They are the unsung heroes of racing. The stud and stable staff who look after the horses and keep the whole show on the road while the rest of us lounge in our armchairs watching Racing UK or reading the ‘Racing Post’.
Now is the time to reward those staff to give them a chance of following in the footsteps of Gemma Hogg, assistant trainer to Micky Hammond in Middleham, Yorkshire, who was crowned the employee of the year in the prestigious Godolphin Stud And Stable Staff Awards of 2016.
For nominations for the 2017 awards are open now until Wednesday November 16, so please get yours in by logging on to www.studandstablestaffawards.co.uk
Almost a year on, Gemma is still amazed at her achievement and has been talking to The Horse Comes First website about what it’s been like since she won, the importance of equine welfare, and the latest awards.
When she speaks of racehorses being “treated like royalty” and having “lots of kisses and cuddles” with them, it’s clear to see why her dedication deserved to land such a major prize.
Describing her win, she says; “It was amazing, a dream, and a shock.” In fact, it was amazing for the whole Hammond team because they had three finalists in total. Gemma’s sister, Becky Smith was nominated, along with stable groom and work rider Lauren Lucas. “It was a momentous occasion,” Gemma adds. “We all felt very honoured.”.
Gemma also picked up the leadership award and stayed the night in London after the awards ceremony -- before heading back up to Yorkshire in the morning, and straight into work at a race meeting at Wetherby.
Even now, she is receiving congratulations after being recognised in the local newspaper. She says: “One man stopped me in the Co-op and said how much his wife loved my dress on the night!”
Along with the prestige of the two titles, Gemma was presented with a cheque for a staggering £40,000 - £20,000 for her and £20,000 for her yard.
She hasn’t spent all of her money yet, but she’s treated her dad to a holiday, and is also planning to take her sister to New York for Christmas shopping, which she’s really looking forward to.
The £20,000 for the yard was shared out among her colleagues. So far, some have used their share to go on holidays themselves, while others have spent it on smaller things like new boots.
Gemma and sister Becky have worked together at Hammond’s yard for five years. “It’s really good,” she says. “We have a strong bond, even though we fight like cat and mouse!”
Gemma’s role means she has the privilege of getting to know each of the 65 horses at the Oakwood yard. The jumpers have just come back in, and her favourite is Skywards Reward, whom she describes as “the happiest horse in the world, and we have lots of kisses and cuddles”.
Equine welfare is “totally paramount” for Gemma and her team. She says “the horses are treated like royalty and get the best of everything”. She describes their horses as “so well-behaved and well-mannered, so it’s hard not to want the best for them.”
Even when horses aren’t in training with them anymore, Hammond and his team still love to know how they’re getting on. They are all extremely passionate about the rehoming, retraining and rehabilitation of ex-racehorses. One of their former runners, Tallulah, who raced eight times back in 2011 and 2012, is thriving in her new eventing career with Sarah Spence in Dundee.
Motafarred (‘Moto’) ran in 40 races during his time at Oakwood, and has now teamed up with Gemma’s colleague Tim Jones for a new career in cross-country. Other former runners are enjoying their retirement, such as Memory Cloth who is now a very happy hacker.
Looking forward to next year, the team would love to have a runner in the Grand National. The BHA’s chief executive Nick Rust is one of Hammond’s owners and they are working hard to secure his horse a spot in the Aintree race.
When asked what she would say to trainers who are thinking of nominating a member of their team for this year’s stud and stable staff awards, Gemma says: “it takes just a little bit of time and thought to convey why people deserve to be nominated, and it’s so worth it. You make someone feel so special, so worthy and amazing.”
She’s looking forward to the awards too because she’s going to be on the judging panel. “I’m so honoured and excited,” she says. “It’s going to be surreal being on the other side of the awards this year.”
Speaking about her job and the racing industry, she said: “If you’re a horse and racing lover, you should work in the industry. It’s a lovely industry, and there are so many options and avenues you can go down, from working in studs to training and working at racecourses. Racing is one of the biggest employers in the country. It’s a real team effort. I couldn’t have won a leadership award without my team.”