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Ruth’s wish is for thaw point to at last appear
THE wintry weather has played havoc with fixtures across the country. Turf Talk catches up with Stillington trainer Ruth Carr to see how the snow and ice are affecting her preparations for the upcoming Flat campaign.
SHE is not panicking yet, but Ruth Carr needs the weather to warm up pronto.
The Stillington trainer might not be in the same boat as North Yorkshire’s National Hunt handlers, who have been left kicking their heels in frustration as snow-covered racecourses have seen meeting after meeting suffer an icy end, but, with preparations for the new Flat campaign about to step up a gear, a thaw would go down very well at her Mowbray House Farm yard.
“The weather just makes everything harder – keeping the gallops and lunge pits going – it means it is more work,” Carr explains. “We are not using communal gallops so we don’t have someone doing it for us. We have to do it ourselves. It’s hard work.
“Taps get frozen, the pathways are slippery. It has to be salted and made safe. Water has to be carted about when it freezes. You just manage the best you can.
“Sometimes you just have to admit defeat and realise you are just not going to be able to work them. You have to decide that, for the sake of losing a couple of days, there is no point risking injuring a horse and then you might look back and think ‘well, that ground wasn’t suitable to be exercising a horse on’. You just have to take it day by day.”
It could always be worse, and Carr is well aware of that. When she began her training regime, five years ago, the all-weather tracks provided staple fare. Her first winner came at Wolverhampton.
And while the polytrack and fibresand surfaces, with the exception of ice crystals at Kempton and flooding at Southwell, are usually able to resist the vagaries of extreme weather, getting the horses to the track can be another matter entirely.
Fortunately for Carr, as her stock has grown so her reliance on racing’s lower grade fare has declined – meaning she can largely take a back seat and concentrate on the start of the turf season in March, if the weather will let her.
“Anything I want to run at Doncaster needs to be getting going and doing something in the next week or so or we will be panicking,” she adds.
“Sometimes you can trot them out and even lunge them on the snow. It depends what the consistency of the snow is as to whether it balls up in their feet.
“You can see them walking on high heels, like stilts, when it does that because it packs up. It doesn’t always do that and you just have to watch out for it. Also, when it’s slushing and freezing, especially on the pathways, if you don’t clear it – you just paddle it – then you can’t stand up on them. You just have to shovel.”
Carr’s yard, perched on the edge of the busy West Lane, just through Easingwold, means roadwork is out of the question – “thoroughbred racehorses and traffic don’t mix”, she says – and the most laborious part of the winter process is clipping.
Giving a horse a haircut is as tedious as it sounds but removing that winter coat is an essential part of getting the animal ready for the exertions of racing.
She explains: “We can’t train them with that much hair on because they would always be sweaty. They would always be wet, they would get a chill and you would never get them dried. It’s the lesser of two evils.”
So, with a big rug over their backs, Carr’s horses are allowed to roam free in a huge field at the back of the stables – she tries hard not to keep them cooped up in stables – and where the snow can actually provide novel amusement.
“Sometimes the snow is something different for them,” she says. “It gets them excited. They will just forage around the snow. Some might say we might get more colic cases when the weather is like this but, touch wood, we don’t.
“I think because they are turned out in a herd it is easier to keep them interested. Sometimes, on alternate days, we would lunge and sometimes we would ride.
“One day, at a similar time last year, everything went round the lunge pit and jumped poles – just for something different, something fun for them. I will loose lunge them over poles. It’s trying to get them fit without them really knowing you are getting graft into them.
“During the day time they are generally outside. You nearly have to drag them in. Some of them like to come in for their dinner. With some of the others you will be actually dragging them in before dark – going all the way up the field and bringing them in one by one because they won’t come in.
“They can be awkward sods. They enjoy staying out. They might be out of the stables for six hours.
“If you put yourself in a horse’s position, would you want to stay cooped up in your house all day? I know I wouldn’t and that’s what I think the horses want.
“In a more traditional yard, horses probably get ridden out for an hour and then go on the walker. They are probably spending 22 hours in a 12ft x 12ft stable. They have got to be happier doing this.”
Happier horses make for winning horses. Now if only the snow would melt.