Racehorse Phoebe changes track to find her place in life

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When Phoebe retires as a clerk horse for harness racing, Tamara Markham will lose her most trusted colleague.

Together, Tamara and Phoebe learned their clerk of the course duties 14 years ago and they’ve been taking care of each other and the horses and drivers at racetracks across the state ever since.

But as Phoebe moves towards retirement, Tamara knows she will never have quite the same understanding with another horse.

“When my nanna passed away and I had to work at the trots the next day, I was feeling really down. Phoebe knew I wasn’t right and she had to look after me,” Tamara said.

“She gave me a little nudge to let me know it was going to be OK and we’d get through the day.

“It works both ways. As soon as I get to the trots, I know what mood she’s in and if she’s going to pigroot when I get on. I just let her get it out of her system and we’re fine.

“We trust each other.”

Thoroughbred Phoebe trialled for racing as a two-year-old under the name Epaulement but she didn’t make it to the track and was taken on by one of Tamara’s friends.

Again the young mare didn’t quite fit in, so Tamara gave her a home and put her out in the paddock for a while to mature.

When they started working together, they enjoyed eventing and moved on to try clerking at the suggestion of Tamara’s father Peter Bell, a standardbred trainer.

It was soon clear that Phoebe was a natural on the race track, just not the kind she had first tried – and with a different job.

“Phoebe was really good at the clerk trials. She gave me the confidence to do it because I had confidence in her. I had to keep up,” Tamara said.

“We learned together and every catch she’s done has been done easily. It’s our thing and now we do two or three race meetings a week.”

Over the years, the pair have tried other pursuits but none have stuck.

“We had a go at campdrafting but she doesn’t like cows. I thought if she could chase a horse she could chase a cow but she didn’t want a bar of it,” Tamara said.

“She’s not keen on dressage either, it wasn’t exciting enough for her.”

Although Phoebe loves her work, Tamara plans to ease her into retirement and bring on a young gelding, Black Valiant.

Blackie is already popular with her family, including four children, but Phoebe will always be Tamara’s favourite.

“She’s my pride and joy. I’m proud of everything she’s done. Without her I wouldn’t be in this job,” she said.

Susan de Ruyter