Well that’s the 2019 eventing season now well underway. We haven’t started yet, but the horses are all ready to go. I think everybody at the yard is looking forward to Great Witchingham when we “officially” kick off. I think the end of January and February are sh*t months for any eventing team. The horses all need to get fit and turn into smooth and sleek athletes — a much needed conversion from lairy, hairy mammoths. Those days seem to never end, but I think everyone can now see the light at the end of the tunnel and know that spring is just around the corner.
Following on from the last blog where I broached some controversial subjects, I didn’t want to move on without the mention of staff, which seems to be a huge worry at present in many yards. I must say I have been very lucky to have had a lot of great staff that have worked for my family and I over the years — even during the times when I wouldn’t have been particularly nice to work for. Of course, there has been the odd one that hasn’t been so great, or the occasional nut job that thinks that they should be riding all of the horses, but on the whole, it’s been good.
I also feel I have lost a lot of people over the years by not being overly nice or a good person and not giving people the chances they needed to learn and develop. We were very guilty of that because we always had somebody that could do everything — it was easier to just let that person do it than try to and educate anyone else. We would then always go into panic mode when that person left, but in hindsight it was us that was being short sighted. I have learnt a huge lesson!
You have to treat people fairly and you also have to pay them properly to be able to live in today’s very expensive world. I appreciate how expensive yards are to run, the costs we now face are extortionate. But a successful business doesn’t work without a motivated team. You should get up and work with them and help them progress up the ladder if they genuinely have the desire to want to do so. I was always told: “Skills can be taught. Character you either have or you don’t.”
I’d rather have somebody with the right attitude for the job who knows absolutely nothing and can learn the way we do things professionally, than somebody who has just been to a college and thinks they know it all. I think the old working apprenticeship schemes are very sadly missed in some industries where you truly only learn by being hands on. When some people leave these protective bubbles like the colleges, they are usually not ready for the real industry and have very unreal expectations of how it really works. But equally you can have some very good ones too. I often wonder why student loans are just given out in universities for a degree. If they were offered for general apprenticeship schemes as well, I wonder if this would give young people a better chance to progress through industries that favour hands on experience.
I’ve been spending quite a lot of time working on cavaletti exercises with the horses recently. I like this because it helps improve suppleness, balance and self-carriage. It also gives the horse an athletic workout without pushing them too much and keeps them very confident in their way of going. They can be used in so many different ways and are so versatile, that I find them a really useful training tool. They appear to be a firm favourite too of my daughter Niamh (featured in the video below trying some cross-country), who loves jumping down them. It’s the human equivalent of dog agility though for me, who is usually running alongside being told to “turn, jump, wait!”
I had to take my wife’s stallion for dummy training last week — he has never been collected from before and this is his first year of breeding. We took the old Caunton Welldone (Mickey) mare down as a teaser to try and give him a helping hand. It didn’t bode well though when heavily in season Mickey was merely offered a back massage instead. I think the human equivalent of a cup of tea and biscuits in bed rather than a bloody good night. He got there in the end, in his own unique way. I don’t think I can make a comparison to that one though or my blog will be banned.
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We’ve had some exciting new additions to the yard that I’m really looking forward to working with. It would be impossible to do this job without the trust and support of owners and I’m very grateful that they have given me a chance to work with their horses. Quite a few of these new additions are younger horses, which also taught me a very important lesson this week. When you think “should I take some of the older horses on the lorry as well with the babies cross-country schooling to make the job easier?” But then you think “No… it’ll be grand!” You should reconsider that thought, as five babies on a lorry together is like transporting the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park.
Thank you to everybody that shared and viewed the Time To Talk campaign that I did with Niall Fergusson. I hope we’ve raised awareness of mental health issues that affect millions of people every single day.
For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday