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  • Writer's pictureJo O'Neill

The Racing Life of Britt Cowper

Updated: Jun 23, 2022

Britt Hounslow, nee Cowper, has lived in a few places… ‘I was born up the road from Old Trafford in Manchester in August 1965 (yes I am 56!), and in 1976 my family moved to Evesham, Worcestershire’, she explains. Then, her travels began – Welford-on-Avon, East Ilsley, Newmarket, Biggin Hill, Broad Hinton, Swindon, Balsall Common, before settling in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. Britt lives with her partner Martin ‘Robbo’ Robinson, having been with him ‘eons – about seventeen years’.

Britt also has two dogs. ‘I have always been owned by some sort of animal!’ she chuckles happily. ‘Currently, I am owned by two Parson Jack Russell Terriers, litter brother and sister, Kizer and Teefa. They demand I go everywhere with them!’

In the past, Britt also cared for a lot of racehorses – a few on the Flat but a lot of jumpers. She loved more than just the horses, the sport as a whole and the people involvedt. Undoubtably, she was one of those old-fashioned grooms who did the job for the love of it – the poor accommodation, the long hours for little pay didn’t matter as long as she was caring for the horses. She worked in many roles from stable lass, head girl and head of travelling.

Britt in London, January 2022

Yet, Britt acknowledges the positives in many of the changes nowadays – the union, the support and recognition of mental health matters. All aspects that ‘back then’ were non-existent. Behind her bubbly, smiley and cheery exterior, there must have been times of torment that only the racehorses eased.

On leaving racing, an office job beckoned. Britt worked for her architect brother-in-law in Coventry and for Needham and James Solicitors in Stratford. After this, she got her perfect job for a company called Storm Geomatics Ltd in Shipston-on-Stour.

‘We survey rivers for environmental and hydraulic engineers to alleviate flooding. I am the office manager and I absolutely love it! I have been here for nearly seven years now.’ She emphasises one of the reasons why she loves her job: ‘Everyone here is very ourdoorsy, we all like racing, rugby, F1…We have plenty to talk about on a Monday morning after a weekend of racing. Also, Peter Pritchard, the father of one of the Directors trains in Whatcote. He is having a brilliant run this past few months with only three horses!’

Britt is an example of taking the girl out of racing but not the racing out of the girl. When in the midst of it, she loved every moment – not just the winners – and now she lives her life, treasuring those memories.

Did you have a horsey childhood? My family have always been animal orientated. My mum met my dad at Belle Vue Circus in the early ‘60s in Blackpool, where he trained the elephants and mum rode the circus horses. (Those were the days when animals were allowed in the Circus.) Mum told me that Dad was very protective over the elephants and once caught a man using a hook on a stick to move them around; apparently, Dad gave him a proper pasting! She says he’s where I get my empathy for animals. Horses didn’t really come into my life until the late ‘70s when my sister and I learnt to ride at the local stables.

How did you get into racing? It must have been about 1985, when I worked evenings in a local pub in called the Round ‘o’ Gras. The landlord had a son, Paul, who was riding out at Chris Trietlines in Welford-on-Avon. At the time, he was on a ‘holiday’ from Flat racing as he normally worked for Peter Walwyn at Seven Barrows, now home of Nicky Henderson. He dragged me there one Saturday morning to ride out and I loved it! I remember the first working day very clearly! I was told, ‘You can take this boy out and trot round the roads with the others, you’ll be fine.’ Famous last words! I got back two hours later, smiley, laughing to have the bejasus ripped out of me for the next month!

I remember many an evening feed time being locked in the rug box for being cheeky to the head lad; we all experienced it, the boys more so! In those days, it was a bit of fun though, and we all ended up in the pub later. I did have some laughs back then; on some days we would be in tears with laughter.

The cottage we all shared was like something you find in a horror film. An old brick cottage, no heating, electricity on a meter; dark, extremely damp, ivy growing through the windows. I often wondered why we all had coughs or chest infections! There was a gap of about two inches under the front door and the wind used to whistle underneath and lift the old shabby rug we had on the floor. We had to put chairs on it to hold it down! I remember us all sitting on the sofa under duvets and blankets with a small fire burning in the grate, watching racing on the TV on many a Saturday afternoon. I also remember watching Pearlyman, trained by John Edwards, winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase thinking wow I want to lead up a brilliant horse like him, but it never came to be. I have since learnt that any winner you lead up is awesome, be it in a seller at Plumpton or a Group race at Ascot. As Arthur Stephenson used to say, ‘little fish are sweet!’

Britt on Reggae Beat in Newmarket before morning exercise

- in Charlwood Stables, on the Hamilton Road. Circa 1992

Which trainers did you work for? From the glittering lights of Welford-on-Avon, I moved to East Ilsley to Kim Bailey’s, where I spent a couple of years. Then, I went to Conrad Allen’s in Newmarket. I also did a short spell with Alex Scott, then Ian Campbell, also in Newmarket, as travelling head girl. There, I spent a few years as he had National Hunt horses in a Flat racing world. It was great! Riding work round the Links Golf Course was amazing, apart from when you were on a keen one who kept going round and round. I then had a short stint with Jim Old before moving to Jeff and Trish King's, where I spent many happy a year as travelling head girl. What a man Jeff was to work for, a legend and a brilliant trainer. I spent a couple of years mincing about doing this and that, then joined Robin Dickin at Alscot Park until I left racing in about 2009.

What was your best day’s racing? I haven’t really got a ‘Best’ day as every time I went racing, I had such a brilliant time. As long as the horse came home safely and I left them tucked up in their bed, I was happy. Going racing was such a great day, meeting friends, getting your best horse ready for the race and laughing with colleagues. I really miss it.

Britt behind her sister, who's leading in Rusty Reel, who won at Market

Rasen for Ian Campbell with Ross Campbell riding in January 1994

What was your worst day in racing? In 1996, I spent a short time with Jim Old at Barbury Castle before I went to Kingy’s. This was a very emotional time as it was when there was psychopath arsonist living nearby who ‘allegedly’ set fire to one of the barns which spread through the yard. All the horses were let out onto the downs to save them from the fire. It was horrific.

Four horses were lost, including Backgammon who was an up-and-coming superstar, but there could have been so many more if it wasn’t for the head girl and others, who lived on the yard, letting them out. Two of my stores by Gunner B were sadly lost. A truly horrific, horrific time.

Is Flat or National Hunt your favourite? Of course, National Hunt, there’s never a buzz like it!

What were your favourite racehorses? Very best ever has to be Istabraq! An absolute super star. I am very lucky as I get updates on how he is from a friend who works for his owner, JP McManus.

Mysilv, Pearlyman, a horse of Bill O’Gorman’s called Timeless Times who won 16 flat races in one season and was ridden by Alan Munro; that was some tough little horse! Reggae Beat trained by Ian Campbell, a beautiful all-rounder that I looked after and rode, and then I think ‘The Tank’ himself, Denman! Of course, every horse I have been lucky enough to care for over the years.

What was your favourite racecourse? Probably Sandown because the Railway Fences test the jumping ability of a chaser. Horses need to be well balanced, and in a good rhythm to ping those last three. Watching horses jump those fences always makes me hold my breath!

Who was your favourite jockey? Of course, AP because of his sheer brilliance and horsemanship but I loved to watch Johnny Francome bringing one home and Hywell Davies was always worth a bet! Goodness, I could go on and on: Carl Llewellyn, Guesty (Richard Guest) on Red Marauder winning the National in a quagmire, awesome! Micky Fitz (Mick Fitzgerald), Adrian Maguire…

Who was your first winner? Oh gosh, I can’t remember! I remember my last, it was the French-bred Ilongue, trained by Robin Dickin and ridden by Rodi Greene at Lingfield on 14th November 2007 in a 3m Novices Handicap Chase. I nicknamed her FloJo, and she was very lovely, a precious girl.

What was your favourite part of working in racing? Being able to do something I loved for a job. Nothing like being in the yard of an evening, everyone has gone, and all is quiet. All you can hear is the munch of happy horses eating their hay.

And the least favourite part? Coming home with an empty space on the lorry and also selling horses at the sales. No one likes to lose their horse, but if an owner decides no more, then, it has to be. The weather never bothered me, nor did early starts or late finishes.

How did racing change over the years you worked in it? Not a lot really. NARS is an absolute Godsend for stable staff: I wish we’d had it in years gone by. It would have helped a lot of lads and lasses who were struggling.

What was the best advice you were given? By an old employer, ‘put your finger in the neckstrap and make a noise like a carrot’ whilst backing stores.

Britt with Rusty Reel at Kelso, where he won by twenty lengths

What is the best advice you can give? Love it, love the horses, respect the horses, be happy, if you’re not happy TALK TO SOMEONE! I’m very big on wellness and mental health after suffering for years with depression. IT IS OK NOT TO BE OK.

Do you still follow racing now? Oh gosh yes! Thank heavens for technology and being able to watch racing on your phone! I am very lucky because the company I work for is very ‘horsey’ and loves racing, so I can still enjoy a good gossip about who won what, where and when.

What is your fondest memory due to having worked in racing? The best ever thing, and I miss it so very much, is having that bond with the horses you have in your care. The closeness, going into their stables and having a quiet snuggle and telling them all your woes! As all animals, they never judge you, criticise you, they just want to please.

Other interests: This is a weird one! My all-time best thing, apart from Racing and Rugby, is taking part in historical re-enactments from the English Civil War; it’s brilliant fun! I also go to a lot of dog shows as Mum has Norwegian Elkhounds. We’re off to Crufts this year to man the Discover Dogs stand, which I do every year!

Leading out the Jeff King trained-Ekeus and Jim Culloty - they won.

Favourite drink: Gin, gin and gin!

Favourite food/meal: Oh my! Sunday Roast by a country mile!

Favourite holiday destination: Anywhere in a tent, in a field where I can take my terriers. I’ve just invested in one of those canvas bell tents, complete with a stove for cold nights!

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