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Dedicated to the thoroughbred

Nikki and Finn competing at Colac. © Mane Memories

Nikki Cook and OTT Finn in the competition arena.

© Mane Memories

Dedicated to the thoroughbred

By Equestrian Life

Retraining off the track horses is more than a job for Victorian Nikki Cook; it’s a passion. Her love of thoroughbreds began as an eventing-mad Pony Club kid, and today she’s the owner and operator of Shory Park Horses in Mount Duneed — one of the biggest thoroughbred retraining operations in the country.

What was once a side hobby to her work in the real estate industry has now become a full time job. “The horses were a side hobby, but then it just grew and grew… to the point where it was more beneficial for me to be with the horses 24/7. So I live on site and do them all day, every day. It’s a pretty good job; I’m working with my passion every day!” she says.

Nikki’s work with ex-racehorses has not gone unnoticed. In 2016, the Racing Victoria Acknowledged Retrainer won the Godolphin Stud and Staff Stable Award for Thoroughbred Care and Welfare, and last year she was named the 2019 Racing Victoria Acknowledged Retrainer of the Year. At that point in time, Nikki was retraining around 100 horses each year.


Nikki and OTT Rocky all dressed up for the 2019 Awards. © David Caird

Nikki, pictured here with OTT Rocky, was the 2019 Racing Victoria Acknowledged Retrainer of the Year award winner.

© David Caird

With the 2020 Equestrian Victoria Awards rolling around, it marks 12 months since Nikki’s win — and it’s been a busy 12 months!

Last year’s award coincided with the ABC’s 730 Report on the treatment of horses at abattoirs, which led to intense media coverage of racehorses and their life after racing. “I did a lot of media around that; just putting a positive light on the good work people are doing with thoroughbreds,” recalls Nikki. Her work with off the track horses was covered by many news outlets, including the ABC and Triple J’s Hack program.

Shory Park Horses has built up an impressive social media following with almost 12,000 fans on their Facebook page, where they regularly post training tips and promote OTT thoroughbreds. They also run Q&A sessions on their Instagram page for anyone wanting more information or help with retired racehorses.

Media aside, Nikki has also been very busy with the horses themselves; in the past year, she and her team have retrained over 200 ex-racehorses and currently have approximately 50 on the property. Despite being in some form of Covid-19 lockdown since March (and currently in Stage 3), Nikki says she’s never been busier and is working seven days per week.

“We’ve been busier than ever to be honest; coronavirus hasn’t slowed us down, it’s just changed the way we do things,” she says. “We’ve had to get with the times in 2020 and organise video viewings (for horses being sold). We’ve been offering a week trial as well, which has worked out well as people can try them in the comfort of their own home before they make a decision.”

Despite the pandemic, many people have still been purchasing off the track horses — in fact, Nikki sold six in the past week. “I think because everyone is stuck at home, they are all buying project horses. All the cheeky off the trackers are flying out the gate! I honestly thought we would be out of business; I thought ‘Who would possibly buy a horse in a pandemic’, but we’ve never been busier.” Shory Park’s strong social media presence has even seen horses being sold via their Instagram. “We probably get 30 direct messages per day!”

Nikki is thankful to the support shown by Racing Victoria during this tricky time; due to Covid-19, RV have been supporting Acknowledged Retrainers by providing a monthly subsidy per horse to ensure they can all stay in training.

Many years in the game has meant that Nikki has had plenty of experience determining what works best when retraining ex-gallopers. “What we do, that a lot of people don’t have space for, is all off the track horses that come to us get three or four months off in the paddock in a herd before training commences. That’s our secret ingredient; they get some good down time to get over any mental or physical injuries. Then they come in and just do a couple of days on the lunge, followed by trail riding for the first couple of weeks. So they are not worked in a frame in the arena straight away.”

On average, Nikki explains that most off the track horses have around three months of training before they come up for sale — however each horse is an individual, and some have stayed with her for as long as two years if they’ve needed more work to find the perfect home.

For Nikki, finding the right home for each horse is critical. “We have a guarantee with all of our horses and they can come back if they don’t quite work out,” she explains. This gives the buyers peace of mind, and it’s also an important safeguard for the horses.


Racing Victoria retrainer award winner Nikki Cook.

Nikki Cook with her 2019 Racing Victoria Acknowledged Retrainer of the Year award.

With nominations now open for the 2020 Equestrian Victoria Awards, Victorian retrainers again have the opportunity to be recognised for their efforts with retired racehorses. The Racing Victoria Acknowledged Retrainer of the Year award is open to Victorian-based Acknowledged Retrainers who have been registered and active for a minimum of 6 months.

A panel of judges come up with a list of finalists from those nominated, based on the achievements of their OTT retrained horses during the period 1 July 2019 to 1 June 2020 (competitive or non-competitive), as well as the candidate’s active promotion of the OTT program and their contribution to increasing participation of riders taking on OTT horses. This year, the prize pool has increased, with the winner taking home $3,000, as well as $1,000 to the runner up and $500 to the second runner up. Due to Covid-19, the award ceremony will be a little different this year and take place in the form of a virtual celebration over several days in October.

Nikki is hoping that she's again been nominated for this year’s award. “We’ve been working hard and hopefully it pays off!”

The 2020 Equestrian Victoria Awards are taking nominations across all categories until Friday 21 August. If you’d like to nominate someone for the Racing Victoria Acknowledged Retrainer Award, you can do so here.

Follow Shory Park Horses on social media:

Instagram @shoryparkhorses

This article was written in conjunction with Racing Victoria.






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