We caught up with Joe Grimwade who talks about the work he has done as RoR Yard and Public Engagement Manager before he moved onto pastures new.
We are extremely grateful to Joe for setting up the new flagship yard for RoR in the Rothschild Yard. The yard had not seen regular activity since Bruce Hobbs left at the end of the 1985 flat season.Everyone at the National Heritage Centre wishes him all the very best in his new venture.
What were your first impressions of the National Heritage Centre when you arrived?
I was staggered by how much had been done and the quality of all the work; the last time I had visited, it was sad and derelict and now it was energised and stunning - what a difference!
What have you enjoyed most about your time here?
There were several days which were particularly memorable. Through July and August, we had been bringing in horses for specific days - press visits and the like - and it felt like a big step forward when the first residents arrived in September - Walkon, Our Vic and Angelic Upstart. For the Newmarket Open Weekend, we had African Story, Papineau and Prince Bishop staying from Godolphin making 5 Group or