I was really lucky last week to be given a couple of spare passes to Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham on Saturday. As a jump racing devotee, I’ve been to this hallowed place a number of times.
However, much as I think it is one of the most wonderful places on earth, I very much doubt that anyone who has ever been there on a cold day in January would deny that it has very its own micro-climate, with the barometer rarely reading anything other than ‘brass monkeys’. The wind there can feel artic in its severity and many layers under your smart threads are essential for all those in the know.
So aside from some great racing, Saturday was made all the more fantastic by the fact that we didn’t have to brave such conditions. We were a granted beautifully bright, clear and still day – I couldn’t have imagined a better setting for winter racing.
The handicapper was clearly on point as there wasn’t one race with more than three lengths between the winner and the runner up across the card. I was shouting Smad Place home in the Gold Cup Trial as he is owned by friends, and it was great to see a super run from him in the build up to the Festival.
The ground was as soft as you would expect considering the rain we’ve had over the past few weeks, and as ever I had ultimate admiration for how resolute and brave the horses were as they battled hard to emerge at the top of that famous hill in front. You really can’t appreciate how steep and long it is on TV!
It’s always nice for us to hear of the ongoing successes of horses that have spent time in our care and so it seems all the more fortunate that one such graduate still lives under our roof. Nigel, who belongs to Hannah (our therapy centre assistant), came to us last summer following back surgery and with a number of lameness concerns to boot.
The feeling at the time was very much that there were a lot issues going on, and the way forward was to effectively throw the kitchen sink at him in terms of treatment.
X-rays revealed arthritic changes in his hocks, and he struggled to remain sound in front also. He had his hocks and sacroilliac joints medicated during his stay and farrier Jim Slimmings shod him, fitting third millenium frog support pads between the soles of his front feet and his shoes to help distribute the weight more evenly (pictured below).
Jim also gave him some lateral width and length on his back shoes (pictured below) to provide him with a good platform to step off from, essentially making it easier for him to push off his hind feet. We discharged him home on first of July last year and Hannah took him off home to Devon before returning with him when she started working for us in September.
This week was momentous in Nigel’s return to form as it saw him jumping around his first course in competition since before his operation. He’s been back working over fences since the autumn, but Hannah has built him up really gradually.
I have to say it brought the biggest smile to my face watching this little horse popping round a course looking really happy and comfortable. Hannah has put a load of work into him and been really patient, so it’s nice to see her reaping the rewards of her efforts.
It’s an ongoing process with these kind of horses as they can require a bit of extra maintenance every now and again (Nigel had his hocks re-medicated before Christmas) but Hannah sees this as a justifiable outlay when he can continue to live such a happy life. I have to say I agree with her.
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I mentioned in my last blog that we had a huge amount of data collection coming up for a number of research projects, as we travel headlong towards time of year that brings the most stress to every third year university student: undergraduate dissertation hand-in.
We had a different study to assist with every day last week, and two going on simultaneously on Monday this week. We are also facilitating the data collection of our Canadian graduate assistant Kate, who is admirably enroute to completing a two-year MSc in a single year.
Her project involves gait analysis in our water treadmill and so required a bit of impermeable technology to protect the little sensors she’s using to track the movement of each leg. The answer to this problem was the waterproof cases you can buy to carry mobile phones in whilst out on or in water – sometimes genius comes in a very simple form!
The last couple of weeks have been slightly quieter in terms of the number of in-patient horses we currently have, which is normal for January. The benefit of this is that it ties in nicely with running study participants; usually our high-speed treadmill is busy all day exercising our therapy and rehabilitation cases, but a drop in numbers gives us a bit of breathing space to fit in extra horses.
We’re set to be full up again from next so it looks like we got the studies done just in time!