The Second Chance Man
local celebrities & people | By shhl publisher | Monday, 11 December 2017
Watching acclaimed horse trainer Scott Brodie in action at the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Program’s headquarters at Canterbury Racecourse, it’s clear he’s completely in his element.
He’s so absorbed in what he’s doing that it’s hard to drag his attention away from the horses, and he apologetically breaks off our conversation several times to call instructions to the volunteers who are training two horses in the shady arena beside us.
It would be hard to imagine anyone as confident and self-assured around horses as Scott Brodie, so it’s a surprise to discover that horses have not always been a big part of his life.
“If you’d have told me when I was 20 that I’d be doing this I’d have said I’m a plumber, what are you talking about?” he jokes.
While he considers himself lucky and modestly credits his teachers for his success, he reluctantly admits that his drive and determination might also have something to do with it.
“Whatever I’ve done I’m always full on and try to do it to the best of
While he always had an affinity for animals, Scott didn’t start riding until after he joined the NSW Police Force. It was when he was at secondary training at the police academy at Redfern that his interest in horses began.
“I used to go across and watch the mounties and I thought it looked good, so one day I went over to the boss and started talking to him,” he recalled.
They bonded over a shared love of sport, and Scott honed his riding skills and took private riding lessons until he was at the standard required to apply.
After joining the NSW Mounted Police Unit, Scott’s drive and determination motivated him to keep continually refining his skills and seeking out the top names in the industry to learn from, including Pat Parelli and Tina Wommelsdorf. He eventually became a well respected horse trainer and professional equestrian, as well as a qualified riding instructor.
These days, Scott works full-time managing the NSW Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust (TRT), a not-for-profit organisation that takes retired racehorses and retrains them for a range of other purposes including police work, eventing, dressage and general riding duties.
The idea for the TRT started when Scott, previously a police horse trainer, was asked by the Australian Jockey Club to retrain thoroughbreds and re-home them. Upon hearing that Racing NSW had a provision for the rehabilitation of ex-racehorses in their strategic plan, he approached them with an idea for a pilot program, and the rest is history.
Racing NSW funds Scott’s salary, but the bulk of the work caring for the horses is done by volunteers who give up their free time to take care of and train the 50 thoroughbreds a year who are donated to the program under Scott’s watchful eye.
Since the TRT started in 2011, 300 horses have been through the program and all except three have been successfully re-homed. This incredible success rate was achieved in spite of the fact that when they first started, the TRT didn’t employ any screening policies and just took whatever horses they were given.
“People would drop them off at the front of the prison like kittens. I’d get in to work in the morning and a truck would turn up with three more horses,” Scott recalls, adding quickly, “We don’t do that any more.”
Now he tries to gain as much information as possible about a horse before he agrees to take it, although he is offered new horses every week.
One of Scott’s biggest challenges and ultimate successes has been Bazaconi, a highly sensitive, traumatised thoroughbred who came into the program after his previous owner broke her collarbone twice on him. These days, standing placidly a short distance away as he’s brushed and fussed over, Bazaconi looks the picture of calm contentment.
“He was the worst horse we've had in the program — dangerous, mentally and physically messed up, and very difficult to train.”
In his racing days, Bazaconi raced at Canterbury and had to do an extra lap after the race was finished before they could get him to stop. The first time Scott got on his back he ran straight across the arena and crashed full tilt into the fence.
“There are certain horses in your life that are real teachers, and he taught me so much,” Scott admits. Now Bazaconi is happy and calm, although “he’s still going to have a bit of baggage, but everyone does”.
Concerned about the possibility that he might revert to his old ways if re-homed,
Scott recently gave Bazaconi to one of the volunteers, Georgia, who has worked with him for the past year.
Most of the horses they get are not as extreme as Bazaconi.
Scott’s training program focuses mostly on teaching the horses to understand verbal commands, along with physical cues like the pressure of a leg or a rein. After running straight on a racetrack most of the time, they also need to be trained to go around corners and their back muscles are built up over time so they can bear the weight of a regular rider.
Using a unique combination of natural horsemanship and more classical training methods grounded in his dressage background, Scott says that his style of training bridges the gap between natural horsemanship and the practical aspects of teaching a horse to accept a rider in the conventional sense.
“That’s what I do differently from most people — I have that transition from natural horsemanship to classical dressage.”
As well as the physical, much of the rehabilitation that takes place is psychological, teaching the horses to relate to people on a different level from before.
“People don’t develop relationships with them at the track, they are just machines really,” he says.
Body language is a big part of working with horses as they are extremely sensitive to interpreting human non-verbal behaviour.
“They say a horse can tell if you’re nervous when you get on its back, but the reality is, the horse can tell if you’re nervous as soon as you get out of the car,” Scott explains.
Transforming horses and people
As Scott talks about his work rehabilitating racehorses, it becomes very clear that it’s about far more than the horses. Through his partnership with Corrections NSW and several other non-profit organisations, he brings together discarded racehorses and dispossessed humans in a way that is often transformative for everyone involved.
Veterans with PTSD, convicted criminals, long-term unemployed and refugees are just some of those who have benefited from being part of the TRT’s training program.
For some it’s through Scott’s collaboration with St Heliers Correctional Centre at Muswellbrook, where the horses go when they first start in the program; for others it’s through the TRT’s partnership with Cana Communities, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people who have been marginalised by society.
Working with horses helps many people find a meaningful way to interact with each other, form connections, find mentors and just spend time in a safe, non-judgemental environment.
“Sometimes it’s just about having normal conversations, that aren’t about who can we rob next and where can we score next,” says Scott.
Scott hopes in the future they will be able to expand the work the TRT does at Cana Farm now that Racing NSW has committed 1% of all NSW prize money to re-homing thoroughbreds once they have retired from racing.
This extra funding will allow Scott to take on more paid staff and focus on training rather than the administration that currently takes up a substantial amount of his time.
“What I do is train horses and people. That’s what I’m good at and that’s what I want to do.” ❐
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