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Love Really Does Conquer All

Shandre & Katelyn - doing it for horses and racing!

Friends Forever. It is in the name – we will move mountains to find our horses their special forever friend. We pride ourselves in ethical and responsible homing that upholds the integrity of racing. Profit generated, is then put back into racing to grow the sport that we love.

Meet Shandré Hoffmann-Habib and Katelyn Whittington, partners in a new generation rehoming operation that has made 135 owners and their horses very happy in the past year.

Based in Benoni, the passionate horse-crazy ladies have a Barn Style stable with space for 14 horses.

“We have an arena that we use for schooling, and the horses get daily paddock time which they love. This alleviates the stress of having to home directly from the track. We can take the pressure off trainers by moving their horses as soon as they need them to be out, but some horses can stay with us for up to a month before we find a suitable home,” says Shandre.

Shandré Hoffmann-Habib and Katelyn Whittington doing what they love

Daughter of former jockey and present day Stipendiary Steward Andre Hoffmann, and wife to young rider Calvin Habin, Shandre really does have her pulse on racing and her heart in the game.

She tells how Friends Forever started.

“Towards the end of 2020, I started helping my mother-in-law, who was the jockey room caterer. When Covid hit a few months later, there were a large number of horses needing homes. Paul Peter offered me ‘Friends Forever’ as he knew that I am a show jumper. My husband had ridden him in races, and while I wasn’t too keen to take another horse – I already had one – I offered to help home him. The first time I met him, I fell in love with him, and decided to keep him.”

The seed was planted and  the offers of horses started coming in thick and fast!

“The situation was dire, we weren’t racing, there was so much uncertainty as to when we would resume, owners and trainers alike were rocked by the economic hardship of Covid and horses were retiring in numbers. I realised that I needed to help, but I also knew that it was an enormous responsibility that had to be undertaken with diligence and care- and that is when I contacted Katelyn as she had the facilities that we could move the horses to that needed to leave urgently. This meant that we could alleviate the pressure at the courses, while having the time to find the best homes.”

With an impressive list of academic qualifications, Shandre is absolutely no one-dimensional horsewoman.

The 25 year old modestly tells the Sporting Post that she is privileged to have enjoyed an ‘exceptional education’, comprising three university certificates from overseas (Hong Kong PolyU, Berkley, University of Wellington) and three degrees from the University of Johannesburg, up until her Master’s in Industrial Sociology

Katelyn and Shandré leading in a winner ridden by Calvin Habib (Pic – Candiese Lenferna)

“We are a tight-knit family and I am very close to my parents André and Sheryl, and my brother Justin. I am happily married to jockey, Calvin Habib who is also my best friend and biggest supporter.

I suppose I was always destined towards horses! My father was a jockey, and my mother was a showjumper, so they both had an affiliation with horses. My brother wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps. I was the younger sibling, so I just wanted to do what my cool brother was doing. When  my mom took him for lessons, I started riding at the same time. There was no going back from there. Bar a break to pursue my studies, I’ve been riding for almost 20 years and have earned my national colours in show jumping for several years,” she says with pride.

When the popular Andre Hoffmann, who recently celebrated his 50th birthday, retired from race riding, he remained in the industry in various roles.

The Hoffmann-Habib wedding day

“Dad was always open to letting me tag along to work. Given that he undertook so many roles, I was able to experience the industry holistically, and see how each of the facet’s work which gave me a deep appreciation for the sport. I am using the current academic break to assist my husband with his return to racing, and I am consulting for a Randjesfontein yard. I am at the track 6 days a week, and I love every second of it!”

And who is her rehoming partner Katelyn, or ‘Katiebum’, as she is affectionately known to those permitted to reference her in that way?

“I got involved In horses in 2013 when I began riding and I started competing in show jumping. In 2014 I started breeding Warmbloods. I have a well-established Warmblood breeding programme and it’s  well known in the show jumping industry,” adds the enthusiastic horsewoman.

“I met Shandre through show jumping. In 2020 she contacted me to take horses off the track and to say the bug bit is an understatement! It started with going to track work, then going to races to now owning race horses! We own shares in five horses with Ashley Fortune at the Vaal, and two race in our very own partnership colours. We love it!”

Friends Forever offer rehoming and rehabilitation of horses coming off the track, in Gauteng and Durban.

Katelyn and Shandre – loving it! (Pic – Candiese Lenferna)

But let Shandre explain:

“We are blessed to have exceptional facilities and partners. Trainers call us when the horses are ready to come off, and Katelyn goes off to collect them. They then stand at us for as long as they need to, in order to find the perfect home. We collect a profile for each horse from the racing teams: jockeys, vets, trainers, assistants, grooms and even check their form and stipes reports. Then we assess them at our premises by working with them and riding them. Once we know the horse a bit better and feel that they are ready for a second career, we open viewings. Hosting them on our premises means that we can vet the riders, their ability and bond with the horse. When we have a client match a horse, we undertake home checks as our final step before we allow the horses to leave.”

Shandre’s proud outline of the operation continues:

“We have a strict agreement and each trainer receives a copy of the horses’ contract and can choose if they want updates. None of the horses that we home may be resold without our knowledge, in which case we require a new contract. This way, we can ensure where the horses that we homed are at all times.”

To date, Friends Forever have proudly rehomed 135 horses, in the past year.

“I may be biased, but every horse we have homed has made us proud! From the happy-hacker to the competitive jumper, knowing that these thoroughbreds are retired to homes where they are so loved just honours everything they were in their racing career. They gave us their all, and now we can do this for them.”

Shandre goes on to say that redressing the stigma that surrounds the thoroughbred racing industry has been a positive spin-off for them.

“Through this initiative, we have been able to demonstrate that thoroughbreds can really do anything. They are elite athletes that thrive in all disciplines. It has also allowed us to have some difficult, but necessary conversations with members of the equine community who stereotype our industry as ‘negative’- by educating and even showing them the high quality of care that they receive in racing.”

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3 comments on “Love Really Does Conquer All

  1. Sandra Williams says:

    2 young ladies making a fantastic contribution to the industry and well being of these Majestic animals.

  2. Tex L says:

    Great initiative – well done, and all the best.

  3. Debby says:

    Well done Girls !! These Majestic Horses deserve this kind of Care !!!

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