With around 120 horses in residence at Manor Farm Stables in Ditcheat, it’s a 24-7 job for National Hunt trainer Paul Nicholls. H&H visits his Somerset yard to find out what the daily life involves for the champion trainer.
A day at Ditcheat
5.25am: The day starts early for head lad Clifford Baker. “I get to the yard about 5.25 and give every horse two handfuls of hay to start the morning,” he says.
6am: Paul’s alarm goes off. “I only really sleep four hours a night at most though,” he says. “I’m lucky in that I don’t need much more.”
6.45am: Paul, Clifford and assistant trainer Tom Jonason meet in the office to establish which horses will be doing what in work that day, and who will be riding them. Each day jockeys — including Sam Twiston-Davies, Nick Scholfield, Sean Bowen, Jack Sherwood and Will Biddick — come in to school, as well as Ditcheat’s regular work riders who take the horses on the gallops.
“We keep lists of everything they all do day to day,” says Paul.
But it can be tricky breaking the news about who rides who.
“There are sometimes tears if they are not on their favourites,” he adds.
8am: First lot of 40 go out. “We have to start quite late around here as we have to fit in with village life,” says Paul. The horses hack about 15 minutes to and from the gallops so have a good warm up and cool down.
9.15am: The first lot arrives back at the yard and the work riders get ready for second lot. Paul puts in declarations for following day’s runners, which must be done by 10am.
10am: The second lot heads out. All riders must have a good level of ability to work here, though Paul says getting the staff can be tricky. Each rider does three lots a day.
11.15am: The third and final lot go out. Before they go Paul sorts out the entries, which have to be in by midday.
12.15pm: The morning’s work is done. Horses are washed off and fed and Paul either heads to the races or spends the afternoon watching racing and studying the form.
“Sometimes we have runners at four different racecourses — sometimes in Ireland or France too — so it’s a challenge logistically as well,” he says. “Our travelling head girl Donna Hills has been here for about 16 years so she is vital in this.”
4pm: The horses are checked over by Paul, Tom and Clifford. The feel for heat in the legs and make sure everything is how it should be.
5.30pm: The staff do their final feed and duties and are done for the day.
10pm: Tom or Clifford do final check and give the horses’ their evening hay. “I always say it’s team Ditcheat — you need a great team to make it work,” says Paul.
Don’t miss this week’s 17-page National Hunt special of Horse & Hound magazine, guest edited by Paul Nicholls. We meet Richard Johnson, find out more about the chaser Saphir Du Rheu and look at the ones to watch this season PLUS much more