James Ewart is a trainer with a team of predominantly jumps horses in the Scottish borders. He is based in stunning countryside near the town of Langholm in Dumfries and Galloway.
Since he started training in 2004 he has enjoyed lots of success with the likes of Charmant, Aikman Sa Suffit and Lord Wishes.
Here, James talks about how hard him and his team work to care for their racehorses and his thoughts on National Racehorse Week.
Why did you want to get involved with National Racehorse Week?
Quite simply, to bring more awareness to National Hunt racing and get more people involved. It’s a good opportunity for people who are interested to see behind the scenes and see what happens at their local yards.
People tend only to see the horses on the racetrack or snapshots of videos of horses working or schooling on social media but they don’t get the true impressions of the work in the yard.
There’s a lot going on behind the scenes. Most of the day‐to‐day stuff people don’t see at all, which is a bit of shame really. They don’t realise how much work goes into getting a specific horse to a specific meeting on a specific day
What can visitors to your yard expect to see on the day?
It will be a variety of things. They will get to see the yard on an average working day. The horses being mucked out, going on to the walker, the horses being ridden out and, hopefully, some horses on the gallops.
Then they’ll be able to see the horses in their boxes, relaxed and happy. Depending on the timings the farrier might be in, or the chiropractor, or the vet.
How many different people in all varieties of jobs work at the yard?
We have a team of seven or eight riders and we have three people on the yard, mucking out and putting horses on the walkers. We’ll usually have at least one veterinary visit each week, the farrier is in twice a week, usually on Monday/Tuesday or Friday/Saturday.
We have a chiropractor come in as and when needed, a dentist comes in every three months to do the whole yard and we also have someone come in to give the horses equine therapy massages.
A handyman comes in most days and we have someone come in harrowing on gallops, maintaining the menage and the grass gallops.
What’s they key to training racehorses and how important is their welfare?
The key is having happy horses in a good, strong routine, enjoying life and looking forward to racing.
It’s very important to have good staff who give good feedback about the wellbeing of the horses. It can be simple things like how well a horse is eating and how well a horse is feeling on the gallops.
Feedback from staff is probably the single most important thing that happens in a yard as, obviously, horses can’t talk. It’s paramount to getting good results.
I, personally and professionally, believe that racehorses are looked after to an extremely high standard across the board. Of course, there are different variations in different yards with different routines but essentially the standard of care is very, very high.
It’s really important for people to know that the horses are looked after like kings and queens. It’s good for racing to showcase the care and attention that’s lavished on its athletes.
How do the horses’ personalities differ and how do you tailor your training to accommodate the different traits of your horses?
Their personalities are as diverse as you and I. Effectively, they’re just like humans. Some are pure gentlemen and ladies and some are more complicated.
The one thing you can almost guarantee is that any horse that has any sort of issue, the nurture aspect of the preparation of young horses is far greater than the nature.
Well‐managed and well‐cared‐for horses will be relaxed and amenable. Anyone should be able to do anything with them at any time.
Thoroughbreds have very individual characters but their overall trait, by nature, is that they’re flighty animals. When they’re feeling well they tend to be quite exuberant and playful. That’s what makes it fun.
How do the horses relax at home when they’re having a break between races/training?
Most of the horses go to grass for two‐and‐a‐half months for a good holiday in each 12‐month window.
If they don’t manage to go to grass then they’ll get a holiday in the winter when they’re not ridden for a period of time and just go on the horse walker. They’re allowed, as much as we can, to be given a natural horse experience.
When horses retire, how important is it they are given a good home?
Finding suitable homes for horses is incredibly important for an industry as a whole. Whether you’re an owner or trainer you have a duty of care and responsibility to find a suitable and safe environment to retire to.
I certainly take it very seriously and I know everyone in my yard does. The majority of horses that are rehomed out of racing have fantastic, fun, loving homes for the remainder of their lives doing a variety of different things from hacking to show jumping, eventing to showing, whatever it may be.
They can even be companion horses for other horses. Essentially there are jobs for them all and we work hard to find them.