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Success stories Michele and Waqaas's Story - The story of a very special racehorse

25th April 2023

The story of a very special racehorse, Waqaas, and her owner who have helped one another in ways that could not have been anticipated.

By Michele Hill-Perkins

In 2012, a few amateur racehorse owners decided to buy a retiring racehorse called Red Mischief from her Lambourne-based trainer as a brood mare for £3,000. Red Mischief as a flat racer had been placed several times. and won over 6f at Leicester. “Red” was kept on a small farm with other horses belonging to one of the owners who was fortunately located near Whitsbury Stud. The newly- formed Red Mischief Partnership chose the (then) unproven stallion Showcasing to cover their mare. This decision was against advice to choose a “proven” stallion, but it turned out to be a fortunate one.

“Red’s” colt, born in March 2014, was named “Oscar” by the Partnership. He looked fantastic. His conformation and movement were superb. He seemed to glide along the ground when walking.

We were delighted that Oscar fetched £82,000 guineas at the Tattersalls foal sale in 2014. And even more so when, just 9 months later, at the 2015 Doncaster yearling sale, his Yorkshire-based purchaser sold him to the Shadwell estate bloodstock agent for £170,000 guineas.

Oscar was given the racing name, Waqaas, and sent to train in Lambourne.

As a two-year-old 6/7f sprinter, he was placed several times. He came fourth in the Group 2 Richmond stakes at Goodwood and won at Doncaster. An injury was followed by a long break, but under a new owner and trainer in Upper Lambourne he resumed racing. At Ireland’s Laytown Strand, in 2018, he won again.

A friend alerted me that Waqaas’ owners wanted to sell him in late 2018. I had recently received an unexpected cheque for half the asking price, so realised that I might be in a position to purchase him as a four-year-old racing horse as part of a syndicate. Fortunately another member of the Red Mischief partnership, my sister and a friend (an experienced racehorse owner) were keen to join in and we bought him. We took Waqaas to train with Mark Usher, a Lambourne based trainer at Rowdown, where we were already involved in other racehorse training syndicates.

We raced Waqaas for another two years. Unfortunately during this time he had a tendon injury and needed a long period of recuperation. But Waqaas healed well, and we were delighted that over the following year, he was placed three times and had a won at Wolverhampton in July 2020. This was during the early months of the pandemic, so as owners we never had the thrill of seeing him win at the track, but I watched on my phone and leaped for joy when he won. Waqaas nearly won again at Wolverhampton in December of the same year, just losing by “a nose.” But then that old tendon injury on his off -fore recurred. He would again need many months of rehabilitation if he was to continue racing. In January 2021 Waqaas was officially seven years old and all the owners agreed, under the trainer’s advice, that it seemed best that we should retire him completely from racing.

There are so many retired racehorses. And they all need homes. Don’t all working horses deserve to live a decent life in retirement?

Waqaas had a lovely, calm nature. Mark suggested that Waqaas might be a good candidate for retraining as a riding horse, if the injury healed. We agreed to look for a suitable home where he could be rehabilitated and then retrained if this was possible.

I began to think that I may be able to keep him myself. I felt not only a bond with Waqaas but an obligation. I had known this horse since he was two days old and followed his career in detail. I recognised that I would need a lot of help and advice since I knew little about horse welfare and their upkeep. I offered to finance Waqaas’ rehabilitation when he left the yard and then planned to find someone who could retrain him, so that he could hopefully be ridden, if his injury healed sufficiently. Then I thought that, maybe, that owner and rider could be me. The whole project was a bit of a risk, but I was determined to ensure Waqaas was looked after properly.

I had not ridden since I was a teenager. Riding methods have drastically changed (for the better) since then. The truth was that I didn’t know how to ride and could not look after a horse, let alone an ex- racehorse.

At this point in my life, although I really enjoyed my job, I wanted to retire. Having been described as a workaholic, I knew I needed a project to fill some of my time in retirement. I hatched a plan that involved learning to ride and keeping Waqaas in some form of work so that he didn’t get bored.

When I mentioned my plan to friends, they mostly thought this was a crazy idea! Learning to ride in your 60s from scratch is not appealing to everyone! I needed a lot of help and advice. After visiting a few livery yards within an hour’s drive from London, where I live, I found the perfect yard, Radnage House stables In Buckinghamshire, owned and run by international dressage rider Tamsin Addison. I was very pleased to find a livery yard with experience of retraining racehorses and could teach me how to ride and keep me and Waqaas safe. Tamsin and her support team successfully managed to rehabilitate Waqaas (renamed Waqqy) over the next few months. Meanwhile, I started to prepare myself by having riding lessons at Ham House, Richmond, in London.

For months Waqqy was adjusting to his new environment, being exercised on the walker and was eventually ridden by the staff at Radnage House. In November 2021, I was thrilled to ride him for the first time.

Learning to ride had been quite an adventure, and I felt elated when I started hacking out in the glorious Buckinghamshire countryside. But just as I felt that I was making good progress with my riding, I had the devastating news, in June 2022, that I had ovarian cancer.

I had major surgery, then six rounds of chemotherapy. Over those six months of treatment, the few visits to Waqaas in his box and the occasional careful ride around the arena, when I felt well enough, were very important for my mental health and recovery. There is no doubt about the therapeutic power of horses! I always felt happy after I had been to the yard.

Now that I have completed my treatment and am in remission, I am starting to recover and enjoy gentle rides around Radnage. The thought of getting back to riding has helped sustain me over the months of my treatment and recovery. The combination of horse “therapy”, the countryside and fresh air has provided me with a tonic that I hope will help drive me forward to new adventures on horseback.

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