Re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing race­horses

Matamata Chronicle - - Health - By ABBY BROWN

Deb­bie Devlin dis­agrees with her friends when they call her a horse whis­perer.

‘‘I just un­der­stand horses bet­ter than hu­mans, be­cause hu­mans can lie and horses can’t. If it doesn’t like you in its space it will show you straight away,’’ she said.

The man­ager of a horse re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre, lo­cated tem­po­rar­ily on a leased farm in Wa­haroa, will be at­tend­ing a ses­sion by a real horse whis­perer, Buck Bran­na­man, though.

The cen­tre, which moved down from Auck­land in Jan­uary of this year, will move to a big­ger farm with more graz­ing in the Mata­mata area at some stage.

She is al­ways learn­ing new skills to help sup­posed ‘‘dan­ger­ous’’ re­tired race­horses re­learn some sim­ple things.

A num­ber of in­ter­na­tional horses have to be taught how to eat grass be­cause in Hong Kong horses are kept in multi-sto­ried sta­bles with no nat­u­ral light and no grass in their diet. Those same horses have to learn to be in pad­docks again too.

Some of the ponies on the farm are weed eaters as they have lamini­tis, which is like di­a­betes in horses, and makes them al­ler­gic to the sugar in grass.

Diet was of­ten the rea­son why a lot of ex-race­horses get the stigma of be­ing dan­ger­ous be­cause in­ex­pe­ri­enced pony club riders take them on and can’t cope with them. ‘‘99 per cent of these horses have ul­cers which are re­flected in bit­ing and at­tack­ing when you are do­ing the girth up. Once you have their guts sorted out you pretty much have a good horse again.’’

She said riders had to re­spect that race­horses were used to be­ing fu­elled to be ath­letes.

‘‘That’s the trou­ble. Peo­ple fill them with grass and then get on them and try to con­tain them which is the worse thing to try to do to a thor­ough­bred.’’

Diet is­sues were be­hind one of the cen­tre’s most fa­mous horses Magic Cape’s be­havioural prob­lems. Devlin said the group one win­ner was ini­tially con­sid­ered a dan­ger­ous horse as the sugar in his diet ‘‘went to his head’’. Devlin now has fiveyear-olds rid­ing the horse.

Mil­i­tary Move is another group one win­ner in the sta­ble. He re­tired from track work five months ago be­cause of lig­a­ment dam­age. Devlin is train­ing him to be Ali­son Ritchie’s rid­ing horse.

‘‘She steals all the pretty ones,’’ Devlin laughed about one of the cen­tre’s main back­ers. The sta­bles are funded mostly by Ritchie, who is the wife of Cam­bridge trainer Shaune Ritchie. It is also funded by do­na­tions from the own­ers of the re­tired race­horses which the sta­bles look af­ter.

Devlin is is look­ing for vol­un­teers to help with the 25 horses.

‘‘They could do any­thing from bang­ing in nails in fences, groom­ing, muck­ing out pad­docks. If you can name it you can do it.’’

There are suit­able pac­ers the vol­un­teers can ride too.

The race­horses don’t lose their rac­ing habits. The har­ness rac­ers are trained to get in front of the pack and then block the other horses. Devlin said when they let groups of four pac­ers out on the on-farm track they still try and do this. The other rac­ers, with­out any hal­ters or jock­eys, also still en­joy run­ning around on the track too.

She said the cen­tre was quickly find­ing its niche.

‘‘Ev­ery­one wants with no is­sues. ‘‘We take all the ones with is­sues.’’ The cen­tre’s unof­fi­cial motto was stolen



race­horse from the film about the race horse Se­abis­cuit: ‘ You don’t wreck your whole life cos it’s a lit­tle banged up’.

Devlin, a pro­fes­sional groom, who learnt the ma­jor­ity of her skills through work­ing in the rac­ing in­dus­try, has no neg­a­tive feel­ings to­wards the horse rac­ing in­dus­try. She got started in the in­dus­try by ly­ing about her age and ‘‘scab­bing’’ rides on race­horses when they were train­ing at Takanini.

‘‘I’d ride down to the track at four in the morn­ing on my bike as a 10 or 11 year old.’’

By the time she was 13 she was break­ing in race horses to pay to com­pete in one day and three day event­ing, show jump­ing, dres­sage and cross coun­try at Ma­nurewa Pony Club.

She was the youngest qual­i­fied in­struc­tor at the club at the age of 15.

She met her men­tor, par­a­lympian rider Jane Craig, when Craig’s ar­ti­fi­cial leg fell off at the in­struc­tor course.

Devlin flipped a horse when she was 14 or 15 and didn’t re­alise she had bro­ken her neck un­til about five years later when she was be­ing x- rayed af­ter an ad­ven­ture rid­ing ac­ci­dent.

Hav­ing strong mus­cles from be­ing part of the New Zealand power lift­ing team and be­ing in­volved in body build­ing was at­trib­uted to Devlin not suf­fer­ing more dam­age when she flipped the horse. She is get­ting back into those sports and hopes to run the Ro­torua marathon.

Devlin is not just mo­ti­vated to help horses. She wants to give back to her com­mu­nity. She en­vi­sions the re­hab cen­tre be­com­ing a place where lo­cal at- risk teenagers can gain qual­i­fi­ca­tions in horse care. The cen­tre will even­tu­ally have a rid­ing school, which will fund the free train­ing course.

The race­horse re­hab cen­tre is ‘‘des­per­ate’’ for hay, baleage and saw­dust along with horse blan­kets and rugs.

Ring Devlin on 021 0838 1824 or visit their face­book page at face­­en­phoenix.eques­trian.


Deb­bie Devlin and two of the re­tired race horses, Magic Cape, left, and Green Supreme, that she is re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing in Wa­haroa.

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