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HORSE SENSE: Horses are a way of life
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HORSE SENSE: Horses are a way of life
on 05 February 2021
Kildalton College Stud Management Student Gwen Browne talks through a normal day in her life, juggling online college classes and work where she rides out on a number of different yards

GROWING up, horses were never in the picture.My uncles kept a few broodmares and had a keen racing interest and my mam used to work with horses but moved on a long time ago.

We never had horses at home as my dad is not a fan of them, to say the least, but at eight years old he caved, and I started lessons in Madges Lane Stables. My instructor Cieara Corcoran was brilliant and brought me to charity rides and hunts whenever she could.

Learning to ride there and watching Mikey Pender go up the ranks I always thought I would work with show jumpers, but things quickly changed when I did a week-long work experience in a point-to-point yard, Ballycurragh stud.

I was hooked straight away. The yard is run by two brothers, Jim and Willie Murphy, who have been particularly good to me and always minded me. I started on the gallops with a quiet pointer called Robbie Kaydee and he was the best teacher I could have asked for. He minded me when I first started riding out and now, I mind him, and he lives a happy retired life.

While I was working there, they had a promising young horse Global Citizen who won his point-to-point first time out and went on to top the Cheltenham Sales. I loved it, a lot of people do not realise how competitive point-to-points are; the standards of maidens these days are top notch.

Great experience

An owner in Murphy’s at the time also had a horse in training with Jessica Harrington and he suggested I go work there after my leaving cert. So later, in 2017, I started working for Mrs Harrington full-time. It is great experience getting to work with top-class horses and excellent horse people. Everyone has a different way of doing things, so you are constantly learning.

In 2019, Harrington’s gave me the opportunity to ride in the Punchestown up the yard race for stable staff. It was a brilliant day out and Matt Crosse helped me loads with my riding in the run up to it.

Like so many others in 2020, life became a bit messy due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

I had plans early on in the year to travel and work abroad but Covid quickly put an end to those ideas. I decided it would be best to try to get an education and horses being my work and passion, Kildalton seemed the most obvious choice.

Due to the current circumstances, first years now take two weeks of online classes at home and one week of practical classes in Kildalton to ensure we are able to stick to social distancing guidelines.

A typical Thursday of online classes and work means getting up at 7:15am and getting ready for work. I’m very lucky as there’s a point-to-point yard five minutes from my house and I’ve been riding out there for quite a while.

I arrive in at 7:50am and once all the horses are fed we start riding out, this is usually around 8am. By this time the first lot has already been on the walker so we tack them up and head up to the gallops. If we are quick I usually get two lots in before heading back home to get settled in for a morning of online classes.

Practical knowledge

Our first class of the day is stable and yard routine and at the moment we are learning about feeding. I love this and I personally think it’s one of the most important areas to understand when training an elite horse.

In our last few classes have been going through different ways of calculating how much feed a horse should get, taking factors like work and temperament into consideration. This week we were put into groups to work out the correct feed for a horse of a particular weight, height and in a set amount of work. Finally something that we can use our math from school for!

Our second and final class of the day was an anatomy and physiology lecture. Thursdays are my favourite classes because I find them the most interesting, useful and relevant to real life.

In this lecture we learned about the muscles of a horse, the types and how they work. Our lecturers, just like us students, are only getting used to online classes and they do a great job keeping us focused and use different ways to replicate being in a classroom, such as using break-out rooms and having us do group work.

When we were learning about the skeleton we painted some of the bones onto the horses and also did a mural on the stable walls to make it easier to remember.

When online classes are finished I get ready to go again. I’m very lucky that there are several yards close to me that I go to during the week. I am able to work around my online classes and then at the weekend I ride out at Jessica Harrington’s.

The second stop of the day is a dual-purpose yard about 15 minutes from my house. I arrive just after 1pm and we get started straight away. I’d usually ride out three or four lots here – the amount we do depends on the horses and their fitness.

When we’re finished riding out I help out doing odd jobs around the yard before bringing horses in from the field getting them ready for the night. On my way home I pop into my own horse, Robbie Kaydee. Some days I bring him for a hack but the weather wasn’t great so I said I’d leave him with a few carrots instead. I get home around 6pm most evenings after riding out five or six horses on a quiet day.

The hardest thing about lockdown life is not being able to go out and socialise so I’m grateful for my work as I’m doing what I love and getting to go out and meet people.

My favourite part of the job is seeing young horses progressing and that’s probably why I love point-to-points so much. The excitement of riding young horses and seeing where they will go will not fade anytime soon. I am always busy, but I love it, horses are a way of life at the end of the day!

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