Category Archives: Articles

The real value of older horses

How much is a horse worth? Yes, this is a trick question – and there are several answers, writes CAROLYN HENDERSON.

The nicest is the one you hear from an owner whose horse is part of the family and regarded as priceless. These owners tend to be women, and they often have a T-shirt that proclaims: “He said it was me or the horse. We miss him”. Hands up, I’m one of them – although my husband bought me the T-shirt.

Another answer comes from a dealer friend. She reckons that a horse is worth whatever she can persuade someone to pay for him – and there is a logic to that, whether you’re talking about a horse to hack or a top class competition animal.

But however you assess market value, there’s an accepted tenet that most “ordinary” horses reach their prime market value when they are between seven and 10 years old. The reasoning is that by the time they get to seven, they’ve built up some experience and after that, accumulated wear and tear means they’re less likely to stay sound.

You can shoot holes in that argument remarkably easily. Younger horses can be just as prone to injury and its after-effects, while experience is only valuable if it’s good experience.

So why do so many riders still think that a horse in its teens isn’t worth considering? They could be missing a great opportunity.

One of my horses is 15 this year. Some readers will say that hardly counts as middle-aged and advances in nutrition and veterinary science back that up. His favourite hacking companion is an 18-year-old, ex-Grade A showjumper whom a friend bought as her first horse.

Hands up, I thought my friend was taking a huge risk. The vet who carried out a pre-purchase check found signs of an old injury, but thought the mare was suitable for low level Riding Club activities.

No one has told this lovely 17hh warmblood that she should be taking life more sedately. Watch her turn herself inside out when she’s loose-schooled, prick up her ears when she sees a jump and lengthen her stride out hacking and you’d take her for a horse half her age.

She still performs great flying changes and if you press the right buttons, you get the right results. For the first time in years – perhaps the first time ever – she’s hacking out, being treated like the princess she is and enjoying a varied lifestyle.

Treat older horses as individuals, rather than numbers, and you may be surprised at what they can offer and what you can achieve with them. There is a downside, of course, and that’s the fact that the older a horse is, the more likely it is that you will have to make difficult decisions at some stage.

The hardest decision of all is deciding when it’s time to do the last thing you can for his welfare. Retirement isn’t always an option for horses, owners, or both and old horses rarely die in their sleep. If you care about him, you’ll find the courage to do the right thing.

In the meantime, remember that with horses – and certainly with ponies, many of whom lead active lives well into their 20s – age is just a number, and can add up to many years of fun.

The perils of buying ponies.

Buying a horse for yourself is difficult enough, writes CAROLYN HENDERSON. But when a friend asks you to help them find the ideal partner for their child, the challenge level shoots off the scale.

After negotiations between mother and 12-year-old daughter, we struck a compromise. It was a bit like the arguments you negotiate when buying school shoes; Mum wanted something safe, sensible and reasonably priced and daughter wanted something pretty, forward going and preferably palomino.

 

Once we’d compromised on coat colour and established that the potential rider’s idea of forward going was a pony that she didn’t have to kick, finding candidates should have been easy.

Unfortunately, there are sellers who either have no idea of their ponies’ temperament or stage of schooling or are simply dishonest. First, there was the one whose current young owner mysteriously wasn’t there to ride it. When we refused to let my friend’s daughter get on until we’d seen it ridden, the seller’s older daughter was roped in.

We watched what we had been assured was a paragon of virtue buck every time it was asked to canter, and realised that perhaps they had been hoping the extra weight would weigh the pony down.

Then there was the pony who went beautifully all the way down the arena, then spun and galloped back to the gate as fast as his 13.2hh legs would carry him. “Oh dear,” said his owner. “He’s never done that before.”

Perhaps not, but he wasn’t going to get the chance to do it again. We also discounted the pony who “only needed front shoes”, possibly because when you tried to pick up his hindleg, he tried to kick you.

Finally, we found a formidable-sounding lady with a New Forest pony for sale.  I grilled her and then she grilled me with equal determination.  When we met, it was like negotiating a treaty.

It worked. The pony was everything she said he was: a happy, cheerful chap who had nice balanced paces and reasonable conformation and popped willingly over small jumps.

The owner insisted that his potential new owner should groom him and tack him up, which was great, and he went nicely when ridden by her daughter. My friend’s daughter and the pony hit it off straight away and  a few days later, after a satisfactory pre-purchase vetting report, the deal was done.

I’m pleased we found her a pony she loves – bay with a white star is now infinitely superior to palomino – but depressed that there are sellers out there prepared to tell lies and risk the safety of a child.  These weren’t dodgy dealers, they were private sellers with children of their own.

Maybe they were prepared to put up with problems while the ponies were in their ownership, although I’m pretty sure the kicker and the one who napped in the school were being sold because of them. But while there’s no such thing as a bombproof pony, they were asked before we went to see them if their ponies had any problems or quirks.

Since when did it become acceptable to risk the safety of someone else’s child? If you can’t solve a problem, get help from someone who can.

Don’t just decide to pass it on and keep your fingers crossed. It isn’t fair on the pony – and it certainly isn’t fair on the children whose safety and confidence is compromised.

Let’s look after our riding schools

 

Can you remember your first riding lesson? Mine was light years ago, but I can still remember every detail, writes CAROLYN HENDERSON.

The small riding school in Lincolnshire was run by two dedicated sisters called Daphne and June. They introduced me to a 12.2hh strawberry roan pony called Amigo and explained that I’d learn not just how to ride, but how to tack up, groom and muck out.

When my Dad told them I could draw a saddle and bridle and label every part, and knew the name of every piece of grooming equipment and what it was for, they nodded in approval.

There was so much to take in on that first lesson. At the end, Daphne told me I must pat Amigo’s neck to thank him; the poor pony must have thought he was being patted to death.

Lots of you will have similar memories of special riding school ponies. But will your children or grandchildren have the same chances?

Unless you’re born into an equestrian family and are brought up in jodhpurs, a riding school offers the only chance of getting close to horses and ponies. Yet riding schools are under threat because of massive hikes in business rates and insurance cover, the latter due to a change in the law.

What happened to all those official declarations about riding being such a valuable activity? And what happened to all those promises about the Olympic legacy?

Times change and businesses have to adapt. Many riding schools no longer take pupils on hacks because the roads around them are too busy. And whilst some of us saw graduating from a school’s safe starter ponies to feistier ones as a badge of honour, today’s riding school owners know that some clients have their solicitors on speed dial in case their children fall off – which means feisty ponies are out of a job and children miss out.

Those who run riding schools do it for love. They certainly can’t do it to get rich – you only have to look at the costs of feed, bedding and shoeing, let alone rates and insurance, to work that out.

The latest British Horse Society statistics show that there are just under 900 BHS-approved centres worldwide. Prices vary, but private lesson prices starting at about £20 for half an hour. At one legendary school, you can have a 45-minute lesson on a dressage schoolmaster, with an equally legendary instructor, for about £80.

At my local cinema, it costs £20 for an adult and one child to see a film. So how come we still hear claims that riding is an expensive, elitist sport?

Unfortunately, until the powers that be wake up to the fact that riding schools should be treasured and helped, not rated out of existence, that’s what will happen. Some schools will close and others will have to put up prices so much, a lot of families won’t be able to afford them.

I hope things change, and that the children in your family have the chance to meet their equivalent of Amigo.

 

 

 

Why ‘some old guy’ means so much to everyone.

Even those who don’t know one end of a horse from another have probably heard that showjumping stars Nick Skelton and Big Star are retiring, writes CAROLYN HENDERSON.

The announcement flooded across websites and social media and made mainstream TV. That’s important, just as it was when our dressage riders at the London Olympics wowed those who didn’t know a Piaffe from a pit stop, and the non-horsey world became aware of dancing horses.

It’s an irresistible story – the 58-year-old man who is lucky to be alive, let alone ride. In 2000, Nick fractured his first cervical vertebra in two places, an injury known as the hangman’s break, and was told that another fall could be fatal. In 2016, he and Big Star captured the general public’s imagination, and now they’ve done it again.

Nick Skelton and Big Star jump to Olympic Gold in the individual final at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on 19th August 2016.

When asked to sum up why so many fell in love with his story, Nick was down to earth and disarming. “I think it’s the age factor,” he said. “Some old guy doing what I did ended up winning gold.”

As an afterthought, he added: “If you want something, and you fight for it, you will get it.” Many will say that’s not true, but if you’re realistic, it should be.

So let’s hope that the widely publicised retirement of Nick and Big Star will prompt a few more people to wonder if there might be something in this horse riding stuff, after all. If some of those aren’t in the first flush of youth, that’s even better.

Few people can power round huge showjumping courses when they’re Nick’s age – with apologies to John and Michael Whitaker, of course, who are slightly older. Whatever they’ve got, they should bottle it and sell it.

But just about anyone of any age can learn to ride, or pick up the reins after a long break. Don’t be worried about looking silly, because if contemporaries take notice, it will be in envy and admiration.

As for the partnership’s personal futures, there is a popular educated guess. Nick’s son, Dan, is a racehorse trainer in his fourth season and before that, spent nine years as assistant trainer to Paul Nicholls. What’s the betting that Nick will be spreading some of his expertise around his son’s already successful yard?

Big Star is set to concentrate on what stallions do. If you have a worthy mare and want to breed a Big Star baby, now could be your chance – just don’t get trampled in the rush.

Finally, there is still hope for those of us who don’t bounce as well as we used to. Nick might be hanging up his competition boots, but John Whitaker, who will be 62 in August and his  57-year-old brother, Michael, can still show younger riders how it’s done.

Andrew Nicholson at Burghley Horse Trials. Credit: www.e-venting.co.uk.

In the world of eventing, Andrew Nicholson, aged 55, is a name younger riders fear. So too is Sir Mark Todd, aged 61.

Remember what the man said. If you want it, and fight for it, you’ll get it.

Keeping traditions in the right place.

We horsey folk live in a funny old world, writes CAROLYN HENDERSON. Sometimes, it seems like an alternative universe.

While everyone else has been pounding keyboards over Brexit, sections of the horse world have been getting hot under the collar over dressage riders wearing brightly coloured boots and show horses sporting the wrong browbands. The latter might sound like a Wallace and Gromit film, but feelings run high.

Adult side-saddle riders usually wear silk hats or bowlers when showing. Image: Carolyn Henderson.

It all comes down to tradition. In some cases, there are acceptable reasons behind mysterious rules – for instance, chunky show cobs wearing brightly coloured, ribbon-bedecked browbands look like elephants wearing tutus, whilst plain leather bridles with broad nosebands and browbands complement their workmanlike looks.

I’ve been writing about horses long enough to remember the days when wearing the wrong boots in the show ring was the equivalent to riding in your PJs. I’ve passed on professional show riders’ tips about having garter straps sewn to the tops of your boots and counting the number of plaits your horse should sport.

For the record, garter straps go back to the days when breeches were made from non-stretch fabric. They were designed to help keep your boots up, and your breeches legs down.

And while we’re playing Trivial Pursuit, tradition dictates that there should be an odd number of plaits down the horse’s neck, plus one for the forelock. Perfectionists always aimed for nine, but although gurus now advise putting in as many plaits as suit your horse’s conformation, the style police won’t arrest you if you have the “wrong” number.

As new enthusiasts from non-horsey background entered the equestrian world, many traditions were questioned or ignored. Dressage riders started it with blinged-up browbands, and when Charlotte Dujardin admitted that she “loved a bit of bling” the rest of us felt no guilt about releasing our inner divas.

Some traditions were made to be broken, and I’m glad they’ve gone. After dandy brushes at dawn on social media pages, showing riders accepted that in most cases, they had to wear hats with three-point safety harnesses.

Charlotte Dujardin chooses a safety hat. Image: Kit Houghton.

Common sense prevails in dressage and eventing, too. Even riders who are permitted to wear top hats often choose to wear stylish safety helmets instead. That includes the lovely Charlotte Dujardin, who sets trends as well as breaks records.

I wouldn’t wear bright blue boots in the dressage arena, but I can’t find a sensible reason why anyone who wants to should be permitted from doing so. The 2017 British Dressage members’ handbook makes no stipulation on the colour of riders’ boots, and says: “As long as the core dress rules are adhered to, embellishments and additions to any item of dress are permitted as long as they do not pose a welfare risk to the horse.”

So, is tradition best consigned to the dustbin? Not always.

At one time, competitors were always polite to judges and officials, even if they went home and moaned about people with failing eyesight. Private moans stayed within a small circle because that, of course, was before social (or anti-social) media had been invented and people didn’t need reminding to engage their brains before they engaged their keyboard fingers.

Some traditions are rooted in safety. Riding left hand to left hand when two or more horses are in a school avoids accidents, as does jumping practice fences only from the direction where the red marker is on your right. Yet some riders either don’t know, or don’t care.

Traditional values of courtesy and common sense? Yes please.

Tradition for its own sake? It’s up to the individual. But whatever side of the fence you choose, please be kind to each other.

