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Published on 30/09/2016
Rugs, teeth, worms and holidays - in his first blog for NuuMed, leading racehorse trainer Jeremy Scott discusses the change of seasons
Rugs on, rugs off
While autumn is a stunning time of year, especially up here with our incredible views across Wimbleball Lake where the foliage is so vibrant, it is also quite frustrating!
At the moment the yard is a flurry of constant rug changing! One night it can be really warm, so we take the rugs off as the horses are sweating, the next evening it can feel really quite cold, so its rugs back on again. The temperatures can change during the day too – rugs on, rugs off! It’s a situation we do have to monitor constantly as the last thing we want are cold horses.
Letting horses down
Letting down the summer horses for their winter breaks is a long and carefully managed process. I remember Sir Steve Redgrave saying when he gave up rowing that you can’t just drop it, you have to let yourself down slowly, and it is the same with horses.
If they’ve finished the season sound, we aim to give them a six-week holiday, and they always come back in fresh and well. It will take about a fortnight to wind them down fully, reducing their exercise during that time and changing their feed so that the forage intake increases and hard food reduces.
The summer horses tend go out all year round anyway as they are turned out every day during the summer for a good length of time but we will increase the turn out periods, until eventually we can leave them out.
Some will only go out by day, and when the weather gets really bad, we’re fortunate to have some huge barns where they can come in to keep warm and dry. We’ll aim to have a few back in work in work in January, ready for the summer season, which starts in April.
Mud, rain, wind, snow and low temperatures mean it is not possible to turn the winter horses out every day, although there are a couple that thrive better on daily turnout, so we have some sheltered paddocks which keeps them sweet.
Quite often on a Sunday, we’ll turn them out in batches, as its important to train the mind as well as the body. Some Dr Green always brightens them up and they will always have a day in the field after a race.
Holidays make for happy horses
If you look at the human athlete, it is very unusual for them to give themselves lengthy periods of rest. They keep their bodies trained all year round.
Human athletes are driven by their brains but a horse doesn’t have this thought capacity. A horse won’t understand the point of pushing itself so it has to learn to want to win. However, you can’t keep pushing them to achieve this. It’s about training their brains as well as their bodies. You do everything to keep them sweet, happy and interested in their work, as that is what will make them want to win.
The idea of giving a horse a break isn’t just about giving the body a break, but also the brain as they do come back fresher. I believe shorter breaks are better. After a month in the field the horse will loose partial fitness. After three months, the horse will need to start again from scratch. Every day they have off is another day to get them fit again and we are always mindful of the person paying the training fees.
Having over 400 acres here means we are spoilt for choice when we ride the horses, which helps keep them happy. Knowing each individual horse is crucial, and if you feel he is becoming a little bit sour make some changes.
We muddle up their work so that one day they might go around the lanes before going up the gallops, the next they’ll have a jolly around the farm. We’re so flexible where we can go, the horses love it. We also have Treborough Hill up the road. BE events are run there and we’ll take the horses for a regular pop over the fences.
Easing the stress and strains
Every three weeks all our horses are looked over by Sarah Weatherlake who is an equine physio and an important part of the team. She has a very good understanding of what the horses are like when they are fit and well which means she is immediately able to pinpoint and treat any problems.
Once a year Toby Lee and his team will come and sort all the horses’ teeth and we are fortunate that one of the girls who works part time is also an equine dentist.
At this time of year the horses will be treated roundworm, tapeworm and bot infestation, and we are careful with our grassland management, rotating the horses’ grazing with sheep and cattle.
With the change of the season from summer to winter jump racing, our winter horses are bubbling along very nicely. As soon as the ground changes with a decent drop of rain, they will be ready to go. Meanwhile we’ll keep the summer horses going, for as long as the ground is suitable. It will change soon enough!