Delights of next generation riders

There was no finer sight than watching excited children enjoying a day’s hunting at Coniston Cold last week.

The school holiday pony club meet at the Pendle is always great fun and a tremendous confidence builder for the next generation. What could be better for them than a day out in the fresh air with friends, watching the hounds and learning how to respect the land and the traditions of our wonderful countryside?

Ponies were provided for those who had none and many children were out for the first time. They got to watch the trail being laid before we set off with the hounds to hunt it. Our new Master, John Chadwick from Gargrave, kept them entertained and informed as their Field Master, treating those who weren’t going through the gates to a stylish lead over the hunt jumps.

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Many of the ponies were slightly overwhelmed by the experience and some proved quite a handful. There was a round of applause for one young man who managed to stay aboard as his mount demonstrated its finest rodeo impression across the first field.

My eight-year-old son Felix, who topped the tumblers club with eight falls last season, seems to have finally gelled with his little hunting pony. He loves his days on the hunting field and is mortified if he misses out. I’m happy we can share in the same passion.

Felix might not be the neatest rider but he’s brave and has found something he can shine at. He knows the senior members now and each one looks out for him. The strong bond between the Pendle followers is something I’ve always loved and the reason I returned for a second visit as a teenager, at a time when many hunts looked scornfully upon children.

It’s the busiest time of year at home. We have a full yard of horses and plenty of racing coming up. As well as the racehorses, Dad’s pointers have started their fittening work, the hunters are out regularly and my young horses have had a few educational runs.

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I sent a five-year-old to Cheltenham for a wind operation last week. Dancer has had a couple of runs over hurdles and was making a noise in the final stages of his race. The vet performed a soft palate operation under local anaesthetic which involves lasering the end of the horses palate to prevent it catching during increased exercise. I think it’ll make a big difference to the little horse, who has shown enough ability to win a race.

The British Horseracing Authority has announced they are cutting 170 races from the fixture list in the New Year to cut down on small field races. The main problem is the lack of betting revenue generated from small uncompetitive fields. Although some reductions are required, it looks likely to be the start of a prolonged and harsh streamlining of our industry, done to satisfy the gambling industry.

If I was a pessimist (or maybe just a realist) I would hazard a bet in another decade there will be no small trainers left in the business and fewer small-time owners. Maybe if the BHA employed a knowledgeable ex-trainer to help organise race planning proficiently the calendar would look more balanced and be less criticised. Then we might all stand a chance of keeping our owners, and our horses, happy.

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