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All I Want For Christmas

Jay Peg memorabilia

Jay Peg memorabilia

‘A little over a month to go till Christmas!’,  gloat all the TV ads.  We’re only half way through November and already it seems one can’t move for in-store tinsel and Boney M. ‘35 shopping days left!’. One isn’t quite sure whether it’s a promise or a threat. But I guess that depends on your point of view.

My grandmother routinely drives us spare at Christmas, always citing that she is a ‘practical person’ and pleading for things like socks, soap, or (great luxury) a spencer from M&S while I lived abroad.  It turns out that I carry more of my grandmother’s genes than I’d like to admit and when the annual Christmas lists come round, I raise some eyebrows of my own asking for Himalayan salt mineral licks or a specific brand of fly repellent.  I’m a pretty easy customer – if my horses are happy, I’m happy.  While it makes for a boring shopping trip, it is a blessing to want for so little in life!

For those of you with similarly tricky family members, I may have a solution.

This weekend is a big one in the EC racing calendar.  On Friday 23 November, Fairview hosts the Listed RA Stakes and generously allows the ever enthusiastic and energetic Dorrie Sham and her team to use the rest of the day to raise funds for the EC Horse Care Unit.  Dorrie has been slaving away raising sponsorship for the day as well as putting together a fundraising function on Friday evening.  There will be dinner and entertainment, they will be auctioning the Algoa Cup runners to raise funds and the star attraction of the evening is a charity auction, which has not only attracted several serious collectors’ items but also a large number of very serious bids (courtesy of some vigorous traffic and generous benefactors on the Africanbettingclan forum).

What’s on offer

Headlining the list of items on offer this year is the saddle Anton Marcus used when riding Jay Peg to victory in the heroics and high drama of the 2008 Gr1 Dubai Duty Free (dubbed one of the ‘Moments of the Decade’ on the Dubai Race Night website) and the subsequent Gr1 Singapore Airlines International Cup.  Local jockey Chris Taylor was closely associated with Jay Peg during his international campaign and has offered an additional donation of Jay Peg’s Kranji work number cloth OR the parade ring bib that accompanied him on his last racetrack outing if the bidding reaches R20k.  However, if the bidding reaches R50k or above, Chippy has pledged to donate both items to accompany the saddle.  A truly unique set of racing memorabilia and early bidding has already reached the R20k mark.

A second piece of uniquely South African racing history going under the hammer is a framed set of breeches, whip and riding goggles donated by home grown turf champion, Mark Khan.  The breeches have been signed with the years that he was Champion Jockey, including the 2001/02 season when he achieved a massive 301 wins for the season.  Mark says attaining the magic number of 300 would have been impossible without the support of the PE racing fraternity and he didn’t hesitate in making this very generous contribution.

Muzi Yeni has pledged a signed set of the SA colours awarded to him when he obtained his SA colours (already receiving serious interest).

There are a host of other unique and collectible items, sourced both locally and abroad which include signed Frankel memorabilia, a poster of Sea The Stars autographed by Mick Kinane, items from the recent jockey international, a golf cap autographed by Darren Clarke, a collection of mounted gold leaf dollar bills and a 2 night, all-inclusive stay for 2 at the Kariega Game Lodge.  Now how’s THAT for some out of the box Christmas ideas? Please contact Dorrie Sham if you are interested in placing a bid.

And of course, best of all, the proceeds are for a good cause and all go towards the EC Horse Care Unit.

Bowled Over

For the Highveld Horse Care Unit, headed up by the Bev Seabourne (who is about the loveliest human being you will ever meet), Christmas came early in the form of two very special benefactors.  First they were chosen by the RA as a nominated charity for the recent Emperors Palace Charity Mile and received a R50k donation thanks to their runner, Meadow Magic finishing a good third.  However, they were completely bowled over when Her Serene Highness Princess Charlene made an additional personal donation of an astonishing R100k.

It would be an understatement to say that Princess Charlene made an impression with her visit to Turffontein.  Absolutely every single person commented on how incredibly gracious and kind she was and how hard she worked all day attending to prize giving ceremonies and race day formalities.  In a day and age when the term ‘princess’ is bandied around as a synonym for ‘prima donna’ it is wonderful to have a bona fide reminder of what the title really means.

Bev says that they did not have much chance to say thank you in person, but that the donation means more than words can say.  She says they walked around with huge stupid smiles on their face all day, which attracted some odd looks until people realised who they were and then returned their smiles broadly.  There are so many holes that need plugging at the HHCU that they hardly know where to start.  The Unit’s vehicles are sorely in need of attention – of their 5 vehicles, 2 are currently in for repair and a third is in need of a serious overhaul – so it is likely that they will start there.  However, Bev hopes to put up something permanent at the Unit to commemorate the Princess’s kindness.

The Horse Care Unit

For those who don’t know, Bev originally started with the SPCA in Vereeniging. The job, and the aspect involving township equines in particular, grew at such a rate that a specialist unit, the Highveld Horse Care Unit was established at the back of the Vereeniging SPCA in 1991.  The demand was so huge that in 1993, with the assistance of the racing industry, the HHCU was able to purchase what is now Highveld Farm, just outside Meyerton.

From humble beginnings, the Horse Care Unit has sprouted additional branches including the East Cape Horse Care Unit in PE (established in 2006 and run by Megan Hope) and the Coastal Horse Care Unit in Cato Ridge (started in 2009 and overseen by Gill Olmesdahl).  Each Unit has a slightly different focus and really deserves a book to themselves, but suffice to say they all do outstanding work and are well worth supporting.

One of the stand-out features of speaking to any of the ladies mentioned above (when you can get hold of them, that is, as they are more or less permanently run off their feet !) is that they are not the crazed bunny-huggers that people fear.  They are genuinely friendly and down to earth.  They always have the animals’ best interests at heart and it shows.

Long Term View

Confiscating an animal is a short-term solution – you need to improve its environment to effect any long term change, so their main focus remains upliftment through education.  Megan says “it’s a different way of working”, but the key to their unique success is really just plain old horse sense – you get more with a carrot than you do with a stick.  Despite some horrific experiences, with time and hard work they have managed to gain the trust and respect of previously impermeable communities.  The bush racing community is a good example.  Where the organisation was initially viewed with suspicion, they have worked themselves into a position of trust whereby they are now invited guests, can inspect the entrants, advise and if necessary disqualify any unsuitable candidates and administer any necessary medication.

Retirement Plan

South Africa is still lacking when it comes to formal care for retired racehorses.  The hard truth is that we produce and discard thousands of horses each year.  Some of those horses end up back in the breeding shed, some end up with second careers as competition horses and others somehow fall through the cracks and disappear to an uncertain fate.

There are various arguments as to who is responsible for horses once their racing lives are over, but none are particularly satisfactory or wholly successful and a great deal seems to be left to luck.  But the good news is that this is changing.

While the majority of their funding is still generated by fund-raising and private donations, there is enormous support from the racing industry, with support from industry-funded bodies such as the National Horse Trust, the RA, initiatives like the EC charity day and donations from private individuals.  Jockey Chris Taylor raised R20k for the Coastal Horse Care Unit by running the Comrades marathon earlier this year and when the HHCU recently had to take in a large number of stud animals, the TBA stepped up to the plate by donating feed and bedding.  Better still, Tom Callaghan actually went to the Unit and spent time with Bev and her team.  The Africanbettingclan forum also deserves a huge thumbs up for helping to raise funds and awareness and the proceeds of in-house competitions or even just friendly bets between posters are regularly settled with donations to the Horse Care Unit.

Racing Interface

Although the Horse Care Unit was built around helping township equines, their continued and increasing involvement with the racing industry means that the Thoroughbred aspect of their work is on the increase.  While the number of Thoroughbreds confiscated remains low, the Units are increasingly being used as an ethical and responsible way of rehoming retired racehorses.

Mark In Time

Mark In Time at an eventing show

Success Stories

A Thoroughbred is so much more than just a racehorse and many go on to wonderful second careers.  One such horse is Mark In Time, who Claire Martin adopted through the HHCU.  ‘Time’ is now a fully paid-up member of the family and has completed three 1 star eventing shows, placed 2nd at Gauteng Champs and 1st at the Eastern Cape Champs in PE.  When they’re not taking home eventing trophies, they also excel at showing, recently placing 2nd in their Working Hunter class at this year’s Avis Derby.

They say that when you adopt a shelter animal, you save two lives – the one you adopt and the one that takes its place.  And if you need any more motivation than that, I can vouch that it simply feels good too.

No-one can do everything, but everyone can do something

Of course, we can’t all adopt a horse or afford big donations, but there are many ways to help out.  Items that remain permanently high on the wish list are feed, roughage, bedding and all manner of medical supplies.  The Units have many outreach programmes and donations of blankets and tack (particularly bits and any harness equipment) are always gratefully received.  Some people prefer to volunteer their time and expertise and local farriers, dentists and veterinary practitioners (and here a special mention needs to be made of Dr Dale Wheeler) do tremendous amounts of pro bono work.  You can even assist by getting a My School card and donating every time you swipe – it won’t cost you a cent.

The rescuers’ mantra is:  If you can’t adopt, foster.  If you can’t foster, sponsor.  If you can’t sponsor, volunteer.  If you can’t volunteer, donate.  And if you can’t donate – educate, network, and spread the word.

It is the season of giving and there can be few who deserve your help more than your local Horse Care Unit.  After all, legend has it that the greatest among us was also born in a stable….

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