Sitting above Teresa Dufosee’s fireplace in her beautiful Charlton Horethorne home is a painting from local artist Martin Alford.
The heads of Kauto Star, Denman, Twist Magic, Master Minded, Neptune Collonges and Big Buck’s are accurately painted. In a household full of pictures and paintings it is perhaps poignant that those six take pride of place.
Teresa Dufosee, now just into the second term of her three score years and ten, has been an equine physio since 1981, although back then the term equine physio was rather like trying to explain a day off to Clifford Baker. Yes, people had heard of the term, but they were not sure quite what it meant.
As Teresa slowly but surely brings down the curtain on a career that has seen her run her hand along some of the world’s greatest performance horses, I caught up with her to ask her what it is that has kept her fire burning for so long, sustained her in times of tragedy and brought her sustained joy on almost every day.
From a family of doctors, Teresa’s father was quite remarkably one of 12, and nine of those children went on to work in the medical world. She explains how the world of being a doctor did not ever appeal, but throughout her life there was always an ability to soak up and learn about anatomy and how, if there was a problem, a way in which to fix it.
By 1985 there was enough work to take the plunge and go full-time into equine physio and, only seven years later in 1992, her close ally Ian McNab, the Castle Cary-based vet, introduced her to bright-eyed up-and-coming training talent Paul Nicholls.
What has followed is 28 years of service for a yard that shot into the racing stratosphere and never really stopped.
“I have been blessed and honoured from the start in Ditcheat,” Teresa explains to me as she sits gripping her gin and tonic tightly, visibly not wild at the idea of talking about herself.
“I suppose, when I look back, I always knew my place and worked on the basis I was a small cog in a big wheel and my job was to try and contribute to making the horses feel as perfect as possible before their races.”
She explains to me the importance of the relationship she has held with our long-standing head lad Clifford Baker and how she and Paul have worked so well together. At the centre of that relationship is a trust and understanding that both were always doing what was best for any horse over all those years.
What I want to know is what has kept Teresa doing this for so long?
Her answer explains everything one needs to know about Teresa. “Horses have always had the ability to stir my heart, Harry. I have been completely passionate about them forever.”
As she talks about our equine compatriots, those sentiments hold more weight with every word Teresa adds.
“When you work with horses, you learn something every day, even without knowing it.” What then follows is a line that Paul has recounted to me umpteen times: “Horses cannot speak but if you listen they will tell you everything you need to know.”
There is always a new challenge. No two injuries are ever exactly the same. No two horses are ever the same. Even now after all this time, those very animals still have the amazing ability to “endlessly fascinate and charm” a now beaming Teresa.
Horses are now the subject and the unease of talking about her career has been replaced with an endless memory of fabulous horse after fabulous horse. What strikes me as we talk and reminisce over horses, is that this was never about the ability the horse possessed, but rather his character and personality.
Of course, we talked about the superstars and how Kauto would look at you as you wandered into his stable with a look of ‘are you worthy to be stood next to me?’ Or how See More Indians, Paul’s first Grade 1 winner, was a bad-tempered character; or her beloved Twist Magic, who was a fussy so and so, but after a cautious start, Teresa grew to adore him.
What strikes me that during her time with Paul every single horse has been treated as an individual, something that, is without question, a belief shared with the man himself. It is perhaps a major pointer as to why they have worked so well together.
The chat about horses rolls on for hours and it is impossible not to smile with the obvious pride Teresa has at having been a “small cog” in such a huge machine for so long.
It therefore makes me immensely proud when I ask her to recall some of her fondest moments in her time at Paul’s and she nominates this season’s championship party as a memory that will “stay with her forever”.
Arguably more fittingly, she is most proud of the work done with Next Destination. Being a part of ensuring “one of the most beautiful thoroughbreds” she has seen made the track following three years of injury woes counts as a major personal achievement.
It strikes me that 11 years ago when her husband of 12 years, legendary John Dufosee, passed away, the relationships with the people she has met along the way and the horses in her life are what have gone a long way to keeping Teresa smiling.
“I have always known my place in Paul’s yard and been acutely aware of my failings and lack of knowledge,” is a line that stuck with me from the evening. It is a line perhaps only someone as successful and modest as Teresa could say with sincerity because here is a woman brimming with knowledge about horses and what it takes for them to perform at their best.
This is a lady who has dedicated her life to that very cause, and in a world where a short head can be the difference between Neptune Collonges winning that Grand National or not, Teresa Dufosee’s talented hands have contributed to more fabulous days than one could possibly remember.
The unshakeable belief that there is always something else to be learnt after achieving so much is further evidence as to why she and Paul have worked so seamlessly together for so long.
You are never really there. You have never achieved all you can and never learned all there is to learn. Does that resonate with you, I ask?
She smiles. The 28-year puzzle is finally put together.
One has a feeling the sort of passion for horses the like of which Teresa possesses can never fully be retired. However time indeed waits for no man or woman. She now feels it is time to take a back seat and enjoy some other things in life.
Happily, I do not believe for a second that Ditcheat – her “second home” – will ever be far from her heart.
Throughout my years as assistant trainer it has always been a treat for me to find ten minutes in a day to watch Teresa work with a horse. I have genuinely marvelled at the way in which she marvels at them. If they could speak, she would undoubtedly listen, as she has done so intently over so many years. I also have little doubt what she would hear is those horses collectively saying one resounding thank you.
I have little doubt that gratitude would be echoed by Paul, Clifford, our owners, and the team here at Ditcheat that Teresa so adores.
I am not sure thank you quite cuts it, but from all of us thank you Teresa.