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Bruce's Blog – April (wk 1) 2008

Music Boy, the Gimcrack Stakes winner in 1975 and a successful stallion for Chevely Park is immortalised in this magnificent statue.
Music Boy, the Gimcrack Stakes winner in 1975 and a successful stallion for Chevely Park is immortalised in this magnificent statue.

Talking & forking at Cheveley Park

Cheveley Park Stud, 17 March-4 April 2008


I have reached the half-way point of my placement here at Cheveley Park Stud, and to be honest, time has flown all too fast.

Five weeks completed, with much accomplished and a reputation still intact, I march into the following five weeks determined to build on the knowledge, relationships, and insights I have gained thus far from the Cheveley Park team. There is a hint of nervousness as I 'turn the corner"(as Steve Davis would say: "gain the psychological advantage") into the last five, but it taints the air ever so slightly, and is basically present only because of the expectations I demand from myself. As you would have probably guessed the nervousness centres around avoiding silly mistakes or poor decisions that could sour the fantastic time I have had here so far, but I am counting on raw enthusiasm and passion to deliver me, as it has done in the past, safe and sound on the other side.

A Typical Day- Bruce in the Main Yard7.10 am - Help assistant stud groom Colin put the 'dairy mares' (about 2 weeks away from foaling) out to pasture (I am sometimes late(work only starts at 7.30 am so not officially late, don't worry) depending on the choice of cereal or porridge for breakfast).

7.20 am - Check the udders of mares in the main yard with Colin. Waxed?? Getting Full?? Ages away?? I enjoy working and learning off Colin. He has over 30 years experience and his love of the horse is undeniable. My all-time favourite saying of his, and it makes me smile every time, is when for instance he is checking the mares' udders. He talks to them all very personally asking "how's your udder coming along old beauty".. now just imagine that in an old English accent, it brings me to a very warm laughter and/or smile every time.

7.30 am - Work starts officially after a brief meeting, headed by stud groom Dale Clements, discussing which horses are needed for the vet. Our day in the main yard usually begins with leading the mares who are close to foaling out to their day paddocks (waxed mares will return to the stable immediately after their box has been mucked and re-bedded). This usually consists of around 10 mares in two separate paddocks.

8 am - The vet arrives, well two of them. One, Olivia, spent the 2007 southern hemisphere season 2007 with Cambridge Vets and Windsor Park, so it is great to discuss with her the differences and similarities in vetting in both hemispheres.
The main yard foals down the mares and keeps them for two weeks or so before the foal strengthens and can be moved on with mum. Thus our vet work usually consists of either foal checks (for the first three days after birth- eyes, ribs, naval, IGG, heart rate, antibiotics, anti-tetanus etc) or 7-day mare ovulation and uterus check(just to check all is well inside the mare post foaling.
I have found that Cheveley Park cover very few mares on foal heat (partly due to: 1. the lower fertility rate attributed with foal heat covers; 2.the fact that Cheveley breed to race thus no significant commercial pressure to get early foals, and
3.as it is early in the season there is no real rush to get mares served before the season ends). Finally, we turn out all mares and foals once the vet has been and gone onto the next yard.

8.30 am - Mucking out!! I gaze down our line of boxes extremely distraught. Dirty boxes pierce my pupils, one by one, as my eyes jump from stable to stable hoping to find that elusive unused box which I will deduct from the total number of boxes to give me my number for the day. The number of boxes to be mucked that is, and a usual day will consist of around 12 to muck, and 8 to 'tidy'.
I am not alone, Teresa (yard manager, who along with her husband Wal spent a season in NZ when bringing out Bin Ajwaad) and Will (an ambitious 22-year-old like myself, but of Scottish descent, who comes with an annoying appreciation of National Hunt racing. Yuck, 12-year-olds plodding over 4 miles in the mud, jumping hedges and large puddles,haha. To be honest though, I have gained a healthy respect for the sport, and I am now in awe of the fabulous horses and people involved in it) are my companions in this daily exercise.
I have mucked out plenty of boxes at the various stud farms I have worked before, but the combination of straw, large boxes, and two months of holidays before arriving here really 'hurt' me in my first couple of weeks. I have learned to enjoy mucking out though. There are the obvious advantages of stabling horses, like constant contact with them; allowing you to closely check mares and young foals at least twice a day for problems or complications, give them constant human handling/contact, and giving young foals warm and comfortable nights for sleeping and strengthening. Some not so obvious advantages exist too however. If mucking out a box by yourself it allows you endless time to collect your thoughts, develop solutions to problems, and plan the rest of the day/week/month in relative detail. When mucking out with others there is lots of fun to be had to pass the time too. Teresa, Will and I have three main games:

1. One Degree of Separation - where you name a thoroughbred to start the game, and the next person must name another which is somehow connected to that horse. For example, if Will said George Washington I could say Danehill (his sire), Aidan O'Brien (his trainer), Coolmore (owner), or Cigar (G1 winner who also had serving/fertility problems). The only rule is that you cannot say the same horse twice. Not once have we completed this game - each of us always seems to find our way out of tight corners even if the connection is at best, dubious.

