The equestrian community in Lambourn
PUBLISHED: 10:13 20 June 2017
Away from the top hats of Ascot there's a host of people who play a part in the equestrian community in Lambourn. Claire Pitcher visited the Valley of the Racehorse
Richard Fynn, Owner of EJ Wicks Saddlery
As you walk in to EJ Wicks on Newbury Street in Lambourn the bell rings above the door, there’s a smiling face behind the counter and the unmistakable smell of leather in the air. It’s like being transported back to a simpler, older time, which was one of the reasons why it appealed to Richard Fynn and his wife when they bought the store in June 2013.
“There’s been a business here since 1905,” explains Richard. “The Wicks family used to be harness makers. They started producing them back when people were riding down the High Street wearing flat caps and jodhpurs. There was a train station two roads back that would take all the horses to Ascot.”
Bridles, stirrups, boots, hats, there are equestrian products crammed into every corner of this cavernous shop. However it’s not simply the array of merchandise that attracts the clients. “A normal saddlery these days doesn’t have a repair side or create bespoke items,” Richard points out. “Here we have two working saddlers, and two working seamstresses making blankets, exercise sheets and repairing different items.” In the workshop at the back of the shop there’s the sound of clinking tools and a box that is fit to burst with belongings needing repair or maintenance. There is even a pair of shoes on top of the ‘to do’ pile. Across the courtyard you can hear Singer sewing machines stitching racing blankets, custom made for a particular stables in the village.
Richard explains: “We work in partnership with a lot of the trainers here in Lambourn. They might rush down in the morning needing an urgent repair of say, a racing bridle. They know we’re here and we will fix it for them. They often come to see us with a problem with a horse, whether it’s a sore back, a mark, or a cut on their leg, and our saddler Tiffany will work with them to design boots to protect different parts of the leg when exercising.”
The run up to race meetings is a very busy time for Richard and his team: “During Cheltenham and Ascot some of the yards start early so the lads can finish in time to watch the racing. The bookies are busy of course, but we’re actually quite quiet because we’re more involved in the build up to the event. Clive Cox and Ed Walker, for instance, will be focusing on getting ready for Ascot. During Cheltenham, Nicky Henderson is always quiet because all his horses are there… his mind is on other things.”
Ashley Berry, Chapel Forge Farriers
Chapel Forge Farriers has been established for 35 years. Founded by Gary Pickford and his wife, it’s grown into a family business that as well as shoeing horses, also trains apprentices to continue the next generation of farriers. “We have nine apprentices under our wing doing a four-and-a-half year apprenticeship at the moment,” explains farrier Ashley Berry. One of his many roles at Chapel Forge is to train the apprentices, but during his five years he’s also been able to travel the UK and abroad: “It’s great to be part of a horse’s entire journey. If we’re lucky enough, some of the horses we will work with from the day they are born, and end up shoeing them all the way through their career and into retirement. That’s a nice aspect to our job.”
Ashley served his apprenticeship when he was 15 in Newmarket, then after qualifying at 20 worked for Sheikh Mohammed for five years. “I came out of racing but continued working with young stock; foals, yearlings and two year olds, who would go off into training, but I stayed where I was. I missed the racing side of my apprenticeship because I was working at William Harris’s so I started looking around here. Gary was looking for someone so I came to meet him, the rest is history.”
Being a farrier in the Valley of the Racehorse can be exciting, challenging, and sometimes stressful.
“We’re fortunate enough to have the best yards in Lambourn. In our care we have Nicky Henderson and Warren Greatrex, on the flat we have Charles Hills, Ed Walker and Clive Cox. It’s partly our responsibility to make sure a horse gets to the race it’s targeted for, and you’re ready for any last minute problems. As you do this job more and more you end up riding the stress a bit better; making sure everyone is happy, clients, staff, trainer, owners and, of course, the horses.”
For the first time this year Ashley will be attending Royal Ascot – as a spectator. “I will be in the Royal Enclosure, I hear it’s lovely. I went for a suit fitting the other day. I will be thinking of those horses we look after racing on the day. Everyone is working towards that one week. We have all fingers crossed they run well.”
Hattie Lawrence, Clinical Director at Valley Equine Hospital
“We have to provide everything a human hospital provides but it all has to be on a much bigger scale because our patients on average weigh 500 kilos,” reveals Hattie. She’s been at the hospital for five years but working in Lambourn for 20. For her and the nurses and interns there is no such thing as a ‘typical day’. “In the hospital the first task in the morning is dealing with the inpatients. They’re checked on a four-hourly basis, night and day. At 8am there are full rounds, where they may be given medication, samples are taken and a plan is made for the day in terms of what further treatment or investigation they may need.
“I personally would do some calls on my way in, so while the girls are caring for the inpatients I will be seeing the horses on the yards. Mixed into all of that will be whatever turns up unplanned.”
It’s not only the care of the horses at the hospital Hattie and the team are responsible for, the practice is also employed by racecourses to provide veterinary cover. “We go to Ascot, Sandown, Kempton, Epsom, Wincanton and Chepstow. We get there an hour before racing, so if a horse arrives and has been injured on route there is someone there to take care of it.
“Depending on the type of racing there’s usually three vets, sometimes more at Ascot. There will be a vet in the paddock, two driving alongside when the horses are racing and there will be one in the stables dealing with injured horses. We will stay for an hour after just in case something develops post race that doesn’t show at first.”
Being at the racecourse gives the team a real insight into what trainers want and what racing is all about: “We understand what race day is like for them and I hope that gives them confidence we will offer them a better service.”
Playing such a vital role in the health and welfare of the area’s racehorses is very rewarding for all those at the hospital, but Hattie also reveals a unique aspect of the village itself: “One of the unusual things about Lambourn is that we’re a community devoted to the racehorse. Which to an outsider might be weird, but there is this great relationship among the different groups working with horses. It’s all inter-connected, the whole community is supporting each other.”