9th January 2015

Happy New Year.

This is always a relatively quiet time of year for us but this year is exceptionally quiet. We have plenty horses in – just slightly down on this time last year – but the vast majority of those are two-year-olds and we only have a handful of horses for all-weather racing.

This morning, at our weekly managers’ meeting, when looking for our horses which are fit to run and win, as we do every week, there were only three possible runners in the next seven days and one of those is in Dubai. Compare that with January 2014, when we had 45 runners and 16 winners, and you will see that things are very different.

It should give me time to indulge my other passions of cycling and flying but the weather hasn’t really been conducive to either and my flying is normally associated with going racing. No runners, no need to use the plane.

It has meant that I have had more free time in the evenings and I have been able to get my unread e mails down to just under 50 (it normally sits around 100 and can reach 200 in mid season). I have also watched a little bit of television and caught up with the news.

I have been particularly saddened by the coverage of the crisis in the NHS. In my youth our Health Service was, by far, the envy of the world and there was no country you would rather be taken ill or injured in. Sadly, that is no longer the case. They still do a magnificent job and I have utmost admiration for the staff but they are suffering from desperate under-funding at a time when demand has never been greater.

I assume that demand is principally driven by the ageing population and changes the NHS structure which have driven more people to A&E who might previously have called their GP but there has also been a huge culture change and it is very evident in the racing industry. Working with horses, or any large animals, is a risky business and accidents and injuries are an unfortunate inevitability. But I cannot help but notice that the percentage of falls which result in an ambulance being called has increased exponentially in recent years.

Gone are the days when I would personally assess the extent of injuries and make a decision on whether a rider could be helped into the car and driven to the GP in Leyburn or to hospital. It wasn’t uncommon at all for us to deal with distal limb fractures in this way, if there were no other injuries. I myself was driven to the hospital in Catterick by our then secretary, Polly Saverey, with a complete fracture of my radius and ulna and my arm wrapped in a horse travelling boot.

Now, many relatively minor injuries result in a paramedic (we are very lucky in Middleham to have a paramedic service that is usually nearby), an ambulance, and a trip to hospital. Everyone is frightened of making the wrong decision, falling foul of Health & Safety rules, or facing litigation. It is ‘better to be safe than sorry’, of course, but this culture has gone too far. It is all very well to say that we shouldn’t take any risks and we should leave first-aid treatment to the professionals but, watching those over-stretched A&E departments on the news, I couldn’t help but wonder about those with truly life-threatening injuries or ailments who might have to wait for attention because health professionals are tied up elsewhere dealing with a sprained ankle.

Staff Area