Simon Christian was a leading UK based steeplechase trainer during the late 1980’s and 1990’s. A multiple Cheltenham Festival winning trainer (with the likes of Nakir, Oregon Trail and Henry Mann), Christian now works as a bloodstock and racing advisor. This year, he joined the judging panel for the Lycetts Team Champion Award. Below he examines the major differences between the practices as his time as a trainer, as well as examining the major positive enhancements today.
Many changes have taken place since my time as a trainer in the 80’s and 90’s, and good things are happening.
It still remains the prime job of a trainer to train their horses to be fit of mind and body to win races. However, in today’s jungle of other responsibilities, achieving this is a challenge.
The three major changes that have taken place since ‘my time’ are:
Race meetings each day of the week
Racing all-year round, flat and jumping
A dependency on all-weather gallops
Increased racing has created the need for changes to staff working arrangements, and use of all-weather gallops has meant horses can be kept in work virtually throughout the year.
Veterinary skills and diagnostics have improved significantly. As ever, racing practices, rules, regulations, the nutritional aspect and range of supplements evolve, and it has always been vital to be up to speed with these.
The internet and data technology have changed our lives; entries and declarations, access to sales catalogues, keeping the workforce informed—saves time.
Many owners appreciate receiving videos of their horses at exercise, on race days, and importantly possible purchases on sales days. A telephone call every six weeks and a large drink as an apology for not keeping in contact no longer suffices. Leading owners now retain their own jockeys—some older trainers would be surprised at that—and certainly at the vastly increased number of horses in yards.
This increase in both numbers of horses and race days has led to develop very different working practices. Two lots in the morning, and three ‘do up’ at night doesn’t exist.
We all know a good relationship between trainer and staff is integral as it affects the training of the horse. This generation of workers are more interested in career development opportunities. They are willing to learn new skills, they want a work/life balance—flexible hours and increased time off. Many trainers are working on flexible working hours and time off.
Staff expect and deserve respect. They appreciate everyone in the yard being treated well and valued. Trainers are recognising good team ethos and staff engagement—some to an outstanding degree, which I saw when on the panel for the Lycetts Team Champion Award.
Positive actions include:
Appropriate induction systems
Coaching and mentoring being taken to a new level
Health and safety awareness highlighted and more qualified staff in this area
Help is available for staff welfare issues, including drink/drugs and mental health, with many understanding diversity and ethnicity. It is no coincidence that yards with good practices in place are not short staffed.
I would like to see racing and other equestrian organisations work together to introduce horses and ponies into young people’s lives to create a new generation of people who appreciate horse welfare and may make a career with horses.
Trainers are uniquely placed to showcase how well racehorses are cared for in racing stables. Together they are in the best position and have a responsibility to educate those interested and critical of horse racing.