Life After Racing - Jackie Law


Its early autumn in North Canterbury, there’s a chill in the air and dew under foot. Amid the din of seagull cries and crashing waves over Woodend Beach, there is a healing session under way.

When harness racing trainer Jackie Law brings her horses here, she’s not just working the animal’s body. She’s working with their soul.

An award recipient for services to Canterbury Harness Racing, Jackie has become a shining light in a standardbred racehorse’s life after racing. She has rehomed over 500 horses, that she can recall, and initially when asked why she does it, she simply replies, “I don’t know sometimes. I honestly don’t.”

But one thing she always knew for sure, was that her life would involve horses.

“My earliest memories of racing would be with my late father Dave. He always loved horses, but his family weren’t involved with them. He worked for Ces Donald and later he and Mum trained their own small team of horses,” Jackie explained. “Mum actually did a lot of the work with them and I would help out too, as Dad had a job at the works and he and Mum would also do market gardening where we lived in Marshlands.”

Jackie recalls that her passion for the equine world was evident from a young age. “We would go to local fairs and Mum would always lose me. But she knew she would always find me standing next to the pony rides. Just watching them.”

And whilst she could help her parents with their own horses, when it came to a career in the sulky her father wasn’t overly enthused. “Dad didn’t want me to become a driver. But once he realised it was my passion and I had a skill around horses, he became supportive,” said Jackie.  

In fact, when she was 13-years-old Dave allowed her to design the family racing colours. Looking back, it was a bit of a surprise to her as her father was not often known to hand such a huge decision to someone else.

“He wouldn’t always tell me what he thought about my career or abilities. But he would tell others how proud of me he was. I guess that was just his way.”

At age 18 it was time for Jackie to follow her dreams and pursue a career as a driver. After working in the Canterbury region for Jack and Mark Smolenski and Steve Edge, and gaining a valuable foundation, the journey then led her to the North Island where she was welcomed with open arms.

“I found the people so wonderful and supportive. I had a lot of opportunities to drive there. I worked for Graeme Harris, who went out and bought a horse for me to drive just so I could get my experience up at the trials. As I driver I had a really good run up there and won the Linda Jones Pace for lady drivers with Atomette in 1990. Driving was just it for me, I loved it.”

Her family support continued when they bought into the ‘Morris’ family of horses with Jackie’s then partner, Tony Grayling. As a package deal one of the horses turned out to be Jack Morris, who won three races in New Zealand prior to being sold to Australia. Jack Morris went on to win 28 more races, including the 1993 $400,000 InterDominion Grand Final.

“I was thrilled to watch Jack’s career in Australia. Sometimes you wonder what could have been if we had kept him, but it was just great to see him go so far. And I am still breeding from his family so that’s really special too.” 

After eight years in the North Island she then returned home to Canterbury and her focus then became parenthood. After having her daughter Sam, Jackie was convinced she was done with horses. But her father had different ideas.

He wanted her to carry on with training, and continued to breed horses which Jackie initially trained in his name until taking out her own licence in 1999.

Success followed with outside horses too, horses she would affectionately refer to as other people’s ‘chuck outs’, that had been tried by other trainers but had been passed on to her.

I’m Cool won six races for Jackie, including the 2001 Greymouth Cup. “We were actually given I’m Cool by Malcolm Shinn and her owners, they were downsizing so we were very grateful we got to try her. She’d be one of the best horses I’ve trained.”

Dreamaway Jess was another that came to her team for a second chance. He won four races in Jackie’s stable and was found to have issues with his back, which became and ongoing treatment regime under the helpful hands of horse chiropractor and osteopath, Di Coutts. Dreamy is still at Jackie’s property and has had a successful life in the show ring after racing, picking up Supreme Champion awards.

And Surfin Tsunami, who initially was to be rehomed as a riding horse but ended up being tried again on the racetrack. He won at his very first race start, with Jackie in the sulky too. “We were lucky to have Surfie’s original owners and trainer let us try again with him. I think the one on one smaller stable suited him to the ground. It was a real buzz just to get him up and racing and to win a race with him. For a lot of his owners it was their first ever horse to race, let alone win,” said Jackie. “He has gone on to be a riding horse now and recently completed the cavalcade in Otago.”

Going back to basics has been a big part of Jackie’s mantra. “I take all of the extra gear off them and just try and start from the beginning again. If there is something hurting I want to fix it, rather than put on another piece of equipment.”

“I also try and use a natural options like a chiropractor and Bowen therapy as I feel I can sense when something isn’t quite right, I just have to keep going until I work out what it is. I guess you could say I look outside the square.”

It’s the same mindset she gives to the hundreds of ex-racehorses that come to her place to find a new life.

Over the last few years the rehoming business has exploded around New Zealand with the inception of standardbred shows and the new acceptance shown by the riding community.

“People now love the standardbred to ride and show. They are so laid back and versatile you can really do anything with them,” Jackie explains.

But it has led to an unexpected boom in this sector of her life. Horses literally turn up daily from local trainers in search of a new home, and it’s not always straight forward. Jackie will first assess the horse to see if it’s suitable to be a riding proposition.

She takes them to the beach and rides them on their own and in a group setting, testing them in everyday situations. Jumping them over logs and wading through the water. For some it’s the first time under saddle, and the first time to the beach. It’s amazing to watch. “You can see them taking everything in at the beach. Mentally it’s a huge thing for them and it really improves their nerves and their physical work. I know it helps my mind too,” Jackie explains.

Then the horse is advertised on Facebook through the Canterbury Recycling and Rehoming page, which is also supported by many volunteers in Canterbury who are tirelessly rehoming standardbreds after racing, where the process of finding a suitable match for the horse begins. It’s a full-time job and a costly one at that because Jackie does not make any money out of the process.

“I have literally started a cleaning business on the side to fund the feeding cost for the rehomers. Sometimes we have had horses sitting here for five months waiting for the right owner, and during that whole process we are working the horse and feeding it. Every bit of money that comes in goes back into them. It’s a labour of love.”

A fundraiser in Canterbury last September saw over $30,000 raised by the racing and riding community to help Jackie, Michelle Morrison and JayJay Howden with associated feed costs while they rehome these horses. That will ensure that hundreds more horses can be cared for by the group until they find the next chapter in the life after racing. 

“I just love seeing the horses happy. And I genuinely enjoy hearing from their owners and seeing how much it has made a difference to the horse and to the people they go home with.”

Happy horses are a theme throughout Jackie’s journey. Her property where she lives with her daughter, Sam, and grandson, Theo, is known as Roypark Lodge. Located in Woodend, just north of Kaiapoi, it is proudly named after her favourite horse Roy Brydon.

A sentimental acquisition, Roy Brydon was an instrumental part of Jackie’s Life during her junior driver career. And in his first ten race starts the duo were never once out of the money.

The gelding followed Jackie on her journey through life, travelling around New Zealand until she returned to Christchurch. He remained a loyal companion, becoming a champion show hack under saddle and priceless mentor to the young stock on the farm right up until he passed away at age 31.

That loyalty is also reflected when looking toward the future. Jackie would like to contribute even further to an industry that has been such a huge influence on her life.

“I’d love to have a Cup class horse one day. But I would also love to be able to help the next generation of driver and trainer. Maybe as a mentor? I really enjoy helping people and would love to be able to repay the faith that others put in me during my career.”

The friends she has made in harness racing have contributed to her career. “The people in this sport can understand why you’re in it. They can empathise with you when things don’t go right, and understand the emotional side of winning – even if it is just a maiden win. They know how much it means to you and how much goes into it.”

So, back to the ultimate question. Why is harness racing and rehoming these horses such a huge part of your life?

“I guess I have always been this way. I used to collect stray cats and dogs and bring them home as a kid. Now if you look around my home I have rescue dogs, cats that have been hit by cars on the road and I’ve taken in, wild rabbits turned pets and even had a sheep named Kevin. He came our way as a lamb and thought it was a dog,” she laughs.

“I’ve honestly tried to walk away from harness racing before, more than once. I just think if I did there would be a huge part of me missing. It’s just who I am.”