After a rather hit-and-miss career, New Zealand bred pacer Mossdale Allan, affectionately known as ‘Bob’, faced the same question that has been posed to many other racehorses upon retirement: now what? Although with “too great a nature” to send to an ill-fate, the reality was that Bob’s trainer, junior champion reinswoman Ellen Tormey, was time poor and unable to offer him a life of purpose beyond the track and the affection she felt he deserved.
Spurred on by the actions of her mentor Andy Gath, who has re-homed some true champions of the track including About to Rock, Diamonds N Furs and Blatant Lie, Tormey sought the same avenue for her beloved Bob within harness racing outplacement program ‘Raising the Standards’.
Raising the Standards is a full-scale program dedicated to the rehabilitation and retraining of the ‘off the track’ Standardbred. With program graduates pursuing a range of ridden careers, including dressage, show jumping, endurance, trail and placement within organisations such as Victoria Police and Riding for the Disabled, each horse is offered the opportunity to display it’s unique talents beyond the racetrack.
Ms. Tormey corresponded with Raising the Standards program founder/manager Nicole Tassone about entering Bob into the program. As he was within the ideal age range of 3-10 years, and ‘sound of body and mind’, Bob was accepted and arrangements were made for his delivery to the Raising the Standards Clonbinane training centre.
Bob quickly settled into life in retirement and earned himself many fans via Raising the Standards’ educational programs and strong social media following. As part of preparation for life as a riding horse, Bob underwent extensive vetting and rehabilitation training, to allow him to build the necessary muscles to become a sound, strong riding horse.
Once formal ridden training began, Bob went from strength to strength. He attended clinics and adult riding club rally days, went on trail rides and even competed in a dressage competition. Along his entire journey from track to hack, Mrs. Tassone had a sneaking suspicion that her four-year search for the first ex-harness horse to join Victoria Police’s Mounted Branch may just be over.
Having first dealt with ‘The Mounties’ in 2010, as a freelance writer for the Australian Performance Horse Magazine, Mrs. Tassone had already sung the praises of the Standardbred to the higher powers within the force. With their interest piqued after a recent cessation of a long-term breeding program, two carloads of officers made the trip to Clonbinane to view the Raising the Standards centre and meet the horses.
The checklist of attributes required for acceptance into the force were quite stringent: a horse of substance, standing approximately at 16.2hh, a horse of ‘vet check quality’ soundness and with no health issues and, foremostly, a horse with a placid, trainable nature and low-reactivity to loud and/or confronting sights and sounds. Although Standardbreds are known to be very docile and intelligent horses by nature, to find one that ticks all the boxes is not a straightforward process when dealing with the random offering of retirees navigating their way through various ‘life after racing’ pathways. After all, there is little choice for retrainers as to when and which racehorses will retire.
With preliminary testing at Raising the Standards going well, Mrs. Tassone decided to bite the bullet and give her Victoria Police contacts a call. It was arranged for Bob to be driven down to the Victoria Police Atwood training centre on January 17th, 2014.
As part of his test ride, Bob was put through all three paces in an arena, even with only a very new understanding of canter as a preferred gait, and then asked to withstand some confronting challenges, such as having an officer run behind him flapping a hessian bag, walking onto deep mattresses and steel grates and weaving in and out of cones and bright signage. At the culmination of his session Bob was offered a ninety-day trial period to further assess his suitability for mounted life.
Across the period of his trial, Bob underwent extensive training. He worked in heavy Melbourne CBD traffic, completed team drill exercises, withstood smoke machines, tarpaulins and other confronting objects and performed crowd control roles at the soccer, an open house event for TV show ‘The Block’ and even at the prestigious Warrnambool Racing Carnival. Very few things worried Bob and his trainers noted him to be a “solid learner”.
On May the 10th 2014 it was announced, via Channel Nine News, that Bob had been accepted into the Victoria Police Mounted Branch. Standardbred fans across the country, and even internationally, celebrated the exciting moment when a ‘champ stamp’ was thrust into the limelight for a very different reason and Bob proudly represented life after racing and all that could be achieved.
Bob is cited to be the first Standardbred to be accepted into Victoria Police, however other states, including NSW and WA, already have ex-harness racing horses within their respective bodies.
It is hoped that Bob’s journey will inspire people to see the unharnessed potential of the Standardbred.
For more information about Bob and his journey, please visit www.raisingthestandards.com.au - ‘Officer Bob’ page.