Sophie Watmuff is a crucial cog in the operations of the successful stud, Chasemore Farm in Surrey, where an inclusive approach has fostered a tight-knit community that shares compassionate values.
Growing up in Somerset, I first discovered horse racing at school through a work experience placement at Paul Nicholls Racing. I don’t come from a racing background but always loved horses from an early age and attended my local riding school every week after school. The two weeks at Ditcheat completely changed my life and started me on a career path within the sport.
After completing a two-year Diploma at Hartpury College, I postponed my place at University and opted to get some practical experience working with thoroughbred yearlings. Travelling the world, following the sales circuit from England to Ireland, Kentucky, Australia and New Zealand was a dream come true and a path I would encourage any young person to follow if they are interested in a career within the bloodstock industry.
A stud with the finest facilities
Fast forward to 2014, an opportunity became available to work in the office at Chasemore Farm and I made the move to leafy Surrey where I have been the Office Manager for the last seven years. It is a varied role and one that has changed a lot over the years since Chasemore’s inception. On my initial visit to the farm the first post and rail fencing was being put in following the plans of what was to be a new thoroughbred stud farm located on the edge of Cobham. Since then, significant and on-going investment from Andrew and Jane Black has ensured the stud remains among the finest facilities of its kind.
Rewarding work at Chasemore Farm
Like all breeding operations, a huge amount of effort is put into the rearing of each horse and so seeing the fruits of several years labour come to blossom on the track is a highly rewarding part of the job.
In my first year, I was lucky enough to travel to both Woodbine and Santa Anita to see Wall of Sound compete in Graded races on an international stage. Since then, she has become an extremely exciting broodmare at Chasemore having produced Group performer Boomer and Classic hopeful Uncle Bryn.
Witnessing the magical story of Royal Ascot winner, Ceiling Kitty has also brought many special days during my time at the farm. Her son Arthur Kitt won easily on debut at Haydock and the horse, whose very existence had hung in the balance just over two years earlier, emulated his mother by winning at Royal Ascot, sticking on bravely to take the Chesham Stakes by a neck. It was an emotional moment for the Chasemore team at Ascot that day and a story that surely has the merits to become a good book or screenplay!
An inclusive approach
Community is intrinsic to Chasemore’s philosophy and heads up one of our three core values. The diversity of the team is high with a large number of staff from outside the UK and a team that spans a wide age range – from 17 through to 70. This inclusive approach has fostered a tight-knit community that shares compassionate values.
Over the years, we have worked on employee wellbeing strategies by forming rotas to promote a work-life balance and provide regular internal communications to ensure staff have access to the appropriate information and advice for their own wellbeing. Employee mental health awareness training, ‘Yoga Mondays’, a six-a-side football team and a communal vegetable plot have all been implemented as part of a workforce community and mental health strategy.
This community ethos spreads from within the team to the wider industry and local community in the Cobham area. We enjoy promoting the industry and raising awareness and have hosted successful farm open days for local residents, charities and community groups with guided tractor and trailer tours of the facilities. There are activities for young people and the opportunity to get up close to mares and foals.
Supporting local events
Our first Open Day was held for local residents when the stud became fully operational in 2017. Over 100 visitors passed through the gates to see behind the scenes of a working thoroughbred stud, and popular demand made it an annual event. Visitors have the opportunity to learn with talks on how a racehorse is bred from our resident Vet and what we look for in a thoroughbred from our Farm Manager. We also provide locals with a ‘five to follow’ so they can keep an eye out for the Chasemore mauve and green silks on the track. We were definitely in the good books when we tipped Arthur Kitt who won at 6/1 at Royal Ascot!
Another popular local community event hosted in the oak woodlands of Chasemore is our annual cider-making event. A cider press is assembled in Autumn each year, between the yearling and foal sales, and is driven by our resident nanny mare Lassie. Staff and locals are encouraged to bring their own apples to throw into the mix; we have a barbeque and drink last year’s vintage. Locals claim their cider the following Spring, while staff and clients get plenty of opportunity as the cider is served in the Chasemore Box at Sandown, at the ‘End of Foaling’ Party and the annual ‘Summer Party’ at Royal Ascot. The cider is also sold in the local wine shop in Cobham with a percentage of each sale donated to World Horse Welfare, a charity which is very close to our hearts at Chasemore.
Many ideas waiting in the wings
We have really missed the opportunity to open the doors for visitors over the last 12 months but have plenty of community-led ideas in the pipeline, including working with local colleges, community groups and equestrian training centres to continue to create awareness and encourage young people to consider a career in the thoroughbred industry.
We believe horse racing can make a significant contribution, not just to our sporting life, but to our broader community and feel it is important that young people understand the sport and the opportunities available. Chasemore Farm is proud to work with Racing Together and we look forward to being part of the Racing Together Community Day in 2021.
View more about Chasemore Farm’s community activity on our Directory: