The Sunday Mail
Deputy Sports Editor
WHAT could have been more encouraging for horse racing than a return to the track?
However, the sport made its long-awaited return to a low-key reception last Friday morning as Mashonaland Turf Club held the third and final leg of the Zimbabwe Triple Crown, during which eight horses lined-up to slug it out for honours in the Zimbabwe Derby.
Missing were the foreign contingent of riders, huge crowds and the pomp and fanfare that usually characterise such gatherings at Borrowdale Racecourse.
The Mashonaland Turf Club had to adhere to strict guidelines, which included the ban on spectators, strict operating times (9am to 4pm), periodic temperature checks for all staff members and riders, strict adherence to social distancing and the regular disinfection of surfaces.
However, for all that the racing community lacks in glitz and glamour, they aptly make up for it with plenty of heart and passion.
And no one embodies those traits like former jockey and now Equine physio Kylie Bonthrone.
At just the age of 23, it is somewhat ironic that Bonthrone could potentially be one of the wisest of them all.
After all, she has seen both the highs and lows of the sport as a Republic Cup (2018) winner, Zimbabwe Derby and Breeders champion (2019) winner, and has the unique perspective of having been a rider and now certified Equine physiotherapist.
For Bonthrone, sport runs in her blood.
“I grew up in a sporting family as my dad played Zimbabwe schools rugby, while my mum was into tennis and hockey,” said Bonthrone.
“They encouraged me and my siblings to take up sport, with my brother Graham playing schools rugby, water polo and also used to bass fish for Zimbabwe.
“My sisters, Terrileigh and Roxy, played water polo, with the younger one going to the Junior World Championships in Australia when she was in high school,” she said.
Bonthrone’s passions lay a bit more inland, as she loved horses and took a shine to horse racing.
“I got involved in competitive horse racing when I came back from university, in the United Kingdom, in 2015. That is when the bug hit and hit hard, but had always loved horses and would ride on our farm in Karoi.
“I think the thing about horse racing that has always appealed to me, aside from the love for horses and sport, is that it is a very tough sport.
“The horses are trained day-in and day-out; there is so much research that goes into it, and I just love the science of it all.
“Also, the unpredictability of the horses and the many variables that go into the sport intrigues me.”
Unfortunately, her career was short-lived, as she only has the Republic Cup, Derby and Breeders wins to show for it.
“I used to have huge goals; I wanted to go to Hong Kong and ride and treat horses. I wanted to go to the Dubai World Cup, but I have been very humbled.
“Quitting was a hard decision to make and it boiled down to affordability, as I couldn’t afford to ride abroad and it was the same thing when I got back home,” she said.
However, she seems to have done pretty well for herself away from the track, diving head first into furthering her studies.
She has four years of professional Equine-related training in the United Kingdom, three of them spent at Hartpury College, and is now focused on hands-on soft tissue treatment of musculoskeletal problems in horses.
She is a certified Level Four Sports Massage Therapist and Level 1 Neurokinetic Therapist, which enables her to focus on rider assessment and treatment to compliment her Equine work.
Bonthrone has also been on apprenticeship in countries like the UK, United States of America and New Zealand, where she worked with people like London Olympic physiotherapist Lee Clarke and the New Zealand Barbarians Polocrosse Team.
With this wealth of knowledge, she refuses to give up on Zimbabwe sport and horse racing in the country, even with the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic and its disruption on all facets of society.
“I think that Covid-19 has been very tricky for sports the world over. I mean you just have to take a look at SuperSport and see how far reaching the effects of the virus have been.
“Horse racing has received a huge knock; owners are paying training fees for their horses which are not racing. Everything was already expensive, but is ten times worse now.
“It has been very difficult for everybody involved, though some, like myself, have other jobs and have managed to barely survive.
“Others have not been as lucky,” she said.
Still, she has refused to give up.
“I think there is a lot of talent in Zimbabwe, and time and time again we have proved, through different sports, just how good our athletes really are,” she said.
It is through her travels that she has seen that funding could be what separates the country from its contemporaries in sport, and that more concentration in funding might just be the answer.
“I think it’s difficult for sporting bodies in Zimbabwe, especially horse racing, to reach their full potential due to lack of funding.
“I know sport in England is supported by the national lottery, and that their budgets are absolutely enormous.
“It’s very difficult to compete with that. I remember when I was in the UK and Equestrian got something like £500 000, boxing got a million and that is just a budget from the national lotto.
“If something like that could be worked out, maybe not the same figures, we would be in better standing.
“There is also the need to think outside the box, and more people chipping in with ideas, because I remember contemplating starting a strength and conditioning association with my husband Craig.
“People can chip in with such ideas and initiatives, and also try tapping into grassroots development too.
“Sport is part of the curriculum in Zimbabwe, so there is already a starting point,” she said.