Racing into a new future.

There was plenty to set racing fans’ hearts fluttering at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, writes CAROLYN HENDERSON. But for me, the most emotional moment wasn’t seeing Sizing John power home to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Instead, it was the sight of eight wonderful ex-racehorses being paraded by the riders who have taken them on to new careers. All had more than earned their keep on the racecourse and some –  like Denman – had become household names.

However, it wasn’t their racing lives we were celebrating. It was the fact that they and ex-racehorses we’ve probably never heard of thrive after they have retired from their first job, thanks to dedicated owners and registered charity Retraining of Racehorses.

At one time, many ex-racehorses had no future. Then RoR was formed, a charity which has done so much to boost the profile of ex-racehorses. It gives help and advice to those thinking of taking on one of these horses and offers prestigious competition series especially for them.

Now, some riders look for ex-racehorses specifically to take part in these competitions. That’s great, but – as with any breed or type – these horses aren’t for everyone. Re-training them takes skill and you need to understand the lives they’ve been used to as you introduce them to their new ones.

Horses are, of course, individuals. I admit that many years ago, before RoR existed, I did something I would never dream of doing now.

I bought a little three-year-old out of a Flat racing yard in Newmarket because a friend knew the trainer and said she deserved a chance. We turned her straight into a field with my other horse, who immediately fell in love with her, and couldn’t understand why she grazed a perfect 15-metre circle.

Then we realised that for the past two years, she’d only been allowed to graze in a round pen. After three days, she got braver and seeing her canter around the field for the first time was wonderful.

Four years later, after a successful showing career, she broke a hock in the field and had to be put down. I never had another ex-racehorse because I didn’t think I’d strike gold twice, but I’ve
met and heard of so many lovely ones since then – including ones belonging to Feedmark customers such as Kathy Boothman, who is a member of the RoR Musical Ride on her stunning 16.3hh ex-racehorse Middlebrook.

Don’t take on an ex-racehorse on a whim, but if you’ve thought it through – and have read all the advice and information on www.ror.org.uk – you could be starting a rewarding journey. There are ex-racehorses excelling in all fields, from hacks to competition animals, and trainers who can help you build a bond with your new partner.

Temperament is everything, and that applies to you as well as to the horse. Patience and calm persistence always pays dividends, but if you know you have them, you could be on to a winner.

In praise of happy hackers!

Riders who choose not to compete are often looked on as inferior to those who do, writes CAROLYN HENDERSON. Even worse, they often look on themselves as second class citizens of the horse world.

We’ve all heard it: “I’m just a happy hacker.” Maybe you even say it, with the accepted tone of self-disparagement.

Please – just stop it. There’s no reason why riders who hack can’t be just as competent as those whose weekend isn’t complete unless they’ve added to their tally of rosettes. Nor are their horses necessarily less well-schooled.

Many riders, like me, keep a foot in both camps by mixing hacking and competing. In one week, my riding buddy and I have turned a corner to meet deer crossing the track just in front of us; ridden past a field of pigs who rushed at us, squealing, because they thought we were bringing breakfast; and met a convoy of tractors and trailers.

I live in what’s often called great hacking country. We’re lucky in that we don’t encounter much traffic, but vehicles we do meet are usually large, noisy and sometimes driven by people who seem blind to high-vis clothing and either don’t know or don’t care about slowing down when passing horses.

While I admire the finesse of top dressage riders, the athleticism of their showjumping counterparts and the boldness of those who power around big cross-country courses – they know what’s coming. They’ve learned the test, walked the course and (hopefully) know how their horses are going to react.

Out hacking, you must be ready for anything and everything. And that’s where some dedicated competitors miss a trick.

Horses like a change of scene, just as we do. And as show producer Allister Hood reminded participants in his brilliant clinic for the British Skewbald and Piebald Association recently, you can school on a hack as well as in an arena. Get an active walk, practise transitions, work on straightness…the list is endless.

After all, we school to help make our horses safer and more pleasurable to ride. Hacking helps and reinforces that: I know one of my horses can perform decent lengthened strides, because the ones he showed going past the pigs would have earned us at least an 8 in a dressage test.

It works both ways, because schooling can help hacking. We proved that on our Christmas Day hack, when a local farmer fastened an inflatable Santa to his gate. If it hadn’t been for our nifty bit of shoulder-in, we’d never have got past.

