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  • Writer's pictureJo O'Neill

The Racing Department of Haddon Training

Haddon Training provides qualifications within the working environment throughout England and Wales in many equestrian disciplines, animal care and business. The establishment offers a range of traineeships and apprenticeships, providing an alternative to the racing schools. Since 1997, Haddon has offered training within the racing industry, including Level 2 and Level 3 Equine Groom, long and short transport tests and mentoring certificates. Many stable staff have furthered their careers by completing their Levels 2 and 3 apprenticeships and would be-trainers have gained the appropriate certification, leading them joining the training ranks.

Trainees have used Haddon’s services from yards such as Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs, Jonjo O’Neill, Christian Williams, Olly Murphy, Dan Skelton, Tom George and Richard Hannon. Sam Twiston-Davies, Ben Jones, Connor Brace, Jack Tudor and Liam Harrison are all jockeys who have studied at Haddon.

The racing department offers this exceptional training through Trainer Coaches, all of whom have varied and successful careers within racing. They fully understand the importance of training and encouraging their trainees’ self-fulfilment. Meet the following Trainer Coaches:

An Interview with Sam Davies-Thomas,

Trainer Coach for the Midlands

Sam Davies-Thomas, 29, grew up around horses near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire and always knew he’d work in racing. He has been a successful amateur jockey, earning the accolade of Leading Hunter Chase Rider in 2017.

Sam now lives in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire with his blue whippet, Barley.

How did you start in racing? I have always been involved with horses: my Mum ran a riding school, so horses are all I have known. I started in racing at 14, when I used to visit Jackdaws Castle at weekends and school holidays; learning from top head lads like Alan Roche & Alan Berry wasn’t a bad start. A love for the community and the sport has kept me attached to it throughout

Which trainers have you worked for and in what roles? Jonjo O’Neill’s at 16-years-old as a quiet stable lad! At Caroline Bailey’s as a stable lad and she then gave me a few point-to-point rides and with Dan Skelton for four years as Head Lad and Amateur Jockey

How many winners did you ride? Over 130 all in all, both point-to-point and under Rules. I had a successful season one year when I was second in the National Amateur title, one winner behind champion James King; the season I was leading hunter chase rider.

What was your favourite racecourse under Rules? Cheltenham, I was brought up near the course, which is steeped in history.

What was your favourite racecourse ‘pointing? Horseheath or Cottenham.

Do you still ride out now? Yes, I ride a few of lots in the mornings before work for Dan Skelton.

When did you start at Haddon Training? I started working for Haddon Training nearly two years ago. When working in the industry it is easy to notice which areas needs attention and to me, the support of upcoming staff with training contributes to staff retention is an area that needs addressing.

Please describe your role: I am Racing Lead Business Developer and Trainer Coach Team Leader (Racing).

What qualifications have you gained? I have gained my CAVA qualification since joining Haddon Training. Previously I had completed a saddlery apprenticeship, meaning I am also a qualified saddler.

What are the best aspects about working for Haddon? The ethos at Haddon Training, year on year gaining ‘Outstanding Graded Ofsted Training Provider’, is one of delivering the training necessary to the future generation in the pursuit of appropriate qualifications, ensuring the quality of staff working in racing yards is maintained at a high standard and supported in an industry that continues to grow.

Do you have any advice for people wanting to study with Haddon? I highly recommend anyone who is interested to get in touch, being 100% work based allows both the apprentice and trainer to work through the training in a way which suits them best. Everyone has individual needs and at Haddon Training we ensure that training is delivered to suit the individual. We have hugely talented and professional trainer coaches to support the learner through their programme. Trainer Coaches who have been in the industry for many years so understand how yards vary.

In what way does Haddon train its students and what are its advantages? Each apprentice must be on programme for a minimum of 12 months. During this time, they will create a showcase portfolio demonstrating both their knowledge and skills. There are two main advantages of the training delivered by us. The first is that it is 100% work based, so the apprentice never has to leave the yard, not even for their assessment. The second is that our experienced trainer coaches are in regular contact with the apprentices and trainers supporting them and conducting session whether it be face to face or remotely every four weeks. This is essential to keep the apprentices on track and develop all the time.

An Interview with David Stratton, Trainer Coach of

Southwest and Cotswolds/M4 Corridor

David, 38, is originally from Dunmanway, County Cork and has had many varied roles within the racing industry. He was a jockey and head lad and now, despite working fulltime for Haddon, he still rides out regularly for a variety of trainers. He lives in Swindon with his partner and is kept busy by three daughters and two oriental and very nocturnal cats, Monty and Rufus.

How did you start working in racing? I started at fifteen as an apprentice to Aidan O’Brien, having been brought up riding in my Dad’s point-to-point yard.

Which trainers have you worked for in racing and in what roles?

Aidan O’Brien - Apprentice.

Charlie Swan – Amateur jockey.

Mary Reveley – Amateur jockey.

Ian Williams – Head Lad.

Robert Cowell – Work rider (when I worked for The Jockey Club).

Alan King – Amateur Jockey and latterly as Head Lad.

How many winners did you ride? Not very many – 33, mainly pointing. I wasn’t ruthless enough. I rode a winner once in an Open on a horse called There’s No Doubt and I was told not to hit the front and I manged to pop him in front on the line; we led only on the line. I still maintain that I meant to do it.

What was your favourite racecourse? Cheltenham obviously, I was lucky enough to ride at three Festivals and bowed out there after the 2010 Kim Muir. I will never forget the crowd and the atmosphere, and I was lucky to go out there and enjoy it, knowing that it was my last ride. I also have some great memories with the late James Banks there, and they always make me smile when I think of him – he managed to get us there within minutes for our first Festival rides and abandoned his car in the car park in true Banksy style!

What was your favourite racehorse? I have so many to choose from. I have been lucky to have sat on some good horses. It would be hard to split Ballyalton, a very talented but fragile horse and a Festival winner (trained by Ian Williams), and Sceau Royal, who nearly toppled Altior in the Champion Chase for Alan King, as my favourite jumps horses.

Goldream on the flat was the best horse I have ever sat on (trained by Robert Cowell), he won the Kings Stand and the Prix l’Abbaye, as he was so quirky but so talented and very fast!

When did you start at Haddon Training? I joined in April 2021 with a view to helping Haddon build their racing contacts and portfolio. I was at a stage in my career as Head Lad that I wasn’t enjoying seeing the new generation being left behind and wanted to find a path where I could make a difference.

Please describe your role: I am a Trainer Coach, focusing mainly on Racing Learners. I aim to help the next generation through their Level 2 and Level 3 apprenticeships and train them to be the best that they can be.

Please describe what training Haddon offers: Haddon is unique as it offers work-based learning with a support network of highly competent and vocationally trained coaches who guide students through their apprenticeships.

Please describe the advantages of training: Training on the job is a massive help, in terms of young people understanding the requirements of their chosen careers and workplaces and a chance to learn from their employers, mentors and coaches. The skills they will develop on the job cannot be taught in a classroom and the coaches are always there to support and help.

What qualifications have you gained? I am nearing the completion of my Level 4 Assessor Coach qualification, which is very exciting, and has given me skills I would not have had. I am also close to achieving my CAVA – a qualification to Assess learners. I have also achieved my Level 3 Transport Test qualification as well as my Safeguarding Qualification.

What are the best aspects of working at Haddon? Haddon is a very structured and professional organisation. The code of conduct and the ethics of the company are such that we can only but succeed in what we are doing, as the support and the curriculum is excellent. Learners can get as much as they want from their programmes. The freedom to express ourselves and bring our unique paths to the table are major benefits. As a team we help each other grow.

In your opinion, how did the stable staff crisis begin? Controversial question! I genuinely believe that in recent times, stable sizes have grown dramatically, and the number of staff needed now has created a paradox. Do you train the staff or the horses? I believe that the intensity of yards has led to young staff being left unprepared and expectations are not met from any side. That has led to bad experiences for both trainees and trainers. At Haddon, we hope to change that by preparing the next generation, create relationships with employers and set realistic targets. Once trained properly, the next generation will have so much to give in this ever-changing world!

