Friday, 27 April 2018


There remains an insistence on blaming the staff shortage crisis in racing yards on the so called unsociable working patterns. The issue, one that is receiving growing publicity in the written press,  was covered in The Daily Telegraph earlier this week.

Whenever this is under the spotlight very little thought is given to the consideration that for healthy energetic youngsters, being a stable lad or whatever they are called now, provides a livelier, happier working day than being a gimp in a call centre with grim evening shifts, the bullying atmosphere of being a robot in an Amazon warehouse, or even being conditioned for laziness by studying for some odd named and probably worthless degree.

And while the overall employment situation is brighter and offers more opportunities than in the 1970's which reduces the number of staff obtained due to limited openings elsewhere, at the centre of the staffing crisis lies a growing indifference to the sport in general.

It is a sport which simply fails to get the adrenalin pumping in the younger generations.

Nowadays there is no regular method of feeding interest in the sport to youngsters. If you grow up equating betting with football and live in a household with, as is commonly the case now, no printed newspapers lying around, you are not really going to be aware of its everyday existence.

If there is a racing fan residing under the roof there will be a possibility that a copy of Horses in Training is within sight, inviting to be picked up, even out of curiosity, even for someone who doubts they will ever have much time for the sport. A youngster will not conduct an internet search on a subject he or she holds no regard for.

Even allowing for the overall decrease in the sales of printed publications, it would be fascinating if sales figures were available for the Horses in Training publication down the decades.This was a publication that opened the world up to a young racing fan. Trainers strings with pedigrees, trainers phone numbers and addresses.Wow, imagine looking after a Vulgan store, or a Sir Ivor two year old.

This appeal would be driven beneath by the image of the sport being attractive. It was still a major tier sport then. Horse pastimes themselves would be high up on the consideration list for someone fancying an outdoor sport to get involved with.

With the function of the horse in modern society disappearing just like coal bunkers, Subutteo and Chopper bicycles, those inclined to find a hobby away from computerised fantasy games now have modern trendy pastimes on offer to contend with all the traditional ones.

Hang Gliding, Skydiving, Segwaying, and not to forget that sport where those giant kites lift you off the ground. There is also this increasingly popular lark of 'flying' across valleys attached to overhead zip wires. A pastime strongly opposed to by those who term this oddity as 'sound violence'.

I was chatting to someone who is a member of a rambling club and who was incensed at the so far defeated proposal to install one of these functions in Thirlmere, in his beloved Lake District.

"I'd still go the Lakes if it ever went ahead, " he told me, "I'd just keep away from the particular valley that will have these morons passing above".

Truth is, these 'morons' might in another era have been inclined to join a riding school where they may have got bitten and wanted to take it a step further and work amongst horses, with the racing world being one of the most open gateways for them.

And this would have been at a time when there was no racing industry structure as there is now, such as schools where the kids learn to ride, strap horses and learn all the required stable duties. They are also coached how to conduct themselves properly.

No doubt there will be tomfoolery,  horseplay and initiation ceremonies but surely nothing like in times past.

Many years ago I was in conversation with someone who had a lifetime in the sport. He recalled when he worked for a famous trainer in the 1940's. If the lights were not switched off in the lad's dorm by a certain time, the trainer himself along with a couple of high ranking staff would enter the dorm and beat the boys with long toms.

Someone who worked for two well known northern national hunt yards in the 1970's recounted to me of how in one of the yards they would carry out mock hangings on new recruits which would involve taking them to a barn, standing them on a couple of bales of hay stacked up, placing a noose around their neck, throwing the rope over a beam and pushing the newcomer off the bale.

It would be surprising to find that settled staff at Asda, John Lewis, or B &Q,  thrash young boys with whips or place real nooses around the necks of new starters

However, this should not mask the issue that in Newmarket there has existed for many years a serious drug problem, higher than the national average, in addition, a higher than normal suicide rate. Though no link between the two has been proven it would be no surprise if one existed.

Trying to move forward, the appeal of working in racing could form television advertisements in the style of those army ones.

A montage beginning with a mucking out scene on a dark morning, then riding out on a snow covered landscape, feed buckets, gatherings in the tack room, travelling to the races in the horsebox, racecourse stables, leading up a winner, a late return to the yard with darkness having fallen, then ending with lots of beaming faces in a homely pub.

It is a sport that must once more be made attractive again from its soul.

For the real dilemma is that the appeal of horse racing itself has never been so low. The liars who equate racecourse crowds with the popularity of the actual sport are spinning a myth. A sport that a lower percentage of the betting public than ever before wish to bet on, a sport that nobody wants to work in, and one that has too many key figures outwardly in denial of the crisis it is enduring.

image in Public Domain

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