Some riders don’t have access to safe hacking and some riding schools can no longer take pupils off the premises. But if you can get your horse out in the open, even if you have to box up to a nearby bridleway, it’s worth the effort.

Please be a happy hacker, in the literal sense. Just don’t apologise for it.

Horsing around is good for you!

New research from Japan shows that riding improves children’s ability to learn, writes CAROLYN HENDERSON. This reinforces something Feedmark customers will take for granted – that horses are good for us.

Scientists at Tokyo University of Agriculture have found that riding activates the sympathetic nervous system, so improving learning. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean an hour’s schooling will help us acquire new skills, but it does prove that the time, money and love we devote to our horses is worthwhile.

It’s also the perfect comeback to the comments every horse owner will be familiar with. You know, the disbelief that we spend £65-plus every six weeks on shoes for a horse but wear our own until they fall to bits.

 

Then there’s the really annoying one; “You must be rich, because you’ve got a horse.” The best answer to that one is meant to be a joke:

Q What’s the best way to make a small fortune in the horse world?

A Start with a bigger one…

Most of us make sacrifices to keep our horses, even if we don’t begrudge them. However, the fact that horses pay back everything we give them – whatever our age, way of life or experience – is recognised by researchers and therapists.

A British Horse Society research project showed that recreational horse riding benefits physical and mental health. More than 80 per cent of those surveyed reported that riding boosted their happiness.

Chartered psychologist and horse owner Dr Dorothy Heffernan isn’t surprised. She points to two ways in which bonding with horses may help.

One is that it may stimulate production of the hormone oxytocin, sometimes known as the ‘cuddle hormone.’ The other is that it can help get us into the flow state, when we focus on interacting with our horse.

When oxytocin is released in our brains, we feel comforted, which is why stroking a dog or cat lowers blood pressure and pulse rate. Little research has been done looking at horses, but it’s logical to assume that the same benefits apply.

Ever had a bad day, felt too tired to ride, then got on your horse and felt much better for it?  That’s because exercise boosts levels of serotonin, a ‘feel good’ chemical in the brain that helps ward off depression. It can also improve fitness, stamina and flexibility and help in a weight loss programme.

There are also those magical moments when you feel that you’re on the same wavelength as your horse and that nothing else matters. This is what scientists mean when they talk about being in a “state of flow.” It might happen during a riding session, or it could be that you’re watching him graze or grooming him and it seems as if nothing else matters.

It’s good to know that science can prove what every horse lover knows. Time spent horsing around is precious, so make the most of it.

 

Are you fit for the job?

Everyone in the Feedmark team has been cheering sponsored rider Will Furlong after his latest achievement, writes Carolyn Henderson. Super-talented Will has just completed a top event – this time, without a horse.

Will finished the Brighton half-marathon and already has a full marathon in his sights. He’s proved that he’s fit for the job…and it’s making some of us feel rather guilty.

How many of you, like us, have been concentrating on getting your horses fit for Spring and conveniently forgetting about your own fitness? After all, riding and looking after horses is a fitness regime in itself, isn’t it?

Actually…no. It’s a nice thought, but it doesn’t work. Mucking out will help burn calories, but it won’t make you fit enough or flexible enough to be a help to your horse, unless you’re throwing in some clever moves as you shovel the you-know-what.

Nor can we hang on to the idea that riding automatically makes you fit to ride, although if you have perfect flexibility and core stability, you can look away now.

Still with me? That’s not surprising. If top competitors give so much dedication to their own fitness, we lesser mortals certainly need to.

With riding, as with any other sport, quality means as much as quantity. If you ride every day but lack balance and suppleness, you’re riding around the same vicious circle.

Practice makes perfect, but only if you’re practising in the right way. If you’re not, you’re repeating the same mistakes, which inevitably become more ingrained.

On a serious note, you owe it to yourself and your horse to be fit enough. If you’ve religiously built up his fitness and are looking forward to your first cross-country course or event – at any level – will your stamina, suppleness and reactions match his?

If they won’t, you’re putting yourself and him at risk. Just imagine you’re getting near the end of the course and also getting slightly off the pace. Maybe you’re a bit out of breath; maybe you aren’t quite as balanced as when you set off.

That’s when accidents happen, and horses and riders get hurt.

Ah, you might be saying. I don’t need to worry, because I only hack. Wrong! You still need to be fit to ride, because you and your horse need to be in balance.

So, what’s the answer? Basically, it’s finding strategies that will help you and which you also enjoy.

