Horse racing is the third most attended spectator sport in Australia, behind only football and rugby. There are about 360 registered racecourses throughout the county, with the highest concentration of Thoroughbred farms and racecourses located in the three eastern states of Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria. The W.S. Cox Plate at Moonee Valley Racing Club, Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick Racecourse, and Melbourne Cup at Flemington Racecourse are among the most famous races in the nation. Australian racehorses such as Phar Lap, Kingston Town, Takeover Target, Black Caviar, and, most recently, Winx became renowned worldwide for their accomplishments in Australia and abroad. Only the United States outnumbers Australia in Thoroughbreds starting in races each year. And like the United States, western disciplines provide an outlet for retiring racehorses.
Large cattle stations are common across the continent, so rodeoing is a way of life for many Aussies. Wild West shows traveling Australia in the mid-1800s popularized roughriding, whip-cracking, and rope-spinning. Shows eventually evolved into organized competitions. Early events included campdrafting, backjumping, and bulldogging. Australian rodeos have since adopted American events and include saddle bronc, bareback bronc, bull riding, steer wrestling, team roping, and barrel racing, in addition to the traditional campdrafting. All rodeo events test the talent of the competitors and require fast, agile horses. Since horseracing is popular throughout Australia, it is no surprise that some cowboys and cowgirls call upon retired Thoroughbred racehorses in the rodeo arena.
Kate Patch and Magic Mover
Kate Patch is a barrel racer from Oakey, Queensland. She works as an exercise rider for Kropp Racing. Five years ago, Kate was working for McEwan Racing and they had a gelding named Magic Mover. Fondly known as “Red,” he had made 36 starts, won two races at Ballina and Toowoomba, and was losing interest in racing. Kate had galloped Red and knew him well, so when the McEwan’s offered him to her, she was happy to give the chestnut a home and a second career.
Red is by stakes winner Snippetson and out of Lady Biton, by Australian Horse of the Year Rubiton. Kate retrained the royally bred gelding for barrel racing. They compete in barrel races and rodeos. There are numerous rodeo associations in Australia because the country is separated by vast rural areas. Multiple associations help to minimize travel time for competitors, but Kate still regularly drives five hours one way for weekend rodeos. Kate and Red compete in the Queensland Barrel Racing Association (QBRA), Australian Professional Rodeo Association (APRA), and National Rodeo Association (NRA).
OTTBwestern: Was it difficult to retrain Red for barrel racing?
Kate: No. He had a very approachable and trainable nature. He is not like most racehorses I have worked with. I got very lucky with him.
OTTBwestern: What do you think makes Red a good barrel horse?
Kate: He is just so placid. His easy nature and quiet tendency make everything easier. He is happy and puts 100% into every run.
OTTBwestern: What have been your biggest achievements with Red?
Kate: My biggest achievement with him so far would be winning both the NRA Barrel Racing Title and NRA Finals Aggregate Championship two years in a row.
OTTBwestern: What advice would you offer to other Australian barrel racers that might be considering an off-track Thoroughbred for their next mount?
Kate: As long as they are sound and have a good temperament, you really can’t go wrong. They have already started to be seasoned on the track and are used to loud noises and big crowds. I have found that their best attributes are their athleticism and ability to maneuver. The way they handle different grounds and situations can really surprise you.
Penny Malone and Thierry La Fronde
Penny Malone is a barrel racer from Esperance, Western Australia. She has had a passion for horses and riding her entire life. She grew up competing in Pony Club and was successful in show jumping, eventing, and campdrafting. About ten years ago, Penny began barrel racing and competing in rodeos.
Penny used to ride racehorses for a friend and her favorite horse was Thierry La Fronde, also known as “The Coke Machine” or “Coke.” He made five starts on the track and failed to hit the board or make any money. She was given the bay gelding upon his retirement from racing. Penny originally planned to retrain him for jumping, but he did not show any interest. The pair tried barrel racing and Coke enjoyed it much more. At rodeos, Penny and Coke compete in barrel racing and steer undecorating, an event in which a cowgirl must remove a ribbon attached to a steer’s back. Coke is now sixteen years old and has suffered several injuries that could have been career-ending. Penny says that he keeps soldiering on and coming back strong.
OTTBwestern: Was it difficult to retrain Coke for barrel racing and steer undecorating?
Penny: When training my horses, I believe that variety is the key especially with Thoroughbreds. I take mine team penning, jumping, trail riding, and beach riding – anything to keep them listening. Coke is the kind of horse you can’t force to do something. You must ask him and if you press the wrong button, you will know about it. When I was teaching him to be comfortable and happy in the arena, I spent endless hours of just walking in and out of the box and getting him relaxed. We found a quiet spot to stand and watch it all. Once he was happy in the arena, I started him on the pattern. It’s been hard work, but it’s paid off. To this day, he doesn’t like to stand around waiting.
OTTBwestern: What have been your biggest accomplishments with Coke?
Penny: I’ve won lots of prize money with Coke, but my proudest achievement with him was winning the fastest OTTB award last year at one of our favorite rodeos.
OTTBwestern: What advice would you offer to others that might be considering a Thoroughbred for rodeo events?
