All in a day’s work: The equine rehabilitation chief *H&H Plus*

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  • Moorcroft Equine Rehabilitation Centre chief executive Mary Frances on giving horses another chance...

    I grew up in Ireland and trained with the late showjumper and trainer Iris Kellett. I have 40 years’ experience with horses, having worked in Switzerland with top dressage horses and in the UK with eventers. When Moorcroft needed a manager, I was pleased to step in and help these very deserving horses.

    I was only meant to be at the charity for a year, but have been with them for 12. I really love the rehabilitation side of my job, as so many horses need another chance in life. Not enough is known about how to rehabilitate after lameness and surgery or when things go wrong. Ex-racehorses, in particular, need time and understanding, plus lots of strengthening and muscle-building work.

    At the charity, we are passionate about rehabilitating ex-racehorses. Sometimes they are young horses and we give them a future that they otherwise may not have had.

    We also help other breeds that need assistance after surgery, or time off from lameness. We take great satisfaction and pride in doing a good job for the horses.

    I feed the horses at 5.30am before the staff arrive at 6.15am. I am very hands-on and will start long-reining the horses from 6.30am until 11am – after that, I am in the office helping with admin work. Many racehorses develop back problems, so long-reining helps them use and develop themselves properly.

    We see a lot of tendon injuries but we have a good success rate in the recovery of these horses. It may take nine months or so of box rest and treatment, but when the horses are back in work it makes it all so worth it, especially with young horses, who have their whole lives still ahead of them.

    We had one horse who came to us in a particularly bad state, lame both in front and behind and with a sore back, and I remember questioning if he’d make it. But we gave him time and physio treatment over an 18-month period and he now competes in dressage. He is a very special horse; he’s safe and sensible and has not yet gone lame since. It’s all about giving the horse time; if you rush, it’s never going to work.

    We have 25 horses at the centre, and we have top-class facilities which have been developed over the years since Moorcroft moved to Slinfold in West Sussex in 1999. We have indoor and outdoor arenas, plus physiotherapists and vets on-hand. We offer a quiet and sympathetic approach to the horses in our care. There are 70 acres, so plenty of hacking and grazing. We also have access straight out onto the Downs Link, offering safe riding with no roads.

    It is so rewarding to see a young, damaged horse develop his confidence and to feel more comfortable under saddle, and to know that you and the team have helped him to a brighter future. If the horse is owned by the charity, we rehome him to a good home and visit annually. We also help those who have bought a horse from a sale and have run into trouble – it is very satisfying to see them improve and go home a much happier combination.

    Blowing Wind, who ran in the Grand National numerous times, spent four years in retirement with us at Moorcroft, coming here as a 17-year-old until his passing. It was heart-warming to be able to give something back to him and offer him a happy retirement. We did parades with him and he just enjoyed life with us.

    The hardest part of my role is keeping the charity well enough funded, as costs are very high, so it’s a constant battle to be able to give the horses the best care. We have a great board of trustees who support the charity, and we raise vital money through educational courses and demonstrations too.

    These funds go towards the vet care, feed, physio treatment and general care of the horses. We run the centre a little understaffed as funding is inadequate, but we work smart and I am so lucky to have the best team ever.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 28 May 2020

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