When many thoroughbred racehorses retire, they are still in their prime. Seen as too old for the track, they are often the right age and in ideal physical condition to transition from the racetrack to the equestrian world.
“If a horse is still racing at six, they are seen as long in the tooth but that is young for an equestrian horse,” said Amanda Ross, one of Australia’s leading equestrian riders.
“With the right training, there are so many things you can do with off-the-track thoroughbreds – they are valuable creatures.”
During her lengthy career, Ross has enjoyed competition success with a series of off-the-track thoroughbreds. With her current horse, Koko Popping Candy (who Ross affectionately calls Zara, and who raced as Gothic Medusa), Ross is a serious contender for selection for the delayed Tokyo Olympic Games, and the duo has also competed at the World Equestrian Games and the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials in England.
In 2000, Ross rode off-the-track thoroughbred, Otto Schumaker, at the Sydney Olympics (he trialled but never raced, and his racing name was Asoremic). Last year, riding warmblood Dicavalli Diesel, Amanda came first in the Oceania Championships in New Zealand.
“I grew up bringing thoroughbreds off the track,” said Ross.
“I particularly like them because they have an inherent go button and that’s what you need in eventing. Their work ethic is ongoing and they are energetic horses. Their natural endurance is a factor, too, because the fitter they are, naturally, there will be less wear and tear on a horse to gain that fitness. Off-the-trackers come with a bunch of life experience: they can do so much already.”
Ross bought Koko Popping Candy in December 2016. The thoroughbred was previously owned and re-educated by Robert Palm and wife, Cassie, at their property in Bunyip, Victoria. Robert himself is a respected eventer and showjumper who has competed up to 4* level.
Since moving from his home in NSW to Victoria in 2010, Robert and Cassie have focused on breaking, pre-training and re-educating horses and operating Regulator Thoroughbreds and Performance Horses. They bought Koko Popping Candy from trainer Nikki Burke.
“I liked her type. These horses have got to have everything in the right place and make a nice shape without being forced into it. They have power behind them, they swing when they move and they are athletic and have a good action,” explained Palm.
“When I saw Koko Popping Candy for the first time, there was a thick piece of hosepipe lying across the area where we trotted her up, and she didn’t put one foot on top of that. She went over that piece of hosepipe three times – she saw it and was very watchful – and I thought ‘I’ll take her’.
“Cassie and I didn’t win many classes and shows with her but, looking at the big picture, we always thought she’d be something special if we got the fundamentals and fitness right.”
Palm said working with off the track thoroughbreds and getting them to a point where they can compete is a rewarding process, but it’s a process with no set time frame.