Competition & Events

    The 9 top tips for stress-free horse sharing

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    Horses are expensive animals. We all dream of owning one, but sometimes the purchase price and the weekly livery costs—not to mention the workload—are prohibitive. Loaning works for some, but it can bring as many responsibilities as owning a horse, minus the purchase price.

    However, there is another way that regular riding can be made affordable — horse sharing. Unlike loaning, this is an arrangement that sees the horse staying at its current location and the owner and the sharer reaching a mutual agreement about riding the horse at certain times and sharing the bills.

    Many horses languish in fields while their owners work and are in desperate in need of exercise. Some require schooling by a competent rider, while others may be available for competing or Pony Club or riding club activities. Sometimes an owner may find meeting all the bills difficult and so horse-sharing can be the perfect solution and may even prevent the forced sale of the horse.

    In many situations, it makes perfect sense. The sharer has the opportunity to ride the horse a certain number of times a week, probably beyond the confines of a school, while the owner has peace of mind that their horse is being kept occupied. What could possibly go wrong?

    Many shares work out perfectly well, and, if they weren’t friends before, the sharer and the owner may strike up a great friendship over an arrangement that proves successful down the years. However, because sharing involves two people with different requirements, some arrangements fail, with both parties ending up seeking legal advice.

    It could be that the owner feels that the horse is being exercised excessively, that the sharer is letting the horse get away with bad habits, or that the sharer is losing interest and doesn’t turn up to ride at the appointed time. In other cases, it is the owner who becomes too demanding and keeps trying to oust the sharer from their riding slots or raises the sharing fee excessively year after year. Sometimes, the two just fall out over tack that has been left dirty and the stable that has not been mucked out.

    Luckily, there are ways to help prevent horse sharing going wrong, or mitigate the fallout if things do go pear-shaped:

    1. Try the horse

    Ride the horse several times before you enter a share agreement and definitely beyond the confines of the manège. This way, the owner can gauge whether the sharer is a competent rider and the sharer can ensure that they feel comfortable on the horse

    2. Draw up a written horse sharing agreement

    This could be based on the BHS’s sample loan agreement and needs to be signed by both parties. It should include:

    • Information about the horse
    • Where it will be kept
    • Notice period
    • How often the horse may be ridden
    • An agreed monthly fee, plus any other cost responsibilities
    • The activities the sharer is permitted to undertake with the horse
    • The duties they will be expected to undertake, such as mucking out, poo picking, tack cleaning, feeding, rug changing, etc
    • The fact that they are not allowed to let other people ride it without the owner’s permission
    • Insurance cover
    • Any issues with the horse or vices the sharer should be aware of, such as traffic shy
    • Any other responsibilities

    3. Be honest

    Owner and sharer should be honest with each other. If the horse incurs a slight injury while out on a ride with the sharer, the owner should be informed straight away so that what starts out as a minor problem doesn’t escalate if left untreated.

    4. Be responsible

    The sharer should turn up at the appointed times to ride and care for the horse. If for some reason they have to miss a slot, they should give the owner plenty of notice.

    5. Communicate regularly

    If the horse sharing schedule means that the owner and sharer rarely meet, the owner should receive regular texts and pictures so they know that all is going well. This will ensure that good relations are maintained.

    6. Be prepared to give and take

    If the owner wants to swap riding dates sometimes, the sharer should be flexible and accommodating.

    7. Come clean

    If the sharer feels that the arrangement is not for them — maybe the horse is too sharp to hack alone — they should say so, rather than just not turning up to ride, which is guaranteed to cause bad feeling.

    8. Be realistic

    Work within the parameters of the original agreement. If the owner tells the sharer that they don’t want the horse taken hunting, respect their decision. If the sharer wants more than they are getting from the original deal then maybe it is time to move on to a different horse.

    9. Part on good terms

    The horse world is a very small place and if the sharer upsets the owner they may find it very difficult to enter into a similar arrangement with somebody else in the local area.


    Want to own a top horse? Join a syndicate

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    Sport horses and racehorses are expensive. Buy a successful horse and you could be looking at a seven-figure sum. Dressage superstar Totilas may have been a one-off, but he sold for £16m, for example. Even well-bred youngsters at sales, particularly in the world of racing, can fetch eye-watering amounts.

