Thursday, 30 June 2016 10:36

Secret Weapon - Halo the off-track Pack Horse

Written by Julie Brewster
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Halo, the Secret Weapon Pack Horse Halo, the Secret Weapon Pack Horse

John Lohnes is relatively new to the horse world, but when your wife and your friends ride and you live in ranch country it’s a case of join in the fun or miss out! John’s wife Lori grew up with horses and has barrel raced, ranched and rides for pleasure, and she introduced him to riding. He joined his friends Rob Pettifer and Dylan Kime in the Pack Horse Race at the 110th Annual Millarville Races last year, and loved it. Except for the part where their 20 year old former barrel horse and quiet trail horse didn’t have quite enough oomph to get around the track in front of the other teams!

Enter Lori’s friend Kathy Butkovic, an equine sports therapist and avid horse racing fan. Last fall Kathy posted some photos on Facebook of young Thoroughbreds who were being retired from racing and Lori decided that John’s Pack Horse Team needed a real racehorse if they are going to continue to compete in Pack Horse Races.

Lori spent some time at Stampede Park watching races when she was growing up, and she always enjoys watching the races at Millarville. When she initially mentioned to John that they should buy a racehorse for the Pack Horse team, and he thought she was kidding. There’s a myth that all race horses are ‘crazy’ and he wanted no part of owning one! But, it only took about 2 minutes for John to look at photos of the available off track horses on Lori’s Facebook page and agree to go visit a horse at Bar None Ranches at Okotoks. It was love at first sight, and a young Thoroughbred named Halo was loaded in the trailer and home at Lohnes’s the same afternoon ready to start his new career as ‘pack horse’.

A Pack Horse Race has a team of three people and two horses. There’s an official horse holder, a packer and a rider, and there’s a pack horse and a riding horse. The teams all have the same equipment and the horses must be saddled/packed in the infield, then the rider mounts the riding horse and can haze or lead the pack horse around the racetrack and back into the infield where they are unpacked and unsaddled, hobbled and standing quietly to stop the clock. The first team to get packed, saddled, around the track and then untacked and unpacked and hobbled is the winner. It’s a great test of horsemanship – both handling and riding, and demonstrates the art of packing a horse. Millarville not only boasts the oldest race meet in western Canada, but is ranch country, so the Pack Horse Race combines some practical horsemanship with a race around the oldest track in Alberta. Pack Horse teams prepare, strategize and practice all spring and their equine team members are usually experienced pack and trail horses. Most of the horses are Quarter Horses, not young Thoroughbreds and definitely not young Thoroughbreds who’ve only been off track for a few months! But Halo has endeared himself to the team, and is dispelling the ‘crazy’ race horse myth in John and Lori’s ranching community.

Halo is a 4 year old gelding who was just not cut out to be a race horse. He was raised and trained at Bar None Ranches, and they gave him a couple of seasons to figure racing out, but he wasn’t interested. His Jockey Club name is Hailiegh’s Decree (by Run to Victory and out of Multiple Stakes winning mare Code’s Decree) and based on his pedigree and looks he should have oodles of talent and racing ability. But genetic ability doesn’t always translate into aptitude or enthusiasm, and Hailiegh’s Decree trained for, but did not start in a race. He is a sweet, loving, kind, ‘puppy dog’ of a horse who loves attention and is incredibly willing. These traits endeared him immediately to John and Lori, and his genetic talent to be a race horse is finally coming through during his evening training sessions at the Millarville Race Track for the Pack Horse Race! Most teams at Millarville haze (chase) their packhorse from the riding horse, but that tried and true method just isn’t working for Halo, because he can outrun his lead horse around the track every time! Both horses have to come into the infield together to be unpacked and hobbled, so a runaway loose Halo would eliminate John, Rob and Dylan from competition. And wreak havoc with the other teams, no doubt!

John and Lori have been taking some teasing and trash talking about using a 4 year old Thoroughbred racehorse in their Pack Horse Team, but Lori just laughs and describes Halo as "Our secret weapon". He took one jump when we first hobbled him and has been a pro since, and you’d think he’s carried pack boxes forever the way he stands. He loves to go out and race around the track, so if John can keep him from getting too amped up in the infield with all the chaos on race day Halo will soon prove to everyone how amazing he is.”

We love hearing stories about off track horses, but a Secret Weapon Pack Horse is a new one for us. Halo sounds like he is a great ambassador for off track Thoroughbreds and has already proved to John and Lori that race horses aren’t all ‘crazy’! We’ll be at the Millarville Races enjoying the history of 111 years of racing, cheering on the horses in the Paint Stake, Sprint Stake and the $10,000 Millarville Derby, but now we have a special horse to cheer for in the Pack Horse Race. The Bar None Ranches crew is usually at the track and we know they will be cheering for their home bred as well. Gates open at 10:00 am and the races start at noon. Good luck to John, Rob and Dylan. Go, Halo!

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