Running and swimming are great for building cardio-vascular fitness. They don’t float my boat, mainly because my knees creak and I’m scared of water. A brisk walk and short bursts of skipping with a rope are much more fun – or maybe you agree with my treadmill-addicted friend, who watches TV while she pounds the rubber highway.

If I had to choose just one activity, though, it would be Pilates. Thanks to a horse-owning friend who is also a qualified Pilates instructor, I’ve become hooked.

In fact, if it wasn’t for Pilates – and a beautifully designed saddle, which is another story –  I might not be riding at all. An involuntary dismount from a startled four-year-old which saw me damage a leg ligament and hurt my back nearly retired me to the spectator lines, but Pilates helped me get back to riding.

I hope you’re fit for anything this season. And if you have any tips for staying that way, we’d love to hear them – so do get in touch, either via www.feedmark.com  or through the Feedmark Facebook page.

Dance the Racehorse Gives us a Christmas Update!

Hello!

Can you believe it’s nearly Christmas?! I haven’t even started my present shopping yet, though I am considering not buying Ben anything as he keeps not turning me out on account of the ‘mud’ – unbelievable! We have been getting in the Festive mood here, with the yard Christmas party last week (I don’t have to buy Alice a present either actually, as she wouldn’t let me go!) Apparently a super evening was had by owners and staff alike at The Saddle Rooms, and judging by a few of the faces around here on Sunday, there were some well deserved sore heads. Serves them all right!

We were so hoping for an early Christmas present from George dec-2016-1(Epeius) (left) at Southwell, but sadly it wasn’t quite to be. Drawn right on the outside, it was the draw that beat him (especially as the fatty still seems unable to go round a corner) and he was just denied by a head and a neck to finish 3rd. The poor boy so deserves a win, and one cannot knock his consistency for the Trojan Horse Partnership. It is only a matter of time for him, and as Lynn and Gary said, there will be a big party when he finally gets his head in front!

The yearlings are absolutely flying, and we have added two more to the ranks in the shape of a couple of Sayif fillies from Llety Farms. The colts are loving their racing regime, and are now doing the same work the jumpers are doing, up the grass gallop dec-2016-2and around the Moor – not that it seems to tire them out even a tiny bit! I am having the time of my life leading them around the Moor, but am slightly annoyed that this lot seem to be able to keep up with me – that is quite unusual at this point of their careers! The Dandy Man (right) looks particularly sharp, and it is hard to remember he is a baby at times. Ben also seems very taken with the Lord Shanakill (below left), who is already taller than me but finding his work effortless, which is impressive for a big horse. The Camacho is also a lovely colt, and I am looking forward to taking them along even faster in the New Year.

The fillies are doing really well, going round the Moor as well which does them so much good. They tend to be left in the hands of a more ‘responsible’ lead horse (ahem!), but from what I’ve seen they wouldn’t struggle at my pace either! The Showcasing looks an absolute doll of a filly, dec-2016-3and she really loves her work. She is exquisitely behaved, which seems a real trait of the sire, and if she keeps going in the same direction will be a nice early type. The Champs Elysee, like the Lord Shanakill, is a big filly, but is handling it all with aplomb and looks a nice type for the future. The two Sayif fillies have just been backed last week, but are already going up the three furlong canter with lots of enthusiasm. Plenty to look forward to at the moment anyway!

Christmas day will be, as ever, a relatively normal day here with the added benefit of Mince pies, as we have The Doorman (below) running on Boxing Day at Wetherby. His confidence is coming back to him after a fairly awful run of things in Ireland, and hopefully the race this time will be run more to suit him than his latest outing at Doncaster, where they crawled before sprinting the last couple of furlongs – I can assure you that big black beast is NOT a sprinter! He is on very good form at home, and wouldn’t it be nice if he could give us something to cheer about at Christmas time.

The famously frustrating Mr Mole will be appearing the next day, also at Wetherby. He has so dec-2016-4much enthusiasm for the game at home still, and we have been tweaking things around with him, so hopefully we will see a glimmer of what we know he is capable of. Megan Nicholls, who knows him better than anyone, came and sat on him for us the other day, and was very pleased with how he felt, so fingers crossed we are getting there with this rather enigmatic lad. I am always very glad I don’t have any lots with him, as he takes two strides to every one of mine – I keep telling him unless he pulls his act together, I’ll be borrowing his engine from him for my next outing!

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, and get all the grass and carrots you could want!

Until next time,

Dance.