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  • Jo O'Neill

August 2022 Blog

In the second week in August, Head Lad Johnny Kavanaugh returned from his annual trip home, quite jovial and with a multipack of Tayto crisps to dish out to his fellow Irishmen (Joe O’Neill and Aaron McLoughlin-Sutherland in the office). The other head lad Alan Berry then went off on his five weeks of holidays full of plans of going home to Ireland and to Turkey with wife Lisa and daughter Eva. Georgia Plumb was promoted Head Girl in what proved a very busy time on the yard – staff are still away on hols and the horses start coming back into training, meaning the yard is short staffed.

We all go from finding jobs to do to not having enough time to get everything completed. The horses felt fresh too – and many bucked and pranced in exuberance. It’s all right for them on their one lot out and about but on our fourth or fifth, we felt tired, sticky and sweaty under an unrelenting sun. The chill of the first frosts seemed all too far away.


The Big Washing Machine

Back in June, a chunk of glass fell out of the glass of the big industrial washing machine. After three weeks, the company Washco, came to repair it but had the wrong size part. Mountains of dirty rugs mouldered, stinking. We soaked the rubbers and girth sleeves in a wheelbarrow with the non-bio detergent. No matter how much wringing out we did, the drips were so bad that, after hanging them up, we were as soaked as if we’d fallen in the pool.

Fast forward to this month, at the beginning of evening stables, two Washco vans trundled past us down the drive. I whooped. The door was soon fixed and I returned to rug washing with gusto.


Gulliver Collonges

A couple of seasons ago, I picked up two youngsters from A.P McCoy’s yard on the edge of Lambourn, which is run by the staunch Kieran O’Brien, once a head lad to Alan King. One was big, bolshy and rude, the other sweet and gentle. I must have had a couple of horses retire because I asked for the second one, called Gulliver Collonges. He never faltered on that sweet nature – he was an out and out galloper and also gorgeous. A shiny bright bay with white socks and a tiny star, tapering down to a thin stripe, ending in a pink nose, and huge dark eyes. His head lad Alan nicknamed him Oliver, a name that stuck.

He was third in a bumper, second over hurdles and he won over fences in May at Warwick. It was an evening meeting and he was our only runner and, as ever, being impeccably well behaved, he was the easiest to take racing alone. It was perfect when he won the best turned out and then won by two lengths under Jonjo Junior. I was bursting with pride and Oliver seemed so happy too – long ears pricked.

It was a sad day when he next ran at Uttoxeter in July and sustained a fatal injury. The only small compensation was that it was over quickly thanks to the quick actions of the jockey and the veterinary team.

This is and will always be part of the job and it gets easier to accept, but a part of me will always wish it hadn’t happened to Oliver, who deserved one day to be a pet.


What does a morning at a racing yard sound like?

The percussion of the string riding out is boisterous and noisy, though without the expected clip-clop of metal-shod hooves due to the muffling effect of the sand pathways and non-slip rubber around the yard.

There’s chatter, catcalls and witticisms; the usual yard banter, laughter and chuckling; the odd crude joke or swear word drown out permanent orchestra of nature. Wind swooshing in the trees and the chirping of small birds, cooing of pigeons and cawing of crows. Sometimes a horse will let out an excited high-pitched squeal or swish its tail. The thwack of a whip or the thump of something being kicked by an opportunist hind leg. Sometimes the drumbeats of hooves travelling up the all-weather is interrupted by the metallic chink of a cast horseshoe needing excavation from the sand. There’s the rumble of tractors, the growl of the boss’ 4x4 and even the sudden beep of the horn if the boss wants to communicate that the riders are going too fast or too slow.

On the yard, someone might have music blaring from their phone and the farrier, Mark Welfare, beats many a tattoo with his hammer. Someone calls across the yard and there might be an answer, or a stampede over to the tackroom for cakes, cookies or for sausage roll Wednesday. All of this peppered with the pfft of aerosols of the silver and purple sprays administered to cuts, and the jingle-jangle of bits and girth buckles, not unlike ice cubes tinkling in a G&T, as tack is lugged from stable to stable. The yard is never quiet – if it was, then something bad must have happened!


Blackberrying

My trips round the estate to check and feed the field horses are now much improved by snacking on the glossy, plump blackberries weighing down the tangles of brambles. It’s a race against the annihilation work of maintenance man Dave Box and the hedge cutter. The din of which is unmistakable; an ear-splitting destroyer that leaves no blackberries behind but creates tidy, boxy hedgerows worthy of Kew Gardens.


Down the Pens

The hedge-cutting hints that autumn is nearly here. The pens are operational again, after being empty for the summer. I’ve got some of the same horses as before and a few new ones too. They’re all buddying up; there’s been lots of nibbling of withers and sharing the same feed bowls. Personally, the pens opening up again is the most exciting part of the summer ending.


Colleague Spotlight

Georgia Plumb started to work here four years ago in August 2018, alongside friend Alexandra Howitt. They had both studied for an NVQ Level 3 in Horse Care at Doncaster Equine College and went to the neighbouring National Horseracing College for a fortnight’s introduction into racing. Georgia’s interest had previously only been in the rehabilitation and retraining side of racing, through Retraining of Racehorses. ‘I wanted an insight into racing and the fitness regimes so that’s why I initially went into racing,’ says Georgia. She hasn’t looked back and testament to her hard work, is one of the main drivers and now Head Girl in the barn. She is an accomplished rider, regularly riding work and schooling, and has shared many good day’s racing with her beloved Soaring Glory.

Georgia and Soaring Glory after winning the Betfair Hurdle

Photo Credit: Ascot Racecourse


Georgia, 21, lives at the yard but originates from Bawtry, South Yorkshire, which is down the road from the ‘Donny’ college she attended. When home during summer holidays and on weekends off, Georgia enjoys getting up early to feed the cows and seeing the ‘golden oldies’, including Zee, one of the ponies that initially created her interest in working with horses today.


Did you have a horsey childhood? I started riding at twelve. My first pony was a piebald cob called Casper – the first of many ponies!


What’s been your best day in racing so far? Soaring Glory winning the Betfair Hurdle in 2021. I drove the box and has an amazing day. John Dina was also there with ‘his’ Palmers Hill – I can’t think of how it could be better than that day.


What is the best aspect to racing? Learning all the aspects of the job – there’s more to racing that everyone knows.


Favourite horses: Soaring Glory, Fame And Concrete, Joly Maker and I do love Head Law a lot.


Favourite racecourses: Ascot, where Soaring Glory has given me the best days out, and Aintree has amazing atmosphere, especially on Grand National Day.


Favourite drink: Rosé.

Favourite meal: The Filet Dolcelatte with asparagus from my sister Jesse’s Italian Restaurant called Emilio’s.

Favourite snack: Crisps.

Favourite holiday destination: What’s a holiday?

Ideal weekend off: Going home to see my family and their cockapoo Olive.

Other interests/hobbies: I like going to the gym and eating Domino’s pizza.

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