2. Hum A Tune - where you pretty much have to hum the tune of a TV show. Whoever guesses the tune first and correctly takes 10 points. If clues are needed, two points are deducted for each clue given. The person with the highest accumulated score wins.

3. Pitch a Business Proposition - Where we basically talk about how we would be doing things in the thoroughbred industry. How we are going to get started, where we see opportunities, and whether we agree or disagree with strategies currently being implemented by various industry participants. This is always fun, with discussions often getting heated, and not always constructive, haha. Will's National Hunt Stud proposed for New Zealand probably takes the cake for the most original, while my business ventures always seem to often require large initial investments, thus making them very unrealistic for any of us at this stage.
All games are to be played in the spirit of hard work however. No stopping to chat, as I regularly discover whilst leaning on my pitch fork, half way through my 'next big idea' speech, when from the next door box bellows the stern voice of yard manager Teresa, exclaiming, ' talk and fork' Bruce, 'talk and fork'. A great slogan for the main yard I believe, and one that catches me unawares every time, with guilt and super fast pitchfork strokes ensuing.

10 am - Breaky TimeTime to head back to my 'dairy' house for half an hour. I usually use this time to fill in my Cheveley management diary (covers, vet work, foaling) and to satisfy my hunger and thirst with a cup of tea, a banana, and an apple. 10.30 am The mucking out continues, along with the games. The stables are bedded back down, filled with the adequate amounts of hard feed and hay, and the whole place is the swept and vacuumed by a ride-on-mower type thing which heaven most probably sent.

1 pm - Lunch TimeLunch time is an hour long and I use the time to catch up with the midday news. I count on a sandwich with ham and all the trimmings to reinvigorate me for the afternoon.

2 pm- Vets, farriers, or odds and ends.Straight after lunch we usually have visits from the farriers looking to trim mares and foals, or the vets present to blood type and microchip foals usually. Otherwise we get little jobs out of the way before we start bringing all the horses back into the boxes.

3 pm - Bringing InAll the staff meet up as a team and move from yard to yard until finally every horse has moved from green pastures to golden straw, which makes for warm, clean beds. We split up again to focus on our respective yards.
In the main yard we go about washing foals' bums which invariably can get messy within a few days of birth, or on his/her mother's foal heat. We also pick up the feet of each foal to make the job easier for the farrier at a later date.
Mares that are due to foal are all groomed to ensure they are clean in the event that they did foal, and any mares who are dripping milk have their colostrum tested for the quality of their milk. If the quality is sufficient the mare may be milked for freezing, and thus use at a later date for foals born to mares with poor milk.
The final bit of sweeping is done to ensure the yard is left immaculate, before we all meet up again before being sent home.

4.30 pm - My Own TimeStraight after work I will usually go for a run to wind down. I find it a good time to reflect on the day, or just switch off from everything. Then a sleepy hot bath, food, and I am well taken care of.

8pm- Night ServeI often go up to help in the stallion yard at nights. There are usually one or two serves each night and it is a great opportunity for me to see the boys (stallions), the serving barn in full swing(management practices), and the wonderful mares that visit Cheveley's top gun stallion. I will sometimes bring up the teaser if we have a maiden mare to cover, or I will walk one of our own mares up to be covered. Notice how I used 'our' in that sentence, it is clear that I really feel part of the place.

9 pm - Bed TimeTime for bed, or time to complete the last piece of my blog, like tonight. Conclusion

Obviously, this is just the basic outline of my usual day. The great thing about this time of the year is that there is plenty of interesting things to see and do, and the Cheveley management are very good about getting me to take in as much as possible. I am loving my time here, and this particular blog appears so uneventful compared to what I am experiencing here, but I do hope having this basic outline of my day helps you better understand the future descriptions of my time here. I will post, as promised, a piece on the broodmare band here, the stallions here and others I have been privileged to visit, as well as a piece on my take of Cheveley's 'secrets to success' in the future.
Keep well everybody, Bruce Slade Roger's History Bits, Part 3Danehill - The name is a result of a battle between the British empire and the invading Danish on the east coast of England in the mid 11th century. The British massacred the Danes in battle, with the resulting bodies piled up and buried on the hill where the fighting took place. This hill of course later became known as Danehill. The tired British force then went down to fight an invasion by the Normans in southern England, straight after the Danish invasion, and were comprehensively beaten.