Well the last week has been somewhat overwhelming, never did I think that my last blog would generate such interest, I've now been on telly for pete's sake! I think my mum may be a little bit proud of me...
I am so amazed at the response that it generated and so proud with the feedback from both staff and small trainers, in both cases thanking me for speaking out for them, thank you to everyone who took the time to get in touch. I had lovely emails from a number of trainers, thanking me for showing them that they were not alone and for pointing out the challenges faced by small trainers up and down the country.
Please do understand that first and foremost I am a trainer who rides well and shovels a mean barrow of sh_t, I am not a writer so please, please excuse my appalling use of the English language and punctuation, I apologise in advance. I am a little apprehensive about writing this, the only way is down after the lovely comments last week, however here it is.
I have had a number of people say to me that yes, I have pointed out the issues trainers and staff are facing, however what should we do about it?? Whilst I have some ideas, I am not employed by the BHA and I have absolutely no idea what their budget/approach is, so please do not take my suggestions at face value, these are only ideas:
Firstly I would target schools in more urban areas, preferably more underprivileged areas where kids might never have seen a horse, let alone consider a career in horses. The racing industry could give them a way out of a life that maybe lacking in opportunities and away from cities, where crime is on the increase and gangs are becoming the norm. (i'm not sure if this would work but what's the harm in trying to get some market research done?)
Next I would like to see the people who have done their time in racing but have nowhere to go when they cannot do the physical work anymore, given the opportunity to follow another career within the industry. I think the chance to mentor and train young people who are coming in, would give them the chance to share all of their experience. It would then take the pressure off of yards to find the time to teach the trainees.
I would like continued riding tuition for lads and lasses who are inexperienced and I think if we could help them learn to deal with tricky horses, not just manage to stay on them but work out how to stop dangerous behaviour, then there would be less accidents and less people would leave the industry.
I know I am well able to talk about this as I have had kids come to me who were known to be good riders but were very aggressive. It was fear that made them that way and without exception the ones who wanted to learn said no one had ever explained to them that 99 times out of 100 a horse will misbehave when it is either in pain, or scared and no one had ever shown them how to avoid or stop this behaviour. Luckily over the years I have had many many chances for horses to teach me, sometimes more painfully than others!
More time off, goes without saying. No One should be working 12.5 days without a day off, I know there are a lot of trainers who are trying to give a day off a week and some who are giving more afternoons off and more credit to you guys.
Better pay, well again that goes without saying, clearly we have to do more but if more time off was given, there would be more appeal to youngsters getting into racing. Then the current staff would not be so pushed, then they would feel less put upon.
Someone I know called me yesterday, she works for a massive trainer who is point blank refusing to let his staff do a 40 hour week, will not give an afternoon off or a day off either to compensate. How can we get things changed if this is still the attitude?
Obviously higher levels of prize money would help trainers charge more per day per horse and then pass it on to their staff, however i think we are a little naive if we think that will help everyone. To put it into context someone told me a statistic which left me speechless, there was a big flat trainer who ran a lot of horses last year, 170 of which never won a race...So that's 170 horses in one yard that are costing their owners and have not returned a penny, however we all look and take note of the 120 that did win...
More accommodation, not sure how we can deal with this as rental property is a premium now. I don't have this answer but maybe trainers could be allowed to put up some of these new cabins, this obviously has to be in conjunction with the government...
No business rates for the small business, I would gladly give the £654 (I got it back to front in my blog at £645) to my staff instead of to the government, the conversation with West Berks trying to get a bin for the yard, went something like this:
Me "Hi can I have a bin for my yard please?"
Him "I'm sorry we don't supply bins for businesses.."
Me "But I pay you a large amount of business rates each month, so what are they for?"
Him "Errrm, we keep the roads tidy in front of your property."
"But my property is down a drive set back from the road."
"We well sweep the roads."
"But I live just on the way out of a village and I have only seen a road sweeper once a year..."
"We pick up litter".
"But the villagers pick up the rubbish and there is no rubbish once that's done."
"Well we provide street lights."
"But we don't have any street lights..."
At this point the guy's voice is getting higher and higher, so I told him that no police came out when we were burgled, my daughter's school is underfunded and West Berks don't grit the road in the village, which means we can't get to the gallop when its icy and when the bridle way needed cutting back they sent a car full of (very lovely volunteer) pensioners with secateurs, which was fine if you were on foot but on a horse was still like the day of the triffids!! He then insisted I speak to another department as he couldn't answer my questions before putting the phone down. If the money truly went to the services and or the NHS then no problem, take it!
Anyway I digressed, to continue I would like to see more support for the staff who are being lost to drugs and booze. I really didn't have a clue about it, seriously I was no angel in my younger days, but really what is going on? I've been told about kids doing lines of cocaine like cigarettes, sniffing all day. Where is the money coming from for that? Can we not see a problem with mental health stemming from the misuse of drugs and alcohol, leading to more sick leave/staff not turning in?
We cannot knock a work ethic into kids these days, it has to come from their parents and that is something that is lacking, we can't tell them its not good enough, go and try again because they lose their s_it. So that is out of our hands, but if we can get them at a young age from school and teach them to a better standard than they are now, by staff who are less disgruntled, they may stay in longer. It’s a circle that has been broken at the moment, it needs to go round again.
I agree with everyone across the board that bookies need to pay more back into the sport, if nothing other than a good will gesture they could fund staff training on a much bigger scale, the government needs to grow a pair and up the levy too.
Also racing is the only industry whereby people can be brilliant at what they do but get missed, abused or if they get a good job its only for a finite amount of time. There is no longevity in it for the majority unless they go on to train themselves or work for BHA.
Going back to the plight of the smaller trainer, I would love to see races for trainers with less than 20 horse, less than 30 horses and so on, this gives our permit trainers and trainers with small numbers of horses a chance to maybe pick up a little race with a horse that is their pride and joy but not good enough to take on the £300k animals...
I also think that we need to be more transparent for the public, give them more of an insight of what goes on in a racing yard. Racing gives the impression that all trainers are loaded and behave like upper class twits who lord it over their minions (some still do...) but for the majority it couldn't be further from the truth.
I want the public to see the mental and emotional turmoil,the financial struggle and the constant rollercoaster we all live on. Granted its one we love, but what we started training for (the love of horses) is sometimes buried by the daily grind, bureaucracy and worry.
Training is more addictive than any drug, its also just as damaging to the psyche and pocket!
In other news my horses are still disappointing and having scoped 6 this week, I can see why. We now know what antibiotics to use and they will be having an easy week, on the plus side they are not viral, I think they are still on the tail end of a secondary infection. Its tough because they look great, work well, don't blow but when they use massive exertion, ie racing, they bring mucus up from their lungs. However we have a plan and we are so close to beating this thing, I know that success is just round the corner.
My staff and owners have been amazing and for those of you who know me well, I have been a little stressed and worried that I am letting them down. That's the hard part of running a small yard, we all feel it when things are rubbish, however on the upside at least the guys get to be involved in every part of it, even the misery!!