Before my visits to Olly Murphy and Fergal O’Brien I had a clear idea in my mind of the angle at which I would write my blog post from. I knew exactly what I wanted to talk about and highlight from both of the yards. This couldn’t be further from the reality for my Dan Skelton visit.
I haven’t seen a great deal of write ups from the yard and haven’t spoken to the yard staff or any owners of horses there previously. Effectively I was going in not knowing what to expect, but from the outside I always thought everything about Dan and his set up seemed very ‘workman like’ and I didn’t expect to find a lot of personality or warmth around the yard. This couldn’t be further from the experience that I had and I think the whole focus of this piece will be on ‘family’.
The Racing Family.
Quite often on Twitter we talk about ‘Racing Twitter’ and you’ll see people from all walks of life supporting each other, cheering each other on, sharing stories and becoming friends. I know I’ve met some amazing people through the sport and they’ve become a little racing-fan family to me. After my visit to Dan’s it’s evident that this isn’t just the case with fans, but through the sport as a whole.
Dan & Grace.
You’ve got Dan and his wife Grace at the head of the household and as such a huge ‘family’ they have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. They have countless personalities to look after and support; yard staff, work riders, valets, owners and of course the horses. All of this must come with a sheer amount of pressure that I have never before considered for racehorse trainers. To have so many people’s expectations and lives to consider is a huge weight to carry.
This is something Grace speaks very passionately about and has clearly been affected by throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Grace believes that aside from training the horses well, the best way to ensure the future success of the yard is to invest in the team. Ensuring that they have top class accommodation on-site in ‘The Lodge’, as well as ensuring the team get any further training they need and are all put in the positions that help them to showcase their personal talents. Grace having this passion for the people in the business surely allows Dan to do what he does best; train horses and plan their careers.
Harry & Bridget.
This family dynamic then undoubtedly continues with stable jockeys and couple, Harry and Bridget. Dan believes that having Harry and Bridget ride for him and be at the yard working with horses most days is one of the biggest selling points of the yard to owners, and I can understand why. There’s clearly a great deal of respect from Dan for his brother’s talent and opinions and believes having the jockey’s on-site more frequently than many yards, will mean that they know the horses so well that they can get the best out of them when they get to the track.
I have to say I totally agree with this ethos, I can’t think of any other equestrian sports where the rider wouldn’t train the horses at home and in a sport where the competition is so tough, finding those margins for improvement is key.
Furthering the family dynamic is Nick Skelton, who let’s be honest is a legend in the equestrian world. Olympic gold medal winning show jumper and father to Dan and Harry. The reason I wanted to come to Dan Skelton Racing initially was because Nick is a hero of mine, I’ve worked with show
jumping horses and I now retrain my ex-racer to show jump. So, for me I was keen to find out how much involvement Nick has and how much of the show jumping influence has been passed through to the thoroughbreds.
Nick was on the gallop watching the horses for the first lot and then later was out working in the fields in the tractor. Dan says he’s often around, but that the biggest influence he takes from show jumping is with the horse’s veterinary care and holistic therapies, which I go further into in my last blog post.
This family dynamic then clearly trickles down to the rest of the team, who have a great level of comradery and banter between themselves and who were all more than willing to show me around, talk me through the family dynamics and show me how things are done at Dan Skelton Racing.
With most of the team living on-site, you can see how comfortable they are with each other and how well they communicate and work together, keeping everything organised, the yard tidy, the horses gleaming and the whole operation absolutely slick.
The warmth and professionalism just exude from the team and is clearly passed on to the horses too, it was clear to see the special bonds around the yard. With Andrew Lester making sure I’d taken care of one of his yard favourites and Benito Graves beaming with pride to tell me who his first ride of the day was.
The Wider Racing Community.
With Dan and Grace’s obvious passion for their people and the sport of racing, I believe that this yard is exactly what the wider racing community needs at a time of such uncertainty. Grace speaks not only of this pandemic affecting her team, but also the impacts on other yards, businesses and racecourses. Hoping that as a community, people and businesses within racing will reach out and support each other in any way they can. As a family would, supporting each other’s projects, lending a helping hand or a listening ear for someone in their time of need.
This really struck me and will stay with me for a long time to come. After all, we have the family that we are born with and the family that we choose and in uncertain, stressful and heart-breaking times, we all need a support network to see us through.
As ever thank you so much to everyone who reads this. I feel like this piece was a different angle for me to write from and I’ve really enjoyed it, so I hope I’ve managed to convey the special dynamic at Dan Skelton Racing.
Part one can be found here! With more of a focus on the horses.
Thank you to all the team and thank you to Liv Worley from Intrepid Photography for the photos.
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