Penny: Do not push them. Make the arena their happy place not a place that they will fall apart. They have a heart of gold and will really excel for you if you look after them and work as a team. Most of all have fun!
Mika Williams and Samauri Point
Mika Williams is a barrel racer and roper from Aberglasslyn, New South Wales. She began riding horses in high school. She fell in love with horses and later got a job managing a Thoroughbred spelling facility and stud farm. In the winter of 2015, a bay gelding named Samauri Point, or “Sammy,” arrived at the facility. He had made 14 starts and earned just $3,600 on the track. His best effort was a 2nd place finish at Canberrra Acton. Sammy had not started in several years and his owners were looking to find him a home. Mika eventually agreed and retrained him for barrel racing and roping.
Mika was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). She decided to quit working at the Thoroughbred farm so that she could have more energy for her own horses. She was advised to quit riding altogether, but Sammy allows her to keep doing what she loves without any worries.
OTTBwestern: Was it difficult for you to retrain Sammy for barrel racing and roping?
Mika: It was not too difficult. I had to start him like a youngster – teaching him his leads, balancing, etc. I never had any trouble with him being hotheaded. Barrels were hard because he wants to drop his shoulder. I still find that I struggle to keep drums up in small arenas. But lots of drill work and leg aids have helped with that. I also have weak legs from MS so I have a heap of trouble keeping them on properly. He knows his job now though and most of the time you can trust him to get it done with no shoulder dropping or funny business. Roping with Sammy is a breeze. He picked it up really quick and is super cowy. He doesn’t get hot in the box, although he used to get sassy and turn his head away from the calf. Touch wood, that is a thing of the past and he’s happy to walk in, back up, and go!
OTTBwestern: What have been your Biggest accomplishments with Sammy?
Mika: I think I’m most proud of the times we’ve caught calves at events. All in all, I’m over the moon to have such an honest and versatile horse. He’s won me money at rodeos and Australian Barrel Horse Association shows, plus ribbons at gymkhanas and show jumpings. If I’m heading to a competition with Sammy, I don’t get nervous or worried because I know Sam will take care of me. I know he’s going to give it his all and look after my clumsy butt at the same time. After my diagnosis, it was suggested I stop riding due to all the potential accidents. I think that if I didn’t have Sam in the paddock, I might very well have done that.
OTTBwestern: What advice would you offer to others that might be considering a Thoroughbred for rodeo events?
Mika: My advice would be to not listen to negative people. If you and your horse are keen, then go for it!
Dylan Ruff, Rebecca Gilbert, and Marechal Trophy
Dylan Ruff is a multi-event cowboy from Perth, Western Australia. Dylan’s dad played polocrosse, so he has been around horses since he was very young. He ran barrels and poles on ponies and later started roping. About seven years ago, Dylan was struggling to find a more competitive rope horse. His friend Stan Baker had a small Thoroughbred mare named Marechal Trophy that did not make it at the racetrack. Stan offered her to Dylan on a free lease and he ended up buying the mare.
Marechal Trophy is by Marechal and out of Trophy Girl, by Maroof. She has become fondly known as “Lil’ Mare.” Dylan and Lil’ Mare compete in the West Coast Team Roping Association (WCTRA) and in the Australian Bushmen’s Campdraft and Rodeo Association (ABCRA), the largest campdraft and rodeo association in Australia. With nearly 5,000 members, the ABCRA is comparable in size to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) in the United States. Dylan and Lil’ Mare have qualified for three ABCRA National Finals in team roping. Lil’ Mare is an excellent heel horse and she also competes in barrel racing and breakaway roping with Dylan’s girlfriend Rebecca Gilbert. The versatility of this bay mare is outstanding.
OTTBwestern: Was Lil’ Mare difficult to train for team roping?
Dylan: She was very difficult. She didn’t rate very well and would always blow past the corner when roping cattle. I nearly sold her, but I persisted. One day it was like something clicked. She became really solid and I started winning on her.
OTTBwestern: What have been some of your biggest accomplishments with Lil’ Mare?
Dylan: She helped me win the ABCRA WA Rookie Heeling Title in 2013 and the ABCRA WA Open Heeling Title in 2017. We won the ABCRA Rookie Heeling Title in 2017 also. We won the Mullewa Championship Rodeo in 2016, 2017, and 2019 and the Boddington Championship Rodeo in 2018. We have qualified for the ABCRA National Finals for the last three straight years.
OTTBwestern: What do you like most about Lil’ Mare?
Dylan: She is so casual. I can take her anywhere and nothing phases her. She’s quick and very athletic.
OTTBwestern: Rebecca, what have been some of your biggest accomplishments with Lil’ Mare?
Rebecca: She won me my first check in barrel racing as an adult rider. She also gave me my confidence back to start roping again.
OTTBwestern: We think that it is awesome that you and Dylan are able to rodeo successfully on the same horse. Would you recommend rodeoing on a Thoroughbred to other multi-event cowboys and cowgirls?
Rebecca: Definitely. Many Thoroughbreds have conformation like Quarter Horses and have the ability and mentality to be rodeo horses. It is about getting the right horse for the right job. Lil’ Mare is a great example. She does barrel racing, team roping, breakaway, and even grand entry. She is the most versatile horse I have ever encountered.