HERO manager Tanya McDermott talks about her background in the sport, how she got into the life-after-racing program and where it's headed in the latest Integrity Matters Q&A.

Tell us about your background?

My family has always had a keen interest in racing – thoroughbred and harness - and growing up I absolutely adored horses, although I was never lucky enough to own a pony or ride because we lived in suburbia. Dad was a hobby trainer for a number of years and had a little bit of luck, and my parents still race couple of trotters. My first active involvement in the industry came through the media and I was fortunate to have some amazing opportunities, working with Trotting Weekly, on Channel 31 and later Sky Channel. I became much more hands on with horses after meeting my husband Graham, although I’m happy to admit I’m an awful trackwork driver – I’m much more comfortable sitting on their backs than in the cart.

How did you get involved in the HERO Programme?

We have always rehomed our horses. Equine welfare and life after racing were non-negotiable when dad was training and Graham and I are both passionate about it. Through my media work and a long stint in marketing with HRV, I got to know a lot of industry participants who also shared our commitment and I found I was more and more regularly being asked to help with finding homes for retired standardbreds. It was early 2015 when Vaughn Lynch approached me with the idea for a dedicated industry life after racing initiative and I was employed to oversee the development and implementation of HERO.

It is my understanding that there are some loyal sponsors and people who continue to assist with the HERO Programme?

There are so many people who contribute to the success of HERO - as the saying goes, it really does take a village to raise a child (or keep a standardbred re-education and rehoming project growing). The team involved in the day to day operation of HERO is very small, and without an incredible supporter network, we simply could not function. Alabar Farms has been with us all the way through, Domenic Martello of DNR Logistics is an enormously valued partner and the Victorian Equine Group through Dr Sarah Jalim and the staff at Bendigo Equine Hospital provides vital advice and assistance. I would also like to sincerely thank Mick Lombardo, whose generosity knows no bounds. We are very excited to be joining forces with Prydes Easifeed and the Dynamic Print Group, who are new HERO partners, and embarking on a project with the Victorian Harness Racing Club in 2021.

It may be difficult, but tell us about your favourite horse who has entered HERO and then left to be rehomed?

It’s nearly impossible to name a favourite but a horse very dear to my heart was Ideal Success, aka Glen, who came to HERO from Kerryn Manning. Kerryn has supported HERO from its infancy and put enormous trust in the program to find the perfect retirement home for Glen, a multiple Country Cups-winning pacer who was one of her most treasured protégé. The horse has an enormous personality and absolutely everyone who met him fell in love. He spent some time in my personal care and it was incredibly difficult to let him go. However, he was retrained at Cobe Lodge and has been placed with a lovely family at Kyneton where he is completely adored – just as he deserves.

Tell us about some new initiatives that HERO is working on currently?

The tail end of 2020 has been an incredibly hectic time. We have recruited a high profile retrainer to join the HERO family to specialise in producing standardbreds for showing. We hope to formalise a partnership with RSPCA Victoria, which will see HERO assist in rehabilitating and rehoming the (thankfully) small number of standardbreds which come into the society’s care each year. We are supporting an Equine Assisted Learning project, which will see retired standardbreds working in a therapeutic environment to help young people and developing an exciting calendar of events, which will enable recreational standardbred owners to network with likeminded people and compete in a variety of equestrian disciplines.

How can people assist with sponsoring or contributing to the HERO Programme?

There are always sponsorship opportunities available and anyone who is interested is encouraged to give me a call or email hero@hrv.org.au. In terms of contributing to HERO, we are very open to ideas which can help grow standardbred life after racing in Victoria and spread important animal welfare messages, whether its race day activities, community events or other promotional outlets. We have a fantastic Equine Ambassador Team and love getting out and about to fly the HERO flag proudly – the best way to break down antiquated standardbred stereotypes is to show people first-hand the breed’s amazing temperament and versatility.

What does integrity mean to you?

Integrity is a word I take very seriously, personally and professionally. It’s about communicating openly and honestly, making good choices, treating others with respect and owning your actions and responsibilities in all aspects of your life.