In one of the most picturesque parts of North Nottinghamshire on the edge of the beautiful Clumber Park lies Pinewood Stables; the home of trainer Shaun Harris.
Surrounded by fields and woods in the most wonderful countryside, it is hard to imagine a better setting for training racehorses.
A career in racing always seemed inevitable for Shaun. His mother and father met in Newmarket and were both involved in the industy. Shaun started working with thoroughbreds from the age of 13. He became an apprentice jockey before a spell as an assistant trainer in the mid 90’s. He finally took out his licence as a trainer in 2009, when purchasing Pinewood Stables.
He currently has around 20 horses in training, both on the Flat and over Jumps. This is very much a family affair with wife Debbie, daughter Megan and eldest son Ciaran all involved. Indeed Megan is due to ride competitively for the first time in October.
I had the pleasure of joining Shaun at Uttoxeter races where I was able to sample first hand the generosity of a man who dedicates so much time to owners on a raceday. Shaun ensured that he spent every spare minute in the company of owners and their families; some visiting the racecourse for the first time and thoroughly enjoying a great day out, with the thrill of cheering on their very own racehorse.
Shaun kindly invited me to visit his stables so that I could get an insight into the life of a racehorse trainer. Of course I jumped at the opportunity. As a lover of National Hunt racing, what could be better than witnessing these beautiful creatures going through their paces.
On the day of the visit my alarm sounded at 4.50am. It appears that these crazy trainers work long and very unsociable hours. I travelled from my home in Nottingham arriving at Shaun’s just before 6am. It was still dark! Two young lads were heading for the lower stables and pointed me in the direction of the upper stables where Shaun was busy feeding the horses. He had already been at work for over an hour!
I spoke to Alex Hopkinson and James Roberts; two young work riders lucky enough to be learning their trade in such a wonderful location. Their enthusiasm was infectious. Alex spoke of his ambition to become a jumps jockey some time in the future. Along with Shaun and his daughter Megan they headed off to the gallops.
Whilst horses took turns between work and a stretch in the paddock, I was able to speak at length to Shaun’s wife Debbie. A qualified riding instructor, she ran her families equestrian centre for many years. Debbie gave me an insight into just how much attention to detail is needed when training thoroughbreds. From the basics such as the variety of feeds used for different horses, right through to the incredible advances in the treatment of injuries.
Debbie left me in no doubt as to how much these horses are loved. ‘Kevin’ known on the racecourse as Musical Strike, is a particular favourite of stable-hand Vicky. She spoke of his mischievous character and numerous efforts to escape from the paddock area. Of course they are all trained meticulously to win races, but the horses welfare is uppermost in the minds of Shaun and his team.
With such great care and attention, it was a surprise then to learn how easy it is to be part of the racing experience, even on a relatively small budget. Racehorse ownership is becoming an inclusive opportunity for the masses rather than an exclusive right of the elite. Not every owner can have a winner at Cheltenham or Royal Ascot, but they could easily find themselves in the winners enclosure at Uttoxeter or Wolverhampton.Shaun Harris and team with owners at Uttoxeter Racecourse
The morning passed in the blink of an eye. Before I knew it, the time had come to thank Shaun and Debbie for such a wonderful experience. I was truly blown away by their generosity. I had learn’t so much and wished that I was 30 years younger and able to set out on such a terrific career path like young riders Alex and James.
I could at least console myself with the thought that owning a racehorse or being involved in a syndicate was a realistic proposition, and a way of being part of this wonderful sport.
Anyone dreaming of owning a racehorse can make it a reality by visiting Shaun Harris’ website.