Beautiful Beaches, Thoroughbreds and Crayfish!
Noordhoek, South Africa
Ant's is with us for a few days longer and arranged to "ride work" for a trainer called Mike Stewart. Mike had also asked Terry to drop of a 2 year old and as he was an ex colleague from many years ago wanted him to go for breakfast so we were invited along to.
Riding work in South Africa is different to the UK. For a start the work is completely unpaid. The stable hands can exercise the race horses and most yards have local volunteers who do it just for the fun of it but most yards want the jockey's to exercise and train the horses for them. The catch is, if you don't ride work for a trainer then they are never going to give you any rides. So if you want to be successful and a high earner as a jockey (some of the top jockeys can earn anything up to around £100,000 per annum) then you need to give up as many of your early mornings as possible to ride for as many trainers as possible.
Terry and Mike lived and worked together when Terry first moved to South Africa and were good friends although they now rarely meet other than at the races. Mike also loves to dive and catch crayfish and had promised to give some fresh ones to braai.
The yard itself is based in Noordhoek between Table Mountain and Cape Point. The gallops are basically the beach that runs straight and flat for miles past the yard. Work riders are usually expected to start at around 6am or earlier. Given our distance from the yard we left the farm very early. So early that Sarah took her pillow and slept in the car. We were still late though as we were towing a horse and had to drive slow and in the end arrived around 7am. Ant's was a bit impatient as he didn't want to be in trouble for being late, as he would have been if he'd arrived on his own.
The location is beautiful although the yard itself was quite run down and smelly. There were billions of fly's everywhere too which was a bit unpleasant. Mike explained that the yard is built on the sand dunes which means that some of the stables keep subsiding but he's restricted and can't replace them with anything more permanent.
After coffee Ant's got his stuff ready and went looking for his first horse while we were given a brief tour. Some of the horses there had been bred by Sorrento which was nice. Next we walked through the main barn to a flat area in the sand dunes the other side where all the horses from the first string were circling. In the middle were training gates for the youngsters who have never entered gates before. Ants joined the string with one other jockey and all the rest of the riders were either black stable staff or a few local volunteers.
They trotted off into the dunes and disappeared and we were taken by Mike in his little Suzuki Jimney to the end of the gallops which is just a long sandy run through the middle of the dunes. Terry wasn't very impressed with it as the track wasn't straight to avoid the many dunes and bushes around it and also wasn't very wide. Ants soon came galloping by alongside the other jockey and because we were in a blind spot and so close to the track the horses spooked as they came past. This happened several times over with the two riders swapping horses each time and on the youngest horses they both ended up completely in the bushes!
Next we were taken to the beach where they normally train which would have been much better to see but the string had all been exercised so we weren't going to see that today. The tide was out and it was quite a long way to the edge of the water. The horses there were circling once again to cool down from their gallop and were then taken back to the yard before the second string would be brought out to do it all again. We wouldn't be waiting to see that as Ant's had done his work and didn't need to ride the older horses that would be coming out next.
Back at the yard the horses had their saddles removed and then all the stable hands kept whistling at them to make them roll in the sand to soak up the sweat. It looked like they really enjoyed it and one lead on his side for ages not wanting to get up again. Mike said he's really lazy and does the same thing every day. After rolling all the horses have a big shake like a dog.
It was a nice morning and we left with a big box of crayfish and stopped at a Wimpy on the way back for breakfast.