Skip to Content

WHICH job in racing should be ranked as the most pressurised?

01 December 2011

WHICH job in racing should be ranked as the most pressurised? Many a trainer's secretary will raise a claim to that one, citing the ever-present dread of missing an entry deadline. Farriers, too, must be close to the top candidates. Surely theirs is the most stressful job of all when it comes to nailing racing plates to a big-race favourite whose behaviour is between fractious and psychopathic.

I asked various horse owners around Lambourn and its environs for suggestions as to a suitable farrier I could approach to interview about the profession. One of the recurrent names forwarded was that of Ben Elcock. He runs his own business from a mobile forge with a clientele that includes Mikael Magnusson, Heather Main and a band of international event riders and show jumpers.

From the age of nine when watching his pony being shod, Elcock was set on making his living as a farrier. Now 31, he speaks with enthusiasm and passion about the vocation.

Born in Burnley, he served the statutory near five-year apprenticeship in Lambourn at Gary Pickford's Chapel Forge Farriers, renowned as one of the best and most disciplined training academies in Europe.

He confirms his occupation is not without its stresses and hazards. "If you're an eighth of an inch wrong when shoeing, the horse can be lame for a week. Do the same when putting on the aluminium shoe for a race and you're in big trouble. Incidents do happen, but it's imperative to be 100 per cent accurate and never to let the concentration lapse."

Danger of a wounding kick is heightened when dealing with thoroughbreds. Asked if he had been felled, he laughs. "It's a bit embarrassing really. The only time I got caught was by an elderly broodmare. Something spooked her. She kicked out and broke two of my ribs."

It is not a fear of such risks that will occasionally keephim awake at night. "Generally that happens when there's a problem with a horse's foot that needs to be resolved. Most people assume that all four feet are uniform. That's not always the case. All four can be dissimilar and therefore require a different approach."

In the summer Elcock's day can start at 5.30am and not finish until 14 hours later. He likes to be at a yard before first lot pulls out. The profession is not only well paid but, in his eyes, it offers immense job satisfaction. His winters tend to be marginally quieter and when possible he will snatch a day's hunting with the Old Berks. He has two hunters. One of them, O Cinza, is a 13-year-old grey who was excruciatingly sedate in three runs for Henrietta Knight and Brendan Powell. O Cinza is, however, a star scholar in the Retraining of Racehorses programme. He excels in team chasing competitions under Elcock and aptly fits the organisation's slogan 'Trained to run, retrained for fun'.

O Cinza's 15 minutes of fame came when he led RoR's competition for hunters over a section of Cheltenham's cross-country course. "We'd slipped down the table by the end and got beaten by four girl riders, but I put my arms around his neck and told him 'Well done old boy, not too many are good enough to finish in the first five at Cheltenham'. He's slow but as brave as a lion. I'm a huge fan of the RoR scheme because there are countless stories similar to O Cinza's."

Elcock says that, while few of the fundamentals of a farrier's trade have changed over 50 years, apart from the occasional 'fashion' diversion to the likes of acrylic and stick-on shoes, more women are joining the profession. "I believe there are now more girl apprentices than ever before."

Having started this column by querying which job is the most pressurised it is sensible to end with the reverse. Which job carries the least stress? An owner's racing manager? A racecourse chief executive? A bloodstock agent? One other racing profession springs readily to mind, but mercifully we've no space remaining to discuss it here. Too close to home.

Back to Case Studies