12th January 2019

We have an owner, Chris Greensit, a farmer from near Thirsk, who has been with us since soon after we moved to Middleham. He, together with his late brother Will, has had at least one horse with us every year since we moved to the Dales and they bred every one of them themselves. Now he is onto his last, Final.

Chris and Will never had any racing channels on their television and preferred not to travel outside Yorkshire to see their horses run. They liked to pop into Thirsk and watch it in the bookies – Chris still does – and I know to allow twenty minutes before phoning with a post-race report. No mobiles for Chris.

Those telephone conversations are always pleasant and, thankfully, I have had the pleasure of reporting on countless places and wins: the Greensits have been remarkably successful breeders considering that they have only, as far as I am aware, had two mares and, like their owners, they preferred not to travel too far from home to visit the stallion. Up the road to Andrew Spalding’s was the most common route.

Visits to the yard are fairly infrequent and most discussions about the horses have been over the telephone – we all know we can catch Chris at lunchtime when he is in from the fields. And, as with the reports from the races, those calls are always a pleasure: short but sweet. Chris takes all news, good and bad, with equanimity and, at the worst of times, he has reassured me with, ‘aye lad, where there’s livestock, there’s dead stock’. And, make no mistake, that was not a callous man talking. That is wisdom from a long lifetime of working with, and caring for, animals.

I was reminded of Chris’s words recently when, on Hogmanay, Kirsten Rausing sent an e mail to say that her very useful filly, Accordance, on a winter break at her owner’s stud in Newmarket, had been found refluxing stomach contents and had been admitted to Newmarket Equine Hospital with suspected Grass Sickness. We all immediately knew what the most likely outcome would be and, despite having been rushed into intensive care at the first signs, Accordance died a few days later. Kirsten was devastated. We all were. It is such a shock when a racehorse, in its prime, having run five times as a 2yo in 2018, winning and placed at Pattern level, dies when it is having a break in the lowest risk conditions of all – grazing in the safest of paddocks. But it happens, it is not unusual, and Chris Greensit would simply accept it, when it came, as the one inevitability that goes with living.

We could, and should, all learn from people like Chris Greensit. We are being bombarded, of late, with discussions in the media, and even in parliament, about racehorse welfare. We are told we must change the way we treat horses because the public don’t like it. Many amongst those that govern our sport openly say that public perception of horse welfare is more important, because it is a bigger threat to our industry, than horse welfare itself. And yet they will be the first to admit that that public is more removed from life with horses, and life with animals in general, than man has ever been. The majority do not want to see horses get injured on the racetrack, and they certainly don’t  want to see them dying, but they haven’t even considered the possibility of them dying as poor Accordance died, at less than three years of age. Their’s is what I like to call ‘the Paul McCartney attitude to animal welfare’ – they sing songs about lambs playing in fields but refuse to consider that, if nobody eats them, they won’t be there at all. I cannot accept racing’s current approach to this issue. These people need a sharp lesson in reality, a lesson on the facts of life and death.

 

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