Eight very lucky members and ten friends were privileged to spend an amazing day visiting both Coolmore Stud and Ballydoyle Racing Stable – brilliantly organised by Faith Ponsonby.
At Coolmore we had two very able guides in Tom Harris and Tom Miller. These young men were both English, graduates of the Pony Club and British Eventing. One specialised in the stallions, and the other in the mares and foals side of Coolmore, so their knowledge on all fronts was extensive.
Our visit coincided with 6 stallions leaving the stud to go into quarantine for two weeks, prior to flying to Coolmore Australia, where they will stand for the Australian breeding season. Their flight starting at Shannon Airport will take 24+ with stops, although they stay on the plane. Each stallion takes his own groom and there is always a vet in attendance. They are seasoned flyers from their racing days travelling to race in England, Europe and America etc. We were lucky to see Excelebration, Canford Cliffs and No Nay Never walked up in hand before their departure. On arrival in Oz they will spend another two weeks in quarantine.
Even more special, we were able to see the great Galileo, who stood quietly in his stable – no headcollar, door open, thoroughly enjoying our admiration of him. In addition, we saw some of the stallions in their turnout paddocks and were taken on an in-depth trip around the covering yards, where we learnt how Coolmore deals with visiting (walk in) mares, as well as their own mares. Great care is taken to ensure the safety of mares, stallions and handlers. The mares’ headcollars are carefully tagged to ensure they ‘meet’ the correct stallion.
Galileo and his his “friends” have their own covered lunge ring with padded walls and a good surface where he can be lunged to let off steam prior to walking in hand. All the stallions are walked twice a day and weighed weekly, so any slight loss or increase in weight can be monitored – fit not fat. They are fed Coolmore, home-grown, barn dried hay ad lib off the ground and a nutritionist supervises their 4 four feeds per day. Mixed grazing takes place across the many acres with 2000 store cattle grazing the first flush of grass which is, this year, 23% protein. Sheep then follow the horses. Some cattle graze with the mares and foals which is found to be beneficial.
Stepping out of our cars it was like entering into another world – cleanliness and tidiness reigned everywhere. The surfaces where the stallions walked were all specialist, rubberised block paving as horses are unshod, but kept well trimmed. Security is such that there is always a person in each yard 24/7 and no-one appeared to know where all the security cameras are located!
From Coolmore Faith had managed to get us a very special invitation to Ballydoyle Racing Stable , the training yard owned by ‘Coolmore’ where the unrivalled master, Aidan O’Brien trains the best of the Coolmore progeny with an amazing success rate.
We left our cars in the village of Rosegreen and after a super picnic lunch prepared by Jillie and Faith we piled into a mini-bus and were met at Ballydoyle by Polly – once we had passed through security. Polly is English married to an ex-jockey, Andrew Murphy, who manages one of the senior yards. Polly works in the office dealing with entries, International transport and a plethora of related vital items. Her enthusiasm and love for her job was apparent, and infectious, as we were driven around the 700 plus acres with her as our guide. We saw some of the different yards and there are 13 miles of varied gallops – grass, wood-chip and poly track, including the imitation ‘Tattenham Corner’.
Ballydoyle was the inspiration of Dr Vincent O’Brien in the 1950s, where his innovative ideas were put into practice, and some are still in use today. The hydro-therapy unit was impressive and unique, and when in the pool care is taken to work the horses both ways. Interestingly there are no horse-walkers at either Coolmore or Ballydoyle. What was apparent was the attention to detail, leaving no stone unturned to ensure the total well being of the horses’ mental and physical health.
We were so privileged, due to Faith’s long standing friendships with both the Magnier and O’Brien families to be allowed to enter the oval Iron Horse yard, which was designed by Mrs J Magnier, so all the horses can see each other and have their own turn-out paddocks behind their stables. This was built after the success of Giant’s Causeway, whose beautiful statue had arrived this week and is placed at the entrance to this yard opposite that of Yeats.
Members of our party were stunned into silence as the mini bus made its way around Ballydoyle. This was a truly remarkable day which everyone thoroughly enjoyed – we would like to thank both Coolmore and Ballydoyle for allowing us access and our 3 most informative guides.
We then repaired to The Bailey Hotel, Cashel for a ‘light’ lunch and further reflections on a truly brilliant day. Thank you Faith.
Report written by Julie Biggs and Kathy Merrick