As I went to bed on Thursday night I did so hoping that I would wake up and the snow would not be too bad, that Thursday afternoon’s offering was all that it was and we could carry on with a normal day.

However, as my alarm went off at five o’clock and, as I peered out of my front window, I very quickly realised that this was not going to be a normal day.

After a 15 minute competition with Kate seeing who could put the most layers on, we headed off on our walk to work in snow the like of which I haven’t ever seen in Ditcheat. The front yard was white, with just one man’s footprints ruining the thick blanket of snow, those footprints of course belonged to Clifford Baker who was already on his journey around the yard giving the horses their morning hay.
With the amount of snow covering the yard it was clear that the three-wheeled feed trolley wasn’t going to be man enough for the job so with the arrival of my salting buddy David, Clifford concluded we would carry feed bags around the yard while he and Kate fed. Now I am by no means a strong man so this doesn’t carry much weight, but carrying full bags of feed around the yard in feet of snow is not the way I would like to start every day, however needs must so we got on with it and in forty minutes later the horses were fed.

Rob one of many heroes in trying conditions

From then on, Friday was all about clearing the snow in an effort to make some of our routes safe in order to get the horses on the gallops. There is no doubt that up and down the country there will have been numerous people that have put a huge shift in these last few days, from keeping gallops moving to clearing snow or giving people lifts. However, for me the man who really went above and beyond the call of reasonable duty this week was Rob Lee our gallops man, who spent more time in the tractor on Thursday night than he did in his bed. Every hour was spent harrowing up the hill gallop and then back down it in order to keep the heavy snow at bay. It was an epic effort on his part.
Back at the yard once we had cleared pathways to each stable and made everywhere a little more accessible we planned as to how we would go about clearing some of the snow in order to get the horses ridden. As only the hill gallop was in working order, we decided we would focus on the route to the hill gallop and endeavour to make that passable. I think over the course of Thursday, Friday and Saturday we used well over three and a half tons of salt which gives you an idea of how much we put down on the roads. Happily by 11am Paul and Clifford decided it was safe enough to get the horses out. The 20 of us that were able to get to work all rode out four lots up and down the hill in groups of 10, one after the other and, under the watchful eye of Paul and his wonderful growing black lab Nelson, all went smoothly.
It is my belief that weeks like that teach you a lot about the people around you and how hard they are willing to work for one another after all, with the conditions the like of what we have just endured, things simply would not get done if just one person didn’t pull their weight. Yes we were a depleted team on Friday, but everyone that was present never once stopped grafting or moaned at the hugely increased work load and that to me says an awful lot about the characters in this yard.

Stan the man shines brighter than his hair

As assistant, I always think it is my job in difficult of tiring circumstances to be a leader and try to inspire and motivate our work force and, while I always try to do that, somebody I myself was hugely motivated by on Friday was Stan Sheppard, who not only gave half of Shepton Mallet and all of Castle Cary a lift to work he then put in a brilliant effort all day and did it all with a big smile across his face using his much loved slogan of “Ah it’ll be alright, it could be worse”.
How right he is and his attitude and work ethic on Friday shone through to me not just because of how bright his hair is. Stan is just one of a number of thoroughly hard working guys and girls in the yard and, while he will not have been trying to be this way, his care free and just get on with it attitude turned out to be a brilliant source of motivation.
Stan you are indeed the man.

Spring brings heightened excitement and anticipation

Happily the snow has now pretty much been washed away with a couple of sharp periods of rainfall and things this Monday morning will be pretty well back to normal as we enter, in terms of preparation, one of the most important weeks of the year.
Somebody asked me the other day are there more nerves in the yard at this time of the year with Cheltenham fast approaching, and while I am sure Paul is under mounting levels of pressure I try to always explain it in this way. For us that work for Paul it does not matter if you are travelling to a big meeting or small, or simply working in the yard on a racing free day the expectation we put on ourselves is high and we want to get things right big days or small so yes, of course Cheltenham is important, but so too is every other day we are working with these horses.
Whatever their level, if the horse’s team around them is not giving their all, then success will never just happen, it has to be worked at, time put in and hopefully then the results we work so hard for will follow.
Looking ahead I have another busy week in store, but it is one I am looking forward to with Cheltenham previews, race meetings and crucial bits of work to be done, as I said earlier, weeks like the one just gone are there to test you, but we passed that test and are now looking forward to the days to come.

The snow has gone, the cracked window allows me to hear the birds singing and maybe, just maybe spring is at least around the corner.
It is about time.