And will it ever improve? Here at Haddon, we want it to improve. If you can train staff early and properly the whole experience will be better for all parties, which can only lead to staff retention. But we must all get the basics right, and that starts with the training of staff. That’s where we can help…

An Interview with Michael Legg,

Trainer Coach of Southwest Area

Michael, 31, grew up in a small Dorset village and enjoyed a horsey childhood. He followed in his family’s footsteps by becoming a jockey. Having worked for some big trainers under Rules as well as successfully riding as an amateur, he’s now educating the next generation of stable staff by being a Trainer Coach. Michael lives with his family in Crewkerne, Somerset with a terrier called Bonnie.

How did you start working in racing? I grew up around horses and racing. My family have always been involved in racing, with my father and grandfather both riding as Amateurs, mainly in point-to-points. I began riding at sixteen a ‘pointer for my family whilst riding out for Colin Tizzard at weekends and during the holidays. My interest grew from there!

Which trainers have you worked for in racing and in what roles? I worked and rode as an amateur for Colin Tizzard for about seven years. I then moved to Harry Fry’s and rode as an amateur for a season before working as Harry’s assistant for a further four years alongside race riding. I am currently riding one lot every morning for Ben Clarke, who has recently got his licence to train under Rules.

What was the best advice you were given? Ride long, live long! As a young jockey all you want to do is look stylish. I soon learnt that by dropping your irons a few holes, you fall off much less and become a lot more effective.

How many winners did you ride? About seventy winners overall, point-to-points and under Rules. My biggest winner was in April 2016, the Grade 2 silver trophy Chase around Cheltenham, on a horse called Voix D’Eau for Harry Fry. I was also very lucky to ride winners on some very good horses, including Thistlecrack, If the Cap Fits and Opening Batsman.

What was your favourite racecourse? I used to love riding around Cheltenham and was lucky enough to ride a few winners there. There is no better track to ride and is the one place everyone wants to ride a winner.

What was your favourite racehorse? I have a few! I was very lucky to regularly ride out Thistlecrack, Cue Card and Unowhatimeanharry at home, so they will always be big favourites of mine. Alongside these is another favourite, a horse called Desert Queen, on who I won in ‘points and under Rules. Quirky was an understatement, but I did a lot of work with her, and she became a firm favourite of mine.

What were the best aspects to working in racing? Apart from riding or being involved with winners, it would be the people I worked alongside. I have worked with some great people who will remain lifetime friends. Having a good bunch of staff in a yard makes such a difference.

And the worst? When a horse doesn’t return home from the races.

When did you start at Haddon Training? I retired from race riding at the end of 2020, I can’t really explain why, it was just my time. I think the birth of my second child was a big factor. At the same time, Haddon were advertising for a Racing Trainer Coach in my area and I started the job at the beginning of 2021. Throughout my time in racing, and as an assistant trainer, I have seen the importance of having well trained and knowledgeable staff within the industry. Being able to train and develop staff and give something back to the industry is what drew me to the role.

Michael on Opening Batsman

Please describe your role: Racing Trainer Coach. Coaching and training apprentices through their level 2 and 3 qualifications.

Please describe what training Haddon offers: Haddon Training offers work-based training to develop the knowledge and skills of our apprentices, achieve a qualification and set them up for a successful career within the industry. The learning and training all take place on the yard guided by Trainer Coaches with years of industry experience.

What qualifications have you gained? I am currently working towards my Level 4 Assessor Coach and CAVA qualifications.

What are the best aspects of working at Haddon? It allows me to put something back into the racing industry and hopefully train and encourage the next generation of staff. The best part of my role is being able to watch apprentices grow in confidence throughout their apprenticeships and see their knowledge and skills develop to enable them to have a successful and enjoyable career working within the industry.

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