Over the stable door: New arrivals test the old instincts

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MY SMALL herd of racehorses is on the increase again.

No sooner had we turned out the winter horses and disinfected the stables then they were filled up with new arrivals. Some have been sent from Ireland and three others I purchased at the sales last week.

It’s always an interesting time getting to know them individually. It is usually fairly easy to work out those horses who have come from the bigger yards. Most thrive under the regiment of routine but some can be swallowed up in the scale of the operation, unable to flourish and overshadowed by better horses their confidence evaporates.

I look out for those horses who have lost their way, those who may well relish a small, personal yard where they can regain their confidence. Based in the north makes this job slightly easier, our tracks are not as competitive as most in the south or in Ireland.

The first job we do is quarantine the new arrivals for a few weeks so if they bring any bacteria which emerge after travelling it isn’t spread to the rest of the yard.

The next task is to learn more about each one’s character. Breeding offers some guidance as many sires throw stock with common traits. Racehorses are used to five star accommodation and care, but they all react differently when in an unfamiliar place. I give each of them a loose workout in my sand pen first and maybe a pop over some barrels. I note how they react to me and to a new situation.

Some are keen to get on with their job, others naturally lazy. Those who immediately work out where the exit is, I know I can usually improve. The varied and individual training approach we have time to implement, including everything from hunting, splashing around in the river to cross country days out, can help relieve boredom and has rejuvenated many jaded but talented characters we’ve had in our care. Those are the ones I get a real buzz from training, especially when the owners have been on the journey with me and we are all stood in the winners’ enclosure overjoyed and satisfied at a job well done.

Next Saturday I am holding an owner’s morning. I like to keep the owners informed so they can understand and appreciate the type of work we do with each of their horses.

One of my purchases is a six-year-old mare, a winner on the flat and over hurdles. She has come from a large training establishment in the south and has been trained hard. Her ability is plain to see but mares can be tricky and when she decided she’d had enough of her daily routine she stopped trying in her races.

Usually I avoid mares but I was drawn to this one. She is tough and until recently had obviously loved her job.

When I tried her out last week everyone was keen for a nosey. No sooner had I trotted her around the pen for a few minutes did I notice my father’s jeep pulling up in the car park, then the lasses decided to clean out some water troughs next to the sand pen.

Soon a small crowd had gathered to watch.

As the filly whizzed immaculately over my fences I could hear ‘oohh’s’ and ‘ahh’s’ from the audience. They weren’t the only ones excited by what they saw. Now begins the real job of winning back her passion for the game.