Handler's key role in future NH successes
RYAN Bliss does not keep horses for long. There are constant comings and goings at his 12-box yard which is part of the growing Seaborough Set near Crewkerne.
But when your purpose in this equine life is breaking-in and pre-training you know that once your own work is completed horses return to their original stable and connections to be readied for racing.
Bliss moved to his current headquarters from nearby Woolminstone in November and since then business has been so brisk that he is extremely grateful to neighbour Bob Buckler for allowing him use of the odd box or three to house the overflow at his NH yard.
Bliss said: "I came here to increase the quality of the horses I would be dealing with. I have been well supported by the locality – Harry Fry, Anthony Honeyball and Richard Barber have sent me loads, mostly breaking but some pre-training.
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"There were some stunning horses – I have had all the horses Harry bought at the sales this summer and they've all gone back to him now.
"We've been flat out and because of the numbers some people have been happy to wait. There are only so many hours in a day."
From more than a decade in point-to-pointing the 30-year-old knows only too well that horses come in various shapes and sizes – and more importantly, with different temperaments.
He rode 93 winners – including a solitary but memorable hunterchase triumph at Wincanton in 2008 – and would like to reach "a rounded figure" but pressure of work for him and assistant Kate Nutt means that riding between the flags and training his own pointers is not the priority.
"Based on recent results Kate and I have worked extremely hard over the years for little payback." And next month he loses his "righthand man" of the last two years as Nutt is to become Fry's assistant head girl.
There are not many unbroken horses – mostly three-year-olds – who come to him in the wild and untamed category – he can assess them within 24 hours whether they will be a challenge or not.
"If they are difficult on the first day, you can bet they will be difficult all along. Some horses though just aren't wired up right – just like some people.
"They are all different but we always aim to start with the traditional methods but you have to be adaptable if a different approach is needed. The majority are fine but three or four you have to come at from a different angle but once they've got the message you can be easy on them.
"Horses from the sales have been well handled – and if they come from the better sales they would have been lunged already and passed two vets for their breathing and heart.
"Some, though, are sharp and you must be careful – they could have been rushed to the sales to save money.
"When they arrive here we start them in the metal pen at Bob Buckler's. We aim to get a saddle on them pretty quickly – most will react to a saddle and girth and the sooner we get them lungeing and long-reining with the saddle on the better."
The saddle is not removed no matter how truculent the animal may be whether he bucks, rears or even lies down. Road work follows and builds to a walk, trot and a steady canter up Barber's Seaborough gallops.
How long does the entire process take? "Although the odd one takes between two to three months, the average time is four to six weeks."
Once the horse is cantering away and considered safe, it can be returned to the trainer who will then proceed with his own methods over poles or barrels when it comes to jumping.
"When the horse goes back we give an assessment. Some take time for the penny to drop and we say 'this one is going to take time and you've got to keep on his case' – we offer advice rather than condemnation and it's up to the trainer how they take it.
"If there's a worry over breathing we suggest the horse is scoped.
"We aim to provide a job well done and the finished article that nearly anyone can ride on a daily basis."
Obviously with young, inexperienced horses falls and mishaps are to be expected. Bliss says: "In this job it's par for the course but I have been very lucky although one did flip over with me just before Christmas and left me with fractured vertebrae."
This time of year the pre-training aspect comes into its own as the main months of the NH campaign approach: "It's doing the boring part – getting on with the road work and cantering before the big yards start working them."
By David Briers