Sam O’Reilly : HERO’s first North Island Educator

You get the impression Samantha O’Reilly is a straight talker.

She likes “fishing and drinking beers” and really likes horses.

So when she was recently appointed as HRNZ’s first HERO educator in the North Island her reaction was not unexpected.

"I’m still buzzing,” she said, “so stoked, I’ve worked my butt off for this.”

The 32-year-old is based at Ramarama, just north of the Bombay Hills and works alongside her fiancé James as a forklift and machinery supervisor for New Zealand Timber Profiles in Takanini.

“I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy. The girls at school would be playing Spice Girls but I was always out on the field playing rugby or cricket with the boys!"

Horses have always been a big part of her life. She started riding at “around 8 or 9”.

As a trackwork rider for a decade she reels off just some of the trainers she worked for - “Nigel Tiley, Jo Rathbone, Steven Cole, Matthew Eales, and Rudy Liefting. ”

But she stopped doing that around two years ago, switching focus to re-homing former racehorses.

“I’ve got four horses, two standardbreds, a galloper and a warmblood.”

One of the standardbreds Sea Monkey (Monkey Bones – Susan) was unraced, while Mad Max (American Ideal – Ace of Delight) had two unplaced starts for Ken Barron in 2019.

“I love re-educating them and see their progress,” she says, “sometimes I find a horse and keep it myself, sometimes I move them on.”

In the past O’Reilly’s been doing this as a hobby but now it’s turning into a more formal arrangement, through her appointment as a HERO educator.

HERO (Harness Education and Rehoming Opportunities) is a programme run by Harness Racing New Zealand to break standardbreds to saddle so they can enjoy a new Life After Racing. Before taking part many of the horses have never ever been ridden before.

“It was a spur of the moment thing to apply for the job,” says O’Reilly, “ I thought I’ve been doing this for years.”

O’Reilly’s the first North island educator, joining Hannah Keetly and Monique Koch in Southland, and Ginny McKenzie, Anna Bryant, Tarryn Jones, and Chanelle Dickie (all in Canterbury).

“It’s great to have Sam involved,” says HERO programme co-ordinator Georgie Bolton, “she’s shown she’s committed to the cause and her enthusiasm for what she does is amazing.”

As for O’Reilly she can’t wait to get stuck into it - “this is my dream”.

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