    For many years, particularly in racing, the way forward has been to share the purchase price and the running costs with other people via a syndicate. In most cases, you are not only getting horsepower for your money, but also a leading trainer into the bargain.

    Of course, sharing the cost of an expensive horse means your outlay can still run into thousands of pounds. However, you often get a ‘money can’t buy’ experience from your investment, including the excitement of seeing your horse run on the racecourse (or at an event or show jumping competition), rubbing shoulders with racing’s best, making friends with other syndicate members, watching your horse and others in training, collecting a share of the prize-money (if it wins) and — if you can dare to dream — standing in the winner’s enclosure at Aintree or Cheltenham if it reaches the top of its game.

    Paul Nicholls and the Ditcheat Thoroughbreds syndicate

    ‘The most fun you can have’

    Before you get to that thrilling stage, you will need to write out a cheque to join. Ditcheat Thoroughbreds, the newest syndicate to launch, has set charges ranging from £6,450-£15,950 for a share in one of the eight racehorses that have been especially selected by that master of jump racing that is Paul Nicholls. Some syndicates are cheaper, but you may not get the chance to go racing with someone like the ten-times champion trainer.

    “I think syndicates are more popular these days than they used to be and trainers are certainly more accessible than they were in the past,” reveals Nicholls. “More and more people are getting involved. Who wants to invest £250,000 in buying a racehorse when you can share the costs? My father even bought a share for my mum as a birthday present.”

    Ditcheat Thoroughbreds has got off to a good start, recording a win from its first runner, Marracudja, who beat the favourite Ballyboley by nine lengths in a novices’ chase at Newton Abbot.

    This particular syndicate was the brainchild of Ian Fogg, a near neighbour of Paul Nicholls, who sold his pharmaceutical company several years ago and was looking for an engrossing hobby.

    Fogg believes investors will receive plenty for their money: “We have put together a budget that includes a contingency fund for injuries. If the money isn’t spent it goes back to the owners, as does any prize money every six months, plus the sale price of the horse. At the end of two years, the horses will be sold, unless the syndicate members say they would like to continue.

    “Paul chooses the horses, trains them, enters them into the right races and then we all jump up and down at the end when they win. It’s the most fun you can have without taking your clothes off.”

    For anyone who decides to take part in a syndicate, it’s key to remember that all agreements should be in writing, and drawn up with legal help. There could be money to be won — but also much to lose if the ‘I’s are not dotted and the ‘T’s not crossed from the get go.

    Images of Paul Nicholls and Ian Fogg courtesy of Julie Harding


    The Frankie Dettori (and Mary Bolton) show

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    A scarcely believable 20 years ago this week Frankie Dettori rode his Magnificent Seven at Ascot, going through the entire card and — in an instant — rewriting the history books and inflicting on the poor bookies their darkest ever day.

    Most racing fans know the details inside out: the horses, the £40 million losses incurred by the betting industry, the flying dismounts and the frenzy of media activity that followed.

    As I write, I am travelling into London to join Dettori at the 20th-anniversary luncheon in London. It won’t be a dry affair in fashionable Mayfair, and guests have been advised to enjoy a solid breakfast.

    Invited guests will include all the key racing press, Douglas Erskine-Crum who was the MD of Ascot at the time, John Hanmer who famously commentated on the last three races on the BBC after the late great Peter O’Sullevan had finished his shift and retired to the hospitality box, Ray Cochrane who rode against Dettori on that day and is now his agent and, as important as anyone else, Mary Bolton from Somerset.

    Bolton was celebrating her wedding anniversary 20 years ago this week and had travelled up to London with her husband, John, to do a bit of shopping. John Bolton was packed off to the bookies to have a few quid on Mary’s horses while Bolton herself dusted down the credit card. Later on, the couple headed out into the West End where they enjoyed an entertaining if not entirely unusual evening.

    The following morning, John Bolton decided to check the racing results and it was only then — and half a million quid later — that they realised their lives would never be the same again.

    Racing celebrates the heroes, both equine and human, who steal the show. The Frankies and the Frankels, the Lesters and the Kautos, the O’Briens and the Al Thanis.

    These guys sit atop a pyramid which is built on the mostly-losing fortunes of millions of punters who enjoy a flutter on the big guys’ fortunes.

