been dedicated to giving retired racehorses a new life. The 2020 recipient of the Wakeful Club Lady of Racing award has a passion for horses that is evident in every interaction. Born into the industry, McIntyre grew up on a stud farm where her father was the stud master. He was also a former jockey and trainer, and her mother a show rider. As early as her toddler years, McIntyre was enrolled into pony club, beginning a lifetime working with horses as a show rider.
Retired racehorses were always present, as her mother also took them in for retraining. Now, McIntyre has over a dozen horses in her care which she looks after with her partner, juggling the retraining and showing with her full-time job.
“Thoroughbreds are so versatile and intelligent that they make retraining them easy and enjoyable.”
McIntyre believes that all horses require the basic fundamentals to transition into a new career. She tailors a program to each individual horse, and each is given a period of spelling. She also changes their feed from a diet high in energy and protein, something that is not as required when they move into equestrian. She also works to develop the horse’s top line, and different muscles than those used in racing.
Thoroughbreds are so versatile and intelligent that they make retraining them “easy and enjoyable” according to McIntyre. “Horses learn by repetition and tend to pick up new skills really well,” she said. “Some are easier to retrain than others, but mostly they are so smart that whether I am training one for equestrian or pleasure riding, they respond well.”
When Caravan Rolls On arrived at Fiona’s property, she not only clocked immediately that he had “personality”, but she also knew that he would stay with her forever, ending up in her retirement paddock. “It meant that I wasn’t in a rush with him. I renamed him Highroller, but he is still known as Rolo. He took a few twists in the road to get to me as he was proving difficult and a bit of a challenge,” said McIntyre.
She said this is a good example of how some ex-racehorses take longer than others to find their place post-racing. “Rolo is a character with a quirky personality. He has got spunk and attitude, which I find enjoyable! I took my time to get to know him and build a rapport, and to figure out his likes and dislikes.”
With a bond established, McIntyre now finds him easy to deal with, while others may not. After only around four months in McIntyre’s care, Rolo began his new career, competing in his first show. Winning in his section, it was extremely rewarding for McIntyre, with all the hard work they had done together paying off.
In March last year, Rolo and McIntyre were set to make more magic together in the competition ring, but unfortunately COVID-19 put a stop to those plans. The pandemic did however open up other opportunities that would have previously been impossible, as Rolo placed fourth in his class in the virtual Royal Windsor Horse Show.
Another of Danny O’Brien’s horses, The New Boy (nicknamed ‘Newby’) has also made his way to McIntyre. “Newby is 12 and that age is not always appealing for some, but I think a former racehorse deserves a chance. They still have a fair few miles in them!”. Post-retirement, Newby had been used as a lead pony, but some thought he could be doing more, hence his introduction to McIntyre.
“I collected him from Danny’s Barwon Heads property in September. He came with a great set of skills already, and now we are just working together to see what he likes. He seems to love jumping, but we are still working through the retraining phase,” said McIntyre. He is also proving valuable in showing the other ‘newbies’ the ropes, with a recent addition to McIntyre’s paddocks finding it hard to settle. McIntyre put him in a paddock with Newby, and things changed. “He is worth his weight in gold teaching the new horses the ropes of farm life with his wonderful temperament,” she said.
We will await to see what Newby will do in the ring, but for now all eyes are on Rolo, who is treading the show circuit. “He’s a big occasion horse, after all he once raced at Royal Ascot and won the Geelong and Sandown Cups, so he thrives in these conditions.”