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Leading NZ horse stud helps own staff grow into workplace champions

Katie-Jo Liddle receiving her Primary ITO regional student of the year award, pictured with Training Advisor, Kim Clapperton
Katie-Jo Liddle receiving her Primary ITO regional student of the year award, pictured with Training Advisor, Kim Clapperton

When your job is to breed foals that will become the Usain Bolts of the horse racing world, every little advantage helps.

That's why most staff at Little Avondale Stud in Masterton are currently undertaking Primary ITO National Certificates in Equine Breeding while working on the 260 acre property.

Little Avondale is one of the leading boutique studs in Australasia and is the oldest commercial stud in New Zealand. Owner Sam Williams is now paying for staff to complete their Level 3 and Level 4 certificates to improve skills and bring greater knowledge to their daily roles.

And the investment is already paying off.

Mare Manager Katie-Jo Liddle, together with Sam, successfully used a technique known as 're-birthing' to help correct problems spotted in two foals recently.

"Sometimes foals are slow and have trouble latching on to feed. We saw this video in class that uses ropes to emulate the pressure points that a foal feels when they're born and move through their mother's birth canal," Katie-Jo explains.

"We decided to give it a try and it was absolutely amazing. The foals got up afterwards, literally shook their heads and went straight to mum for a drink. Problem solved."

Katie-Jo grew up in West Sussex, England, and has embraced the opportunity to gain new qualifications in the workplace, having left school at age 16 to pursue a career in the horse racing industry.

She arrived in New Zealand seven years ago and joined the Little Avondale team in August 2014. "I had worked in racing but I had never worked on the breeding side of the industry up until then so I didn't know what to expect."

Her job is to care for more than 100 mares and foals that live on the farm before embarking on their thoroughbred racing careers.

"When those little leggy foals come out you never know which one could be the next champion. It could be any of them," she says. "I find it very emotional to watch. The mares are so strong and the bond they have with their foal straight away is amazing."

Mares come from all over New Zealand to be served by Little Avondale's star stallion Per Incanto. "His progeny are performing really well so we had a lot of really important mares come from all over the country last season so it was a big responsibility. None of it's done by AI (artificial insemination). In thoroughbred racing it all has to be hand served."

With a gestation period of 11 months, the stud's staff are flat out between August and December each year as mares give birth before being served again.

"Even though we have so many horses on the property, I treat each one as an individual. They all have their own little quirks."

Katie-Jo is proud to have been named Primary ITO's regional Student of the Year in 2015 due to her commitment, progress and results. She has almost finished her Level 3 Equine Breeding certificate and will begin her Level 4 qualification this year.

"I'm really interested in doing anything that's going to help further my career. I didn't go to uni or college so this is an awesome opportunity to learn new things and upskill while working on the job."

The 33 year-old's highlights have included studying with top local vets and learning to spot potential problems which she previously would have been unaware of. "We can see things in the mares now that we hadn't seen before – if the foal is the wrong way around, for example, and causing discomfort.

"We're trying to breed winning horses here. So we keep a sharp eye out for how they look when they're born. If they have any conformation issues we can address these when they're young so it isn't a problem later on."

For more information, please contact:

Anna Cox, Primary ITO Communications Adviser on or call (04) 382 2853, or mobile 027 436 6469.

About Primary ITO

Primary ITO provides NZQA endorsed qualifications and training to people employed in the agriculture, horticulture, equine, seafood, sports turf and food processing industries.

The ITO provides leadership in education and training, develops national qualifications, maintains national standards and provides ongoing support for their trainees and employers.

Primary ITO training is subsidised by industry and Government. For more information on Primary ITO please go to or call 0800 20 80 20.

- Primary ITO


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