    Some folk are uncomfortable with racing’s relationship with betting, others seek to improve it, but only those who are blindingly out of touch will deny that it is the punters who make the biggest days and the biggest achievements all the more grounded and relevant.

    We will raise a glass in a few hours to racing’s favourite Italian son, but I’ll insist we also raise a glass to John and Mary Bolton, too. They struck gold 20 years ago and deserve to be celebrated.

    Watch Frankie Dettori’s Magnificent Seven victory through the eyes of a bookmaker (contains some profanity)

    Will Plug be te spark for a Meehan return?

    What a puzzling old weekend we’ve just witnessed on the Rowley Mile. Anticipation was sky high ahead of Lady Aurelia’s Cheveley Park bid, a Middle Park clash between Blue Point and Mehmas followed, of course, by the ferociously competitive Cambridgeshire where Third Time Lucky was favourite to land back to back rubbings.

    Racing has a glorious habit of cocking a haughty snook at the script and ploughing instead its own path. And so it was the Lady Aurelia was mowed down by Brave Anna to hand Aidan O’Brien his first Cheveley Park (to my utter astonishment) before The Last Lion got up in the Middle Park to leave punters befuddled.

    The Cambridgeshire went to Brian Meehan’s Spark Plug to give the trainer a huge prize and throw him back into the spotlight. Meehan is highly unlikely ever to be centre stage at a lunch in Mayfair; that’s not how he rolls. He is quiet and sometimes his thoughtfulness mistaken for sullenness. And, in all truth, he’s suffered a couple of fairly barren years as various misfortunes have combined to leave him out of the big picture.

    Winning a big handicap won’t put the wheel back on the bike in an instant, of course, and I’m struggling to see where his next live Classic hopeful will come from, but it’s testament to Meehan that he’s still battling away to remind racing fans that he knows his eggs from his onions and can ready one for the big day. Spark Plug was well fancied: punters have long memories.

    Sulking in the Home Counties

    It’s the Arc, of course, this Sunday and the breaking news that La Cressoniere is an absentee has done little to cheer me up following the news last week that I will be confined to barracks for the weekend.

    I’ll be watching on satellite channels only, too, which would depress me if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve long ago realised that racing has nothing sacred any more.

    The race itself has left me a bit cold this year with Trials day revealing little to quicken the pulse, Dermot Weld on weather watch for Harzand and Fascinating Rock and only Postponed the standout performer now.

    I’ve written before about Roger Varian’s superstar and let’s hope he wins, in the absence of any other live bets! I’m trying to convince my wife to recreate the Chantilly atmosphere at our Buckinghamshire home but she doesn’t share my enthusiasm for all things Arc.

    I’ll smuggle in some Camembert and turn your hand to some pan-fried snails. If my cooking is anything like my tipping, this could well be my final column. Good luck!

    Top image: Frankie Dettori by Paul Friel via Flickr, CC BY 2.0


    Proof that horses can communicate with us

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    The news will come as no surprise to many but science has just confirmed what was received wisdom in the equestrian community: horses can communicate with us and express their opinion.

    With the help of some professional horse trainers, researchers Cecilie Mejdell, Turid Buvik, Grete Jørgensen and Knut Bøe of the Norwegian Veterinary Institute successfully taught several horses to show whether they wanted to wear a rug or not.

    Thirteen cold-bloods and ten warm-bloods were first trained to approach and touch a painted board showing three different symbols, then to understand the meaning of each of these symbols. A horizontal bar meant that a rug would be put on the horse, a vertical bar meant that the rug would be taken off and blank board meant there would be no change.

    After 10 to 14 days of training, the horses were able to touch the appropriate symbol to indicate when they wanted a rug put on, removed or left unchanged. Their preferences matched the weather pattern.

    “When 22 horses were tested on either of two sunny days with a relatively high ambient temperature, all the 10 horses wearing a blanket that day signalled that they wanted it taken off, and all the 12 horses not wearing a blanket signalled that they wanted to continue to be without a blanket,” wrote the researchers in a paper published on the Applied Animal Behaviour Science journal.

    “When the same 22 horses were tested on either of two days with continuous rain (and ambient temperature 5 °C and 9 °C, respectively) all the 10 horses wearing a blanket signalled that they did not want any change. Among the 12 horses not wearing a blanket, 10 asked for a blanket to be put on, whereas 2 horses signalled that they wanted to stay unchanged. However, the same 2 horses touched the ‘blanket on’ symbol on two other test days with perhaps even more challenging weather conditions.”

    The horses also appeared to relish the prospect of ‘talking’ to people: “When they realised that they were able to communicate with the trainers, i.e. to signal their wishes regarding blanketing, many became very eager in the training or testing situation,” according to the researchers.


    When horses take to the Strictly stage

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    Imagine, if you can, a working hunter pony doing a jive. Ears pricked, eyes bright, neat little feet flying. This image popped into my head — I really must stop eating cheese before bedtime — as I pondered the latest lineup in Strictly Come Dancing. Who among this year’s rather, shall we say, alternative list of celebrities will prove the top hoofer? Which got me thinking: if horses were to take part, what dance would they do (apart from leading us a merry one, of course)?

    The versatile Connemara, for example, could do practically anything, but I can’t get Michael Flatley and Riverdance out of my head. Some day, in a long-abandoned and crumbling Irish castle, someone will unearth an ancient volume called Riverdance II: What to do with Your Arms

    But I digress — back to Strictly and the jiving WHP. It would, of course, be entirely workmanlike, but perhaps a lacking a little pizzazz. A show hunter pony would probably bring more flash and flair. And a Welsh section B, the rubber ball of the pony world, could pull it off with a dazzling interpretation of the dance.

    A cob could surely produce a stately waltz; the flying sofa — as the chunky cob was once memorably described — may not move terribly fast but its innate desire to please means it would master the glide and turns. So long as the dance floor was big enough.

    I always wince inwardly when I watch the Argentine tango; those intricate kicks and flicks make me nervous. With two lots of four legs instead of two pairs, it could quickly turn into an Argentine tangle.

    The Lusitano, used in Portugal for bull-fighting — which differs from the Spanish version in that the bull isn’t killed — would produce the required fancy footwork; sorry, hoof work. But I think an Arabian would bring more to the floor, all the fire and spirit that the dance requires, plus agility and stamina for which the breed is renowned.

    A hack should do a Viennese waltz, refined and beautiful, flowing and swooping around the floor with the purest grace. A riding horse could bring the same qualities to the American smooth. And what else for a hunter but a foxtrot? Although after the Hunting Act of 2004, perhaps it ought to be renamed the trailtrot.

    Finally, the show pony would simply have to do the quickstep. This is my favourite dance, and I can picture a tiny but supremely elegant pony twinkling across the floor, the lights glinting off its shimmering coat and its little legs going nineteen to the dozen. If it doesn’t get pushed out of its stride.

    Ladies and gentlemen, we bring you… Strictly Come Hoofing 2016!

    Top image: dance by Teresa Alexander Arab via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0


    Michaela Wood beats a tonsil infection to win two BSPS classes on Swchyrhafod Brenin

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    Michaela Wood had intended to take four of her show horses to the BSPS Summer Championships, but ended up taking only one. Having only left her sick bed the day before, following a serious throat infection, she triumphed in both the HOYS mountain and moorland section and the ultra-prestigious Olympia qualifier at Arena UK.

    “I was meant to go down to Lincolnshire on the Tuesday [of the championships] with four horses but ended up going on the Friday with just one,” revealed Wood, who underwent a tonsillectomy the week before. “I needed to take one that didn’t need plaiting, didn’t need quarter marks and I could get on 20 minutes before the class, because I literally didn’t have the energy to do any more.”

    Her choice was the Welsh section D Swchyrhafod Brenin, an eight-year-old by Fronarth Victor. He won his HOYS class and stood champion, before going on to claim the ticket for the Blue Chip BSPS Heritage ridden final at the London pre-Christmas show.

    “At the start of the week, I thought I wouldn’t make the championships because of my blooming tonsils. And then he wins both his classes and goes champion twice,” said Wood, who was quick to thank her sponsor Derby House, for which she is a brand ambassador. “There was a lot of pressure for the Olympia because it’s so hard to qualify and this was my first and last chance.

    “He’s a stallion but he doesn’t act like it,” she added. “I don’t think he knows what he is! When he about three or four he covered a mare, but I think he escaped into a field — it was one of those sort of situations.
    “But he is so safe and such fun to ride. I love my boy!”

    Michaela Wood and Swchyrhafod Brenin, courtesy of Michaela Wood