When did you first start riding?
Fourteen. I was quite late into it. I always used to play football a lot, but my mum’s always had horses and I just went along once to see what it was like and got hooked. I was 21 when I first turned professional and I got an opportunity to ride for Di Lampard (now Chef d’Equipe and Performance Manager for the British Show Jumping team). But until then I was just doing it as a hobby.
And how did you get into the breeding side of things?
I got into breeding when I first moved to Germany. I was riding for the Holsteiners and they had a few really famous stallions. They were always being collected from and breeders were always coming to the stable yards and asking me what each horse was like. Then they’d tell me what the offspring of certain horses were like and what worked well in that sense. I learned that you could, quite accurately, plan for what the offspring of a certain type of horse would be. There are some horses that are known to be late developers; then there are some that are very good when they’re young but they plateau around middle age. I think it’s really interesting to know these little points and think about how lines cross and what benefits you want in the long run.
There seems to be a real science behind it.
Yeah, exactly. There’s so much more to it then just, ‘Well my horse has got short legs and a big belly, so I need to breed it with one who’s got long legs and a small belly.’ Yes, type is one factor, but also bloodlines follow characteristics themselves. So there are many different elements you’ve got to consider when picking a stallion to use on your mare. That’s what I’ve learned and what I’m still learning now – I still talk to a lot of breeders and find out what’s going on.
What do you enjoy most about being a breeder?
I got into this sport for the sole reason that I’m absolutely obsessed with horses. I love horses. They are just incredible, incredible animals – how they move, the power they’ve got, the intelligence they’ve got. For me, with every horse I see I always believe that they’re going to be the next big star. I have to distance myself from them because I just get so excited – I’ll have a nice first canter and think, ‘Oh he’s definitely going to jump a grand prix that horse, he’s amazing!’ I’m just such a dreamer. So that excitement of the unknown I guess. You never know what the horse is going to be like in the end.
Carsten’s one of your top horses – what makes him special?
He’s just an unbelievably clever horse that has got unlimited power, really fast reflexes and is just so, so clever with what he can do with his body. He’s a horse that, when you go in the ring – no matter how technical or difficult the course is – you really believe that you can go into any class and jump and play around with him. When it comes to a big competition where they’re asking a lot of questions, that’s when Carsten comes into his own and just excels beyond all expectations. He’s just an unbelievable horse, he really, really is. So I’m expecting some good things this year, going forward with him.
Why should people come to your behind-the-scenes event at Gornall Equestrian?
We’ve always had the vision when we set up our place that once we got everything to the point where it was where we intended it to be, then we’d have an open day – and through that open day, we would showcase our philosophy: who we are as a company, what we do, how we do it, who we work with and also why we think certain things work. We’re not saying that everything we do is the only way to do it in this industry. What we’re saying is that this is how we do it as a company and this is where we’re coming to this belief from. So we’re showing our facilities. We’re also showing our stallions and we’re explaining a bit more about them in depth. It’s good because breeders can come and see the horse up close, not just in a big grand prix ring. You can see how tall he is, how small he is, how fat or thin, and you can see his character.
What makes Gornall Equestrian one of the finest training facilities in Europe?
The main selling point of our place is that everything has been done with the horses at the forefront of every decision we’ve made. From the design of the stable yard to the turnout paddocks, to the gallops outside for the horses to keep them happy, through to the staff that we employ – there’s nothing that’s been left to chance. Everybody that works with us, our nutritionists, our vet, our courier, they’ve all got the same work ethic and drive to get the horses as healthy and happy as I do.
You spoken a lot about the influences that you’ve picked up from Europe but, as a Yorkshire lad, what’s important about your local environment?
In the end, there’s no place like home! I really love being back where we’re based. It’s a fantastic location. There’s so much diversity around here. For us, it’s a very horse-friendly environment. You just have to drive anywhere around here and you find lots of horses – be they race horses, point-to-pointers, show-jumpers, eventers, so I think that’s also very, very good for us. There are some really good show venues too, with Bishop Burton and Richmond being close by. As an international base, we’re also close to Hull to get the ferry over to Europe, so we can transport the horses over that way. I feel like it’s the perfect location. because it’s got all the beautiful green countryside that you can’t find anywhere else in England, let alone in Europe.
Gornall Equestrian 2018 Open Day will be held on Saturday 14th April.