Over the stable door: No breeze in retraining racehorses

Brian Toomey has fought back from a severe brain injury to have his license to ride again granted.
Brian Toomey has fought back from a severe brain injury to have his license to ride again granted.
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MY OWNER’S morning was a great success despite the force nine gales which threatened to blow the chocolate brownies and lemon drizzle cake out of my guests’ hands as we congregated for afternoon tea in the garden.

Fortunately, I had unearthed an old seaside windbreak from the back of the garage, last used on Filey beach in 1985, which helped.

My new equine arrivals were paraded and gleamed in the sunshine. I explained my plans for each of them to the intent onlookers as the horses were put through their paces.

Some of the new racehorses need sweetening up, another has lost its confidence jumping after an unlucky fall, another has been campaigning at too high a level and needs to drop down a class.

All of them have plenty of ability so I don’t mind putting in the time it takes to bring out their best.

The rest of the yard enjoyed getting fussed over and many photographs were snapped. It was great to see everyone and we have attracted a few new owners from it. Thankfully all the new horses have manners which is a bonus. I cannot abide horses or children without manners.

A 12-year-old gelding arrived from Ireland some months ago, we named him Big George as he stands at 17-2hh. George had won a few races in his younger days but had remained in the same yard for nine years and had never been anywhere on his own.

A daily routine of working up the gallops in the midst of the string meant he couldn’t even walk out of the yard alone. His problem had been left for so long it was deep rooted.

When he arrived I turned him out for six weeks to recover from a virus he had arrived with. It wasn’t until we got him fit did I realise the extent of this vice.

If asked to do something he didn’t want, his response was to rear straight up. He was a big horse, the sight of two enormous hooves near your head is not a comforting one and I didn’t want anyone put at risk.

Allowing a horse to go so long without sorting out a dangerous problem is irresponsible.

If we couldn’t cure George the horse wasn’t going to have a future after racing, he would be on a one-way ticket. It was now up to us.

His retraining began on the ground, it was back to basics with long reining in a harness which prevented his head going up. If he couldn’t get his head up high he couldn’t rear and we had to break the pattern.

It was a long process, days ran into weeks. One day he was great, the next difficult. Frustrating for both parties, it was two steps on and one back and the journey is not yet over.

Slowly he is improving, he has relaxed and arguing is no longer his instant reaction. This week we have had a breakthrough – three days of good behaviour to date. My fingers are crossed we get there and George will return to being a safe and pleasurable ride who can still win races, but with a future.

Fantastic news came through on Monday. Jockey Brian Toomey was granted his license to ride by the British Horseracing Association, a dream for Toomey who suffered a horrific fall two years ago at Perth which left him with a severe brain injury.

Brian was declared dead for six seconds at the scene, spent two weeks in a coma, 157 nights in hospital – most of which he cannot remember – and underwent brain surgery.

He was given a three per cent chance of survival but defied the odds, the darkest moments and the doctor’s pessimism to fight for his dream.

It is undoubtedly a story of inspirational hope and determination and I cannot wait to see this talented lad back in action very soon.