Hmm, research…a term I love to use when I should be writing, but I’m not. But I can actually say, I’m not procrastinating at the moment. I’ve already written this story (five years ago to be truthful).
This research was undertaken to assist the illustrator of my next picture book, the award winning and fabulous, Andrew McLean. My new book is called ‘The Bushfire Miracle’ due out with Allen & Unwin in 2016. It’s the story of an old racehorse in a bushfire and how he remarkably saves seven yearlings. It’s a true story from the Black Saturday Bushfires in 2009.
So, Andrew, who is not familiar with horse racing had a desire to gain a greater understanding.
I grew up in a horse racing family so it was already familiar to me and easy to visualise images as I wrote the text. Like a movie in my head. But for Andrew to make his work accurate and truly authentic, a visit to a horse racing facility became vital for him to get a feel for the ‘hustle and bustle’ of stable life.
I’m very grateful to leading racehorse trainer and friend, David Hayes, for allowing us to visit his wonderful stables, Lindsay Park, at Flemington.
What time do we have to be there?
6am !!! Crickey, I haven’t been up that early since…?
It was very dark.
Mind you, everybody else at Flemington had already been there since 4am.
We met the very helpful, Jessie, the Stable Manager, to show us around Lindsay Park Stables.
After checking out the boxes and stalls and outside yards where the horses spend their days, we watched the horses being saddled up for track work. The clanking of stirrups, the rattling of a bit in the mouth of an eager horse and the clip clopping of hooves filled our senses.
We watched as a young Irish bred horse was put into the circular walker for 20 minutes. He was ‘a bit bound up in his action’ and this would help to loosen him up before he did his track work.
We had two friendly dogs as company and we crossed the path of an affectionate tabby cat that insisted on a pat.
We followed the horses out through the tunnel under the main track into the centre of Flemington to watch them do their track work.
In the centre of the race track, there are three different tracks. They’re ‘wet weather’ tracks and they sort of look like a fine chip bark. The horses train in both directions, so that they are strong on both sides of their bodies. That makes sense.
Lindsay Park has it’s own little hut on stilts out in the middle of the track to watch everything.
It holds a lot of technical stuff, computers and so forth, timing gear and video equipment to monitor track work. Every horse has a different training program. They’re all different (just like us) so their training is based on the nature of the horse, how old they are, how fit they are and how close to racing they are. They all have different work loads.
Usually, if they are racing on Saturday, they’ll have a ‘hit out’ and gallop the last two hundred metres.
I’d forgotten how exhilarating this is to watch. The pounding of hooves, the flexing of muscles, and the snorting sound horses make when they exert themselves. It was very exciting!
The track riders wear monitors on their skullcaps that flash when a horse achieves ‘even’ time, which is a measure of speed they need to achieve to fulfill training requirements.
If a siren sounds, it means a rider has fallen off. Apparently, it happens on occasion. Young, frisky yearlings, skittering and jigging about, excited to be out on the track.
Thankfully, we never heard one of these, so that was a relief.
Up to one hundred horses can be training at the one time in this space every morning.
It’s as busy as Bourke Street! Fortunately, there is a gentleman there that controls the entry of horses out onto the track though so that they don’t all rush out at there once (can you imagine, mayhem!), a bit like what the traffic lights do as you enter the South Eastern Freeway.
As sunrise dawned, silhouettes of horse and rider could be seen, legs pounding, clods of earth flying, perfectly balanced and completely mesmerising.
Clip clopping back into the stables, horses are unsaddled, hosed down and rubbed dry. Some might get to dry off in the sand roll while other horses are rugged up ready for a well deserved feed of hay and a bit of rest and relaxation.
We got to explore the tack room and feed rooms, with rows and rows of halters, bridles, saddles, saddles cloths and horse rugs.
Horsey smells, molasses, hay and manure…old racing photos adorning the walls.
It was such an enjoyable experience – a big thank you to David Hayes, Susan Mills, Jessie and all the staff at Lindsay Park.
And thank you to Hugo, the dog.
I’m really looking forward to seeing what Andrew McLean’s illustrations will look like.
Now, I’m wondering how on earth am I going to explain to my husband about that share in a syndicate I just bought…!!!?
Well, he did look very fast…