Now, I haven’t been into racing for very long and I won’t ever profess to know much about it. After all, my true passion is just the thoroughbred horse; in or out of racing and I place my bets based on how the horses look in the parade ring or which ‘stamp of a horse’ I would most like in my own stables.
However, as my interest in horse racing has increased and I’ve developed my own little slice of the ‘Racing Twitter’ community I have found myself repeatedly coming back to Fergal’s name and his horses.
It is undeniable that Fergal has one of, if not THE best social media presence of any racehorse trainer. His tweets and photos are witty, engaging, funny and above all very real. (Oh and there’s cake!) All of these things have made it extremely easy to feel a warmth towards Fergal, his team and his horses and even easier to find myself cheering home a Ravenswell horse on race days.
With all of this, the incredibly picturesque location, newly built facilities, my undeniable adoration for the thoroughbred and deep interest in training methods, Fergal’s yard has been top of my list of places to visit for a while and after my initial visit to Olly Murphy’s yard someone online asked me “so, where’s next?” I instantly knew I had to try my luck at getting an invite to Ravenswell.
I soon heard from Simon who invited me down, offered me horses to ride and even invited my dog “Luna” along to play. As you can imagine this level of kindness and hospitality from the team before I even arrived on site, left me with high hopes for my visit.
So on Monday I exercised my horses, packed my bags and drove down to the Cotswolds so I could be on site at Fergal’s, somewhat fresh faced for 7am. I stayed in a really cute little hotel called ‘The Green Dragon Inn’ and it totally set the tone for a visit to a race yard, with amazing equine focused art on the walls and the rooms being named after racehorses such as ‘Arkle’ and ‘Cool Dawn’.
It’s about 15 minutes from Ravenswell and I’m so glad I had the morning drive in to really appreciate the scenery of the area and build the anticipation, because it is just a stunning location.
On arriving filled with excitement and some anxieties, I was greeted by Simon, also known as ‘The Doc’ (Why? Well because he’s not only a social media guru, but he’s a doctor too) and instantly I felt the hospitality experience that I was expecting.
When you work in a high end hospitality environment, you welcome people in as guests and you try to showcase what it is your restaurant is all about. All the way from first impressions to the final goodbye as someone leaves the building. This is exactly what I felt from Simon, a true pride of this is who we are and this is what we do, let’s show it to you and make you feel welcome.
Simon then introduced me to Fergal and his Assistant Trainer, Sally. We had a chat about the morning ahead where Fergal quoted something from my previous Olly Murphy blog, so now I know he’s going to read this…Hey Fergal! No pressure.
We headed down to the stables where Fergal introduced me to some of the team and told me who my two lots were for the day.
The Ravenswell set up really impressed me, the whole operation is seriously slick and the attention to little details would probably go unnoticed to someone who wasn’t ‘horsey’ but truly makes all the difference. The matching red and green stable sheets give a sense of a team identity and each stable having it’s own hoof pick hung outside were just two little touches that I really liked.
For me proper hoof care is welfare rule number one; after all the farrier saying is ‘no foot, no horse’.
For my first lot I had the absolute honour and pleasure of riding out on a yard legend ‘Perfect Candidate’ also known as PC.
PC has been with Fergal since 2012, across four different yards, winning out of all four, winning across many racecourses and over hurdles and fences. For these reasons and for his incredibly good nature, he has a real place at the heart of the yard. So again, no pressure taking one of the yard favourites out hey?
So off we went down to the uphill gallop and this is where I’m stuck for words, because just wow, that view and that location are something else and I can’t think that there are many better looking locations to train horses in the UK. Coming up that gallop, in that gorgeous morning light, on a legend of a horse that has ran in the National…well it doesn’t get much better than that.
So three canters up the hill, 2 upsides with Sophie on ‘Frankly Speaking’ and then through a little woodland trail and onto the newly installed circular gallop for the horses walk off and cool down. Then back to the stables to wash the horses off and pop them back in their stables and again yet more ticks of the welfare boxes. The yard team are on hand to help wash the horses off after each lot and drinking troughs in the wash areas for the horses to hydrate after their work. You can really tell everything has been thought out with the best interests of the horses at heart.
I then had a horse for my second lot that is at the other end of the racing spectrum, ‘Long Stay’. A 5 year old that has ran over a few point to points in Ireland, came to Fergal just before lockdown and will be running this coming Tuesday at Newton Abbott. So two canters up the hill on him and same routine again.
I really liked this horse, he’s 100% my type of horse and is by the stallion ‘Nathaniel’, that’s right, the same sire as ‘Enable’. I really hope he runs well for his connections because he is just divine.
It was on the way back from this second lot that it really struck me how much communication there is between Fergal, Sally and the work riders. With them asking every rider how their horse felt and what they think, rather than just trusting what they see of the horses on the gallop. They obviously value the opinions of the riders and what they can feel from the horse underneath them, which I think is so important.
After my two lots I spent some time watching some other horses work and generally being nosey around the yard. I loved to see that the horses get turned out with company. Many yards (not just in racing) will turn horses out individually to reduce the risk of injury, but at the end of the day, they’re naturally herd animals and some time to socialise, relax from their work and just ‘be horses’ is in my opinion, imperative to having a happy athlete mentally as well as physically.
Another thing that came to my attention was the sheer number of horses on site that are syndicate owned and with Fergal and Sally running some syndicates Fergal very kindly gave me his input on this, which I’m keen to cover in a future blog post.
Shortly the time came to say goodbye and again, the hospitality and warm, welcoming vibe of Ravenswell was not lost on me. I wish I could find a fault with the place to level out this blog of singing the yards praises, but even with 100 horses on site and more off site, the standard of care, the atmosphere and the facilities were unbelievable and the whole morning has left me with one thought stuck in my head ‘this is how it should be done’.
I truly believe all of these things contribute to the horses performing so well in post lockdown racing and I honestly can’t wait to get to a track to scream home a FOB horse.
So a huge thank you again to Fergal and the team for making me feel so welcome and for giving me a morning I’ll remember for a very long time. There are no words that can truly do Ravenswell justice, it is just magical.
Thanks so much for reading.
Huge thanks to Tom and Jack for the stunning photos.
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Photos ©JTW Equine Images