To my friends and family I am the horse addicted girl who lives, breathes, and sleeps horses. I never grew up with them but ever since I can remember, horses were on my brain and in my heart. After graduating, I got into the Summerhill Stud School of Management Excellence and went on to win a Scholarship to the English National Stud in the UK. After all my studies, I had been given the most amazing opportunity to complete a breeding and sales season at the Sir Patrick’s Cambridge Stud in New Zealand. I then decided to come back to home roots and do a season in South Africa at the beautiful Highlands Stud in Robertson, which ended up being an entire year.
Since my travelling soul and yearning to learn constantly tug at my heart, I will be packing my bags and heading to America for their next season.
Today, I wanted to share with the world the reason I cannot wait to get up in the morning before the birds in below freezing temperatures, the reason my heart skips a beat when I hear the sweet nicker of a horse greeting you as you walk in the yard. All the reasons I don’t call this my job but my hobby.
10. I GET TO WATCH THE SUNRISE, EVERY MORNING!
Some people have “watch the sunrise” on their bucket lists, as if it is a rare phenomenon. I count myself lucky that I have seen the beauty of the sun rise over a new day more times than I can count. That is not all though, we get to go through the storm and see the rainbow at the end. I have never experienced rain like I did in my New Zealand season, after you have done a season there you are definitely water proof. Rain and mud just became a part of life really; It felt odd when the sun eventually shone. New Zealand brought a bunch of firsts for me, namely foaling outside. It was a cold and wet experience but most of all, the most memorable. Nothing brings you closer than huddling together in the cold waiting for a mare to foal.
9. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ROUTINE
Horses always have something new to throw at you. This is definitely not a typical 9 to 5 job. This is a ‘wake up before the birds and go home when the job is done’ kind of job. I remember during the season in New Zealand, it was my night to be on call. We had just finished for the day and were on our way home when the night guard called myself and the team back to the paddocks because a mare was about to foal. We waited for her to foal, and while she was foaling, another mare decided to foal. We had three mares foal one after the other after work that day. We only went home somewhere past seven o’clock that evening.
8. ALWAYS LEARNING NEW SKILLS
This is the kind of job where you cannot learn everything in a classroom or lecture hall to prepare you for real life. Every day you learn something new, everyday you learn a new skill such as driving a tractor, or working a blood machine, operating machinery like walkers and so on. I also have to add that you will gain major driving skills with this job. I can now drive anything from a truck to a van, a four-wheeler to a tractor. Not only are your skills tested with different types of farm vehicles dating back to the early nineties but the weather surely helps you master your skills as well. You can only drive once you have navigated a vehicle through mud after a week of rain on a road fit only for one car.
7. WORKING WITH THE VET
I just love this side of the job…it definitely belongs in the Top 10. I am always like a kid at Christmas when the vet is coming to the farm. My favorite experience throughout my three years in the industry would be with a vet in my recent South African season. I got hands-on experience with small surgeries and assisted with multiple x-rays on yearlings and several minor injuries. I have never had the opportunity to get so hands on with certain injuries and be able to assist the vet on multiple occasions. This is one time where you can never stop learning, there is always a new way to treat something and a new injury that a horse can bring you. Over all my travels so far no farm handles anything the same way.
Call me a nerd, but nothing can make me stand up straighter and be more proud than coming back to South Africa wearing a National Stud jacket. Proving those people wrong who told me that I am too small, I am too weak, I will never make it. I am so proud of how far I have come and how much I have done already. When I put on that new uniform, I don’t only feel proud to have been able to work there but to wear their name and make them proud.
One more thing – You will promise yourself that it won’t happen to you, but you will become an instant cap collector, it’s undeniable.
5. PREPARING FUTURE CHAMPIONS
My love for the stud life started with foaling my first mare and that was it for me, I loved it so much. I didn’t think that I would love anything as much and then I did my first sales preparation in New Zealand and well, that just lit another fire. Taking these scruffy yearlings from their camps and teaching them to accept blankets and bits, going through their first bath and groom session….at the end of prep the yearlings cannot wait to be groomed and hand walked, and a little hose that seemed to be a terrible monster with water spraying powers is now their best friend. At the sales you see a sophisticated, well-groomed, beautifully put together yearling; a few months ago we could hardly catch him in a paddock. I cannot explain the way it makes me feel to witness such a transformation. It is a proud feeling.
4. THE FOALING SEASON
Every time I foal a mare it is even more magical than the first. This is my favorite time of the year, I have done four breeding seasons now, two in South Africa, one in England and one in New Zealand. Not one farm foals the same, not one farm has the same technique or after care, that is what makes it so exciting. On every new farm, it feels like you are starting from the very beginning when you enter a new season, but the result is always the same. No matter what time of night or morning it is, I always get excited to rub the water out of that little nose and watch it take its first breath…and witness the mothering instincts of a mare as she wraps her head around her new baby.
3. MEETING NEW PEOPLE
I cannot begin to tell you the amazing people I have met on my journey. I have met and had the opportunity to work with people from Ukraine, India, America, Ireland, England, Australia, and New Zealand. I think we had one of each nationality on the stud farm in New Zealand.
Spending a season with these people bring a friendship that only stud life can give you. You have a friendship that has conquered late nights and early mornings, staying up with sick foals, working as a team to get thirty stables done before breakfast time, walking long, long roads to take a mare back to her camp after a scan, feed run pep talks, and most of all living together with one bathroom definitely brings you a little closer. Good times and bad times, there is no closer family than a stud family.
When I was at school, I remember dreaming of travelling the world. Getting on a big airplane and flying for hours, discovering new places…It seemed out of reach, it felt like it would always be just a crazy dream.
When I got accepted to the School of Management Excellence, I told my parents that I was going to get that scholarship to England and I was going to give it everything I had. I will never forget that night, when my name was called for the scholarship, my hands were sweating and my heart was pounding…my dream came true. After completing the scholarship in England I received an opportunity to go to New Zealand which lead to a life changing holiday in Australia and a year later I went back to New Zealand with my sister. What was once a wild dream, is now my life and my motto:
Work – Save – Travel – Repeat
1. SIMPLY, BECAUSE OF LOVE
The one and only reason but perhaps the most important, is I do this job because I love it. I hate calling it a job actually; I have told everyone that this is my hobby.
There is something about the feeling of being a part of something. The stud grooms, night watchmen, stable hands, and assistants look like such a small part of the industry…but I think we are just as important.
Some people forget all the work behind finally getting that racehorse to the track, never mind getting it to the yearling sales.
Waking up in the early hours of the morning to help a mare have her baby, making sure that foal is healthy and strong to grow up and become a naughty weanling and eventually start prepping a striking yearling to catch a prospective owner’s eye at the yearling sales. Feeling your heart skip a beat when that same foal that was figuring out what these four legs beneath him are used for is now being led into the parade ring after months of preparation, exercise, hand-walking, diet, blankets, and everything that comes with it.
This is what the Thoroughbred industry means to me…these are only a few of the many reasons I have dedicated my life to horses, I might not have grown up with horses but they have always been with me. I cannot imagine spending my life any other way.
By: ASHLEE HAMMOND