Summer has officially ended and as the evenings draw in, the hard work begins at the Billy Stud.
We had a big build-up for the young horse championships and we were successful at Addington, where we won the six-year-olds and had seven out of the top 10 in the five-year-olds. Now, the established four-year-olds are turned out to enjoy what’s left of the grass and the next cycle starts.
There are 50 unhandled three-year-olds to be backed and we have 90 horses stabled at this time of year, with a team of 15 full-time staff.
With a team this size, we have a lot of banter and pranks. Two of our lads were taking four-year-olds to Addington for the first time, so all of the other jockeys convinced them there was a trot-up. The two boys were busy rehearsing to make sure their horses would trot up correctly and packed their trousers and shirts — they only discovered the wind-up when they got there.
We also have a list for who has the most falls, with an award given out at our Christmas party. Currently, Josh Hutchins is on 13 and Alex Gill is on 12 . I’m on four — although my falls seem to be up on the wall chart almost as I hit the ground.
At my age, four falls is plenty. I was at a show in Switzerland and my friend Paul Estermann asked me if I had any nice five-year-olds for him. I asked him how old he was, and he said “55”. I said: “Really? And you want a nice five-year-old?”
At 49, I look at these three-year-olds and wonder, but when I see John Whitaker riding the way he is at 60, I hope I’m far from finished yet.
Three to five are the most important years of a horse’s career. Because of that, their rider’s seat and balance have to be so much better.
A 15-year journey
Once Pippa finishes her eventing season, we help one another to improve the basics. If riders come to us who can produce young horses, it’s in our interest to put the time into them, too.
While from our point of view the hard work begins with the three-year-olds, for Donal Barnwell, it starts at conception. We’ve been breeding for 15 years to get to where we are now. It has taken that long to understand which motherlines work with which stallions. We’ve built up to doing around 40% embryo transfers (ET) — we know it works to produce the best foals.
We’re just starting to see a number of ETs coming through in the three-year-olds — around 25%. We have five from Billy Angelo’s mother, so it’s going to be very interesting watching them loose-jump for the first time. I’ll come back from a show and wake up on a Monday morning excited to see how the ideas we had four years ago are panning out.
There’s been good news for breeders. I was at a foal sale in Belgium recently, where the average price was €15,000 (£11,000) and top prices reached €30,000.
Unless you have owners that can lose £1m, anyone who wants to be successful in this sport needs to be able to make a horse. This is why foals are doing so well — the price of a good horse has gone through the roof.
In the recession, fewer horses were bred and we’re now seeing that shortage affect the value of quality stock.
Ref: Horse & Hound; 17 September 2015