“Many people come to racing for the sport, but they stay because of the wider benefits… the physical and mental well-being they get from their involvement with racing’s people and our fabulous horses.” Read more of the views of Annamarie Phelps, Chair of the British Horseracing Authority.
Last week’s launch of the Community Engagement Directory by Racing Together, reminded me of two very special visits I made over the summer at different ends of the country but with much in common.
Charities needed more than ever
We all know that the racing industry is a community in its own right. However, its breadth and the diversity of people and roles makes it far-reaching, especially in rural areas, with tentacles that can connect into new communities, often with little or no experience of horses or racehorses. Our ability to engage with and support local and national communities is vital to the industry’s future sustainability, social licence and success and gives the industry real tangible purpose.
The charitable organisations that work across racing’s people and with thoroughbred horses have been vital over the last nine months. Whilst their usual revenue streams were drying up, charitable work to support hardship and those with vulnerabilities continued, and they have found innovative ways to showcase their work and to try to raise funds.
Perfect setting for horse-human harmony
In the midst of the pandemic on my short holiday to Scotland, I was able to visit Jock and Emma Hutchinson at HorsebackUK’s beautiful base in Aboyne; if ever you wanted to find a peaceful location to recover from a life-changing experience this must be it. Time slows down. The retired horses and ponies, from a very mixed background of breeds and careers, happily co-existing in their fields are life-affirming. Having followed their Twitter feed for some time it was great to have the chance to meet Jock and Emma and understand better the work they do with their horses to inspire and support those suffering from life-changing injuries and PTSD; develop young people’s confidence and resilience and provide respite for those recovering from life-changing experiences.
Jock’s enthusiasm and dedication is contagious, and Emma has really helped channel this to provide a way that gives visitors confidence, strength and vision to help themselves and others. The rigour that has gone into developing their programmes is impressive, and a great example of how the horse-human relationship can be beneficial to both. Having started by focussing on military veterans, a passion of Jock’s, they now provide support for local school children and adults to support personal development, self-awareness and employability.
Thriving youngsters and happy thoroughbreds
Greatwood, founded by Helen Yeadon and her late husband Michael, also take in retired horses, all thoroughbreds in this case, to re-home at their stables in Wiltshire. I am sure that the centre will be forever associated with Abdul Musa Adam. The charity supported his integration into the racing industry before he eventually went to Andrew Balding’s yard, and wrote ‘The Journey’, his story from Sudan to Swindon as a child refugee. Like HorsebackUK, Greatwood has developed a range of integrated and structured programmes and activities to support local communities. They give young people the skills and experience to learn to look after horses and encourage them to think about racing as a career opportunity.
It was great to see ITV’s Cheltenham coverage this weekend, with Greatwood’s work showcased through Sunday’s big race. When I went down to the charity, it was a privilege to meet one beneficiary, a young boy from a local school. He was attending his weekly session with his teaching assistant as he was deemed too disruptive for the classroom. Yet here he was, grooming a former racehorse, the Risky Viking, better known as Eric, chatting amicably to the charity’s staff and making new friends. I couldn’t imagine him not being a likeable, affable young man with great character.
As at HorsebackUK, Greatwood hosts a menagerie of animals that provide its young visitors with a unique experience: turkeys, goats and geese, ducks and dogs, as well as a new herbal garden, which will undoubtedly come into its own when some of the restrictions are lifted post-Covid. I can’t wait to hear more about how they are developing their facilities and services to remain agile and relevant to the needs of their beneficiaries and equine residents. Greatwood’s strapline is ‘Changing Lives…Creating futures’, and if it can transform lives and care for our retired horses in this way whilst promoting wellbeing, mindfulness and inclusion, it and HorsebackUK, deserve all the support they can get from the industry.