In a new blog series for The Horse Comes First, we’ll be hearing from representatives across racing, detailing how equine welfare is prioritised at all times throughout all the stages of a racehorse’s life.
The racehorse is a package of dreams and aspirations from the very first breath and some of us are lucky enough to be involved from the beginning.
I have been fortunate enough to earn my living not just doing a job for work, but living for my work. Starting way back in 1979, as a young man who loved country life and being outside, I could not have chosen a better career path. Although my father was far from happy, I stuck to my guns and worked on the adage ‘find something your good at and stick with it’.
Watership Down Stud started as an idea twenty five years ago and coughed and spluttered into existence through the hard work and drive of Lady Lloyd Webber and Simon Marsh. Within a few years, we stared to get the rewards from that determination to succeed. The Stud was built on old parkland and the best thing about it was that we had so many well established trees which are very important for shelter and shade. Horses are unkind to land so getting our hands on grassland that had only ever seen sheep was amazing. Twenty some years later we can safely say we have established a Stud.
Foals are the most amazing creatures and while postnatal care is mostly down to the mare, we of course have to administer a few routine treatments and keep a close eye to make sure all is going well. Normally within a day or so we are met at the stable door by a 90kg ball of energy who wants a playmate to bounce off.
We have a small team of eight dedicated staff who each contribute a great deal to the success of the Stud. Everyone choosing to build a working life around horses shares the same goals and it is wonderful to walk past a stable and see a groom stood eye to eye with a mare saying the sweetest of things never heard by anyone other than loved ones or children. All the horses here are fed first thing in the morning before the rest of the team arrive for work and I love this time of day as it gives me chance to see each horse, and it gives the horses chance to eat before the distraction of the working day begins.
Horses always come first: they are offered food, shelter and somewhere to exercise and be sociable with friends. After all that’s what we all need.
Most of the time a horse will tell you if something is wrong. After many years being around them, it comes a second nature to know what is normal and what is out of place. The young, as with human children, are more time consuming. We take random temperatures from all the foals on a daily basis, ensuring each foal has its temperature taken at least once a week, allowing any brewing health problems to be detected early.
The staff take it in turns to go out to the paddocks to do checks. This allows for the chance for someone to see what another may not have. Furthermore, this is a good time to see the affection shown to horses by those who care for them.
The foaling season is a special time of year. At Watership Down, as on many stud farms, we have a separate unit for the expectant mares. Each stable has C.C.T.V which is linked to three of the staff cottages including mine, in addition to a night room which is monitored from 10.00pm until 06.00am by a member of staff. We have now increased the ease for staff and have an app allowing any member of the team to log in and watch the unit from a mobile or tablet. This is a great step forward and offers me much more freedom (during the six months foaling season I have been never been able to travel far from home without having to worry all was well). Being part of Watership Down Stud, I have had some wonderful horses under my care. I know my hopes and dreams for each of them have never faulted. Every foal born is a potential super star.
When you look into the eye of a new born foal, then rear that horse to go into training you would think ‘job well done’. It is however quite something else to look into that same eye four years later knowing she is a champion and with you for a whole different purpose. You can look into the eyes of her offspring and relive that very same dream.
I have been lucky enough to hold silver salvers, golden cups, and many racing awards but these are after all only reflected glories. When I won the Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff ‘Employee of the Year’ Award, and held that wonderful silver trophy, it was only then I felt a very different pride, and realised the people behind every horse to race have given not only their time but the care and dedication that makes all racing possible.
Photography from Amy Lanigan and Watership Down