Somebody commented recently that they liked the idea that I had a small yard and knew all my horses personally. I like it, too – I run my yard under what the French call the “English style”, which means one person for every three horses. That gives us plenty of time to do whatever each horse needs. If we have horses that need a long, quiet ride in the forest, they get it. Horses that need shorter and faster get that, too.
I have six in training now (well, five, with Pixie on vacation), and really need six more to get the yard where I want it to be. For the moment, 12 to 15 is the limit (now if Sheik Mo wants to send me 30 yearlings, I’ll find a way to make it work, but somehow I don’t think I need to worry about that just now). I want to keep it small for two reasons: 1) I am a very hands-on trainer and I like to know exactly what my horses are doing, eating and thinking about and 2) Complex French labor law and high social costs make it difficult to break even when you run a bigger operation.
There’s a sort of no-man’s land between 15 and 30 horses where the numbers just don’t work, and very few trainers in that category are making a decent living. You either have to be small or big – and big by French standards is 30 to 100 horses. All this probably sounds pretty penny-ante when you look at American trainers that have upwards of 200 in training. But you will find very few trainers in Europe that can’t tell you about every horse in the yard. Yes, there are assistants, but there are no big satellite operations where the boss never sees the horses running under his name.
It’s true that with a bigger operation, I would be able to take in yearlings and more two-year-olds and start from the beginning. At the moment, I do best with buying horses that have come from a big operation but either haven’t done well there or have stopped doing well. A little individual attention can really turn things around. Turfani needed special feed to help her build up condition. Tommy and Hard Way love their artichokes. Rendelsham, a rehab project this spring, just needed to work a little less. I let him tell me when he needed to work, and instead of the three gallops a week he was getting in a big yard, he worked about once a week – and promptly took four checks home in a row.
And, truth in advertising, I’m also small for the moment because I’m just getting started. Like I said – I do need about six more horses. But I think with patience and a continuation of the good results we’ve had over the past year, will pick up. There are a lot of people out there who appreciate a five-star yard, where the horse gets plenty of attention.
I ride work every day, and alternate horses so I ride everything I train sooner or later. One of my favorite parts of training is the night stable, where I can take the time to tuck them all in, feeling every leg, adding a second rug if it’s cold, taking a little time with each of them. I know there are big trainers who might think my way is a little archaic, but that’s OK. It works for me, and it seems to work for the horses.