A visit to Westerlands Stud in Graffham
PUBLISHED: 11:16 02 August 2016 | UPDATED: 11:16 02 August 2016
Copyright: 2014 Christopher Sutherland all Rights Reserved
Westerlands Stud, a family business near Petworth, is producing top tier thoroughbreds from an historic Victorian yard. Jenny Mark-Bell spoke to managing director Antonia Jamison
For Antonia Jamison, managing director of Westerlands Stud, Graffham, horses are in the blood. She moved to the estate with her family at the age of nine and remembers going to tea with the former owner, Mrs Florence Nagle, who still lived on a cottage on site.
Mrs Nagle was a formidable woman and a feminist. A passionate race-goer and breeder, she bought the stud from Lord Woolavington, who had founded it in 1904. Mrs Nagle couldn’t train under her own name because the Jockey Club did not accept female trainers at the time, so she campaigned all the way to the Court of Appeal and won, becoming one of the first women to hold a training licence in 1966.
For Antonia, working in what is still a male-dominated industry, Mrs Nagle was something of an inspiration. Too young at the time to know the value of the older woman’s advice, Antonia believes she nevertheless absorbed it subconsciously: they share an enthusiasm for doing things naturally. “She was already harvesting rainwater in the 1940s, and she was thinking already about natural remedies that could be incorporated into their feed, or indeed if they had some sort of small infection. Some of the things that top trainers are doing today, she was already thinking about them.”
In her varied career to date, Antonia has exhibited an enthusiasm for sustainability and working with nature: from her first role at The Body Shop through a spell in private equity and beyond to launching British gins (she was founding director of the prestigious young brand Sipsmith).
So when she came home to Westerlands five years ago with husband and co-director Oliver and their two daughters Lily and Rose (11 and 10), Antonia knew she wanted to employ natural methods. “I looked at things like bone density, colustrum levels (‘first’ breast milk) and also how many times we were having to do plasma transfusions, that sort of thing.
“Also how they were being received by the trainers they would then go onto and what their feedback was. I wanted the horses to be out more so I did a lot of soil testing to see that what was growing there would produce the right mix of herbage. You have strategies for mares as individuals.
“They need the strength and tenacity to cope with flat-racing, which is quite a rigorous thing.”
The horses share the landscape with a small herd of Dexter cattle and Suffolk sheep: “We rotate them around the pastures which improves the pasture because they all graze differently.”
The estate is just under 1,000 acres of which about 400 acres is grass and the balance is woodland over the South Downs. Such a large site has its complications including the different characteristics of the soil – they have chalk, sand and clay. But that also gives them an advantage – being able to turn the horses out on sandy land in winter is a huge benefit. The chalk downland at the top of the estate is notable as a wildlife corridor and the Duke of Burgundy butterfly has recolonised an area – Antonia is a trustee of Graffham Grassland Trust and the stud works closely with the South Downs National Park and Natural England to ensure the health of the land.
The horses you see in the pictures are famous in their own right: Aimigayle, a legendary National Hunt mare, even had her own fan club. Another mare, Framed, is the last descendant of the stud’s foundation family, Zoom Lens Photo Flash. Framed’s sire was Elnadim, who was related to Fall Aspen, a legendary mare who produced ten Group 1 winners and won the Kentucky Breeders’ Prize.
In these horses genetic legacy is all-important and it can take generations to breed a winner – which means the stakes are high, as years of careful husbandry can be wiped out in an instant: “Thoroughbreds are highly charged animals and things can go wrong, and when they go wrong it goes wrong badly. You could ring me tomorrow and ask me the same question about my stars of the future and I might have to tell you my star’s died. And you can’t replace it – you’ve been nurturing these bloodlines for generations.”
For the same reason, Antonia says she finds sales difficult and nerve-wracking. “Because these are your babies, you’re handing them over to someone else and you don’t know how they’re going to be taken care of. That is not easy and a lot of women in the industry find it very difficult. It’s a very male-dominated industry still – though I’ve met some great women in it – but it’s not easy because the women in it are very nurturing of the progeny they are breeding. They are sharp and intuitive and clever and strong and they do very well, but it’s a daunting process for somebody that really loves the animal.”
Luckily for Aimigayle, Framed and their fellow brood mares, this really is a family business.
Westerlands Stud, Graffham, Petworth, West Sussex GU28 0QJ; 01798 867644 westerlands.com