Pandora Humphries is helping rescue racehorses bound for the knacker's yard. Picture: Jay Town Source: Herald Sun
SHE captured hearts as "butterfly girl", but life now is definitely all about horses for little Pandora Humphries.
Having had her life saved more times than anyone wants to remember, Pandora knows all about second chances and is using all her energy to give retired racehorses a fresh chance.
After falling in love with horses last year, the tiny nine-year-old has inspired her parents to begin a charity saving thoroughbreds from knackeries.
Despite weighing just 19kg due to the effects of her undiagnosed condition, Pandora has amazed her mother, Amber Hendry, with the bond she shares with thoroughbreds, which tower over her as her gentle best friends.
"Pandora just has this way with them, and it is brilliant to see somebody who has come from where she has come from taking so much on," Ms Hendry said.
"She learns so much down here, not like you do with a dog or a cat."In August last year . . . Pandora got on a horse and it was just amazing. It was the first time she had even been near a horse, and look at her now.
"She can have a bad day but then come here, open the gate and go in to see the horses, and everything is great."
Seeing Pandora leading powerful racehorses around the We Were Champions charity's Werribee base, it is difficult to believe she spent her first two years clinging to life in isolation at the Royal Children's Hospital, where she became the unforgettable face of the Good Friday Appeal dressed in her butterfly outfit.
An undiagnosed condition causes Pandora's red blood cells to attack each other and not regenerate and, although a bone marrow transplant saved her life, she still relies on medication including injections of hormones to help her grow.
The grade 3 student convinced her parents to get her a welsh pony named Bella, but her obsession did not stop there.
Inspired by Pandora's love of horses and his horror at seeing emaciated and abused horses before they go to knackeries, Ms Hendry's partner, Anthony Swords, set up the We Were Champions charity to rescue, rehabilitate and rehouse retired racehorses.
The family has now rescued 15 thoroughbreds by outbidding knackeries at horse auctions, spending between $200 and $500 on horses who have often won tens of thousands of dollars on the racetrack before becoming too old or slow.
The charity has gained strong support from Mr Swords' employer, Gatto Corporate Solutions, owned by Mick Gatto, and hopes to find homes for the animals to live out their days as pets.
"This has picked her up a lot at school," Mr Swords said.
"It gives her that extra drive, and when she is around horses instead of being behind with some of the other things, she knows more about this than the other kids and it has really brought her along."