‘On this yard I’m God, and God says we’re here ready to feed at 6am’: the real life of a stable lass

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  • Stable Lass, Riding Out and Mucking In — Tales from a Yorkshire Racing Yard, by Gemma Hogg, is the ideal opportunity to dip into the behind-the-scenes action of the racing world.

    Gemma gives fascinating first-hand insight into her life as a stable lass. She is currently assistant trainer at Micky Hammond Racing, having got a job there straight out of the Northern Racing College in 1998. With the beautiful backdrop of Middleham in North Yorkshire, Gemma, who won the prestigious Godolphin Stud employee of the year award in 2016, takes us into the closed world of a top racing yard.

    From brutally long hours, interesting characters (both human and equine), falling in love with horses to the jockeys starving themselves, wealthy owners and the indescribable grief of losing a horse, Stable Lass is a must-read this summer.

    Taken from a extract of the book, here Gemma recalls her first day at Micky Hammond Racing:

    “Once I’d finished freaking myself out, I looked at my watch and saw it was already five past six. I was late on my first day! I picked my feet up, put my head down and walked as fast as I could through the yard gates, only to realise that all the muffled conversations and sounds that had been emanating from the yard had stopped.

    “Oh no! I thought. They’re all look at me.

    “This made me slow down, for some ridiculous reason, after which a mixture of curiosity and stupidity made me look up. At first, I didn’t see any humans, although I definitely heard them. In the absence of any voices bidding me to ‘step into the light’, I took it upon myself to continue walking along that celestial stairway and, as I made my way past the first few boxes, I began to notice my audience. They were attentive, I’ll give them that, but they were also smiling and giggling. I knew I was late, and obviously I was also a new recruit. But why the amusement?

    “’I say!’ one of them called out. ‘Nice puffa!’ Then another shouted. ‘Shall I saddle one up for you, Your Majesty?’

    “It was the clobber! As my eyes finally acclimatized to the lighting, I took the opportunity to get a better look at my public. They, of course, were all sporting a mixture of jeans, tracksuit bottoms, fleeces and old coats. I, on the other hand, looked as though I had stepped straight out of a shop window, and must have resembled a shorter, poorer and less well-connected version of Zara Phillips.

    “Those one hundred yards from the gates to Micky Hammond’s office felt like a thousand and, as I passed the last of my twenty or so colleagues, I was left in no doubt whatsoever that they thought I was just a helmet, a hairnet and a riding crop away from appearing at the Horse of the Year Show.

    “‘Good morning, ma’am,’ said the last of them. ‘Aren’t we looking splendid this morning?’

    “That one got a big laugh, which was fair enough.

    “By the time I got to the yard office, I’d gone from a walk, and then a trot, to something approaching a gallop, but instead of knocking and waiting like any polite stable lass should, I barged through the door, slammed it shut and, without even thinking said, ‘Thank God for that!’

    “‘Good afternoon, Gemma,’ said a voice.

    “‘Jesus!’ I yelped. ‘You scared the living daylights out of me.’

    “Mickey’s office was a kind of L-shape and so his desk wasn’t visible from the door.

    “‘No, I’m not Jesus,’ he said, walking into view. ‘But as far as this yard is concerned I am God, and God says that we’re here and ready to feed by six a.m.’

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    “I think my jaw dropped when I caught sight of Micky. I’d obviously met him before but he seemed very different from the way I remembered. First of all, he was a bit older. There was something amiss height-wise too. Micky is about five feet six inches tall (if you met him he’d insist he was five feet eight inches), but I remembered him towering over me. I also thought he had fair hair, and a good head of hair at that, when in fact it was quite clearly brown and was short on top and shaved round the sides. Had I actually met George Michael that day instead? Lastly there were the clothes. He’d been quite smart in my interview, as later that day he’d been going to the races, yet now he looked like a tramp. He’s going to kill me when he reads this.

    “Micky was thirty four at the time (ancient!) and had already been training for the best part of ten years. Before becoming a successful racehorse trainer he had a long career as a jockey, riding a total of 232 winners. In fact, had it not been for two concurrent leg injuries, Micky would have run the great Peter Scudamore very close to becoming Champion Jockey in the 1987/88 season.

    “‘Yes, I’m so sorry,’ I said, trying to hide my shock. ‘I was looking at your logo.’

    “‘I’m not even going to go there,’ said Micky. ‘Anyway, you’re here now. Let’s get you mucking out. I’m starting you off with four boxes and we need them all done by seven a.m.’

    “All of a sudden, my mood shifted from extreme shame and embarrassment to blind panic.

    “‘But it’s already quarter past six,’ I cried. ‘How am I supposed to muck out four horses in forty-five minutes?’

    “‘How long did you have at college?’ asked Micky.

    “‘About half an hour.’

    “‘For how many?’

    “‘Per box. Maybe two boxes, if I got a wiggle on.’

    “Micky’s eyes almost popped out. ‘Maybe two if I got a wiggle on?’ he said disbelievingly. ‘You’d better shift your arse then.’”

    Price: £16.99 hardback, or from £5.99 on Amazon
    Published by: Sidgwick & Jackson, 2018

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