Written by Cara Dale
Professional photography by TBCD
When Bentley arrived, curiosity and excitement got the better of me and I raced straight to his stable. All I could do was stare, open-mouthed. Looking down at me was a beautiful, tall, grey gelding with soft eyes and dusty-white eyelashes.
In November 2012, I was privileged to meet the horse that changed my life. He was meant to be my dad’s but, secretly, I hoped he’d end up being mine.
Bentley was a racehorse from Gary Alexander Racing stables. Born in 2007, he stood an imposing 16.3 hands high (ponies are under 14.2) and had been retired from racing because, although he showed lots of promise, he was unpredictable and wayward, and jockeys didn’t want to ride him; he simply didn’t want to be a racehorse. He also didn’t like going into confined spaces like stalls.
Being a stubborn 11-year-old, I insisted on walking Bentley into the horsebox when it was time to take him home. Although the groom was hesitant to hand me the lead, I walked Bentley into the box – with no issues!
It didn’t take much convincing to get my dad to let me ride him; he probably knew from the start that Bentley was meant to be mine.
We were both inexperienced. Bentley only knew racing, and me? Well, I had pony experience. My JJ was a sweet, well-schooled pony that did whatever I asked; I was the one learning from him and, sadly, the time had come for a bigger challenge.
I avoided schooling Bentley properly because it was hard. Every chance I got, I opted for playing instead – I rode him bareback with only a lead rein on, jumping him over little jumps with my arms stretched out to the side. Doing tricks on his back, teaching him to give me kisses in exchange for carrots. And so our friendship began.
I became discouraged. Schooling Bentley took more work and perseverance than riding JJ had. Show jumping became hard work – I didn’t enjoy it anymore, which started a cycle of disinterest and arguments with my parents. They warned me that if I wasn’t going to ride Bentley, they’d sell him to someone who would enjoy him.
“So, sell him!” I flung out during one of those arguments, not meaning it and not realising that they weren’t joking…
Best friends forever
The first potential buyer arrived at the stables to meet him. Watching someone else ride him was agony. I was in tears that night; I realised that Bentley and riding were a part of me that I didn’t want to lose.
He was my safe place. He made me feel alive, confident and connected. Maybe that’s what my parents wanted me to realise. Bentley would stay right where he was.
We have since grown together. I persevered in learning to school him and he stayed the willing, sweet boy I met at the racetrack. Together we moved away from Joburg and now live in the Garden Route. He’s a country boy now… I’m still trying to get him to be a beach bum.
BENTLEY THE RACEHORSE
By Marlise Dale, Cara’s mum
If I’d known Bentley’s history as a racehorse I never would’ve agreed to let Cara ride him. A couple of years ago, Ashleigh Hughes, Bentley’s assistant trainer, posted an article on him called “Bentley – The Rogue Racehorse” on the Retrain Win Again blog, which showcases ex-racehorses in their second careers. I read it in disbelief. Surely this was not the same horse! The groom’s reluctance to let Cara lead him into the horsebox made perfect sense now…
My husband, Wayne, had been interested in him as he was a well-bred horse who’d raced eight times and shown much potential. However, Bentley had a few issues…
The trouble with Bentley
According to the article, Bentley was difficult to break in and unruly at the track, preferring only one rider. He regularly bolted blindly towards his stable. He used to charge, bite and kick in his box, not allowing visitors inside. Saddling him was apparently a nightmare, as he would thrash about. “He was 16.3hh worth of explosion waiting to happen at any moment,” recounted Ashleigh.
She also mentioned that she had to rush a groom to hospital because Bentley bit him in the face. During training one morning he dropped his rider over his shoulder and bolted to his stable through metal racecourse rails and paddock fences, sustaining severe cuts.
He gained a reputation as a rogue and, understandably, jockeys didn’t want to ride him. Although he was thoroughly checked by a vet in case his issues were caused by a physical problem, nothing was amiss.
Racing wasn’t his thing
Gary Alexander and his team decided to retire Bentley as they realised that racing wasn’t his thing. But homing him was a worry because of his reputation; they certainly didn’t want him to be passed from home to home. So, they offered him to Wayne, who is their equine dentist, due to his show-jumping background.
Ashleigh stated in the article that she was a little worried when we pitched at Turffontein Racecourse with a two-berth horsebox. She was sceptical about the chances of Bentley walking into this box as they could barely get him into a starting stall.
A different horse
She said that when Cara led “an undeniably meek-looking” Bentley on nothing but a halter into the horsebox, everyone stood staring in amazement. She said his eyes softened and his tense neck relaxed as he walked into the horsebox with Cara, “without even a moment’s hesitation”.
Reading Ashleigh’s article was like reading about another horse. To us, Bentley’s always been sweet and gentle, willing to do anything Cara asks of him. He loves kisses, cuddles and loads of carrots, not to mention ice cream and cupcakes… to his dentist’s horror.
Bentley and Cara have bonded beautifully and they even go to show-jumping shows; this friendship really was meant to be.
Watch Bentley and Cara here: https://www.facebook.com/daleequinedental/videos/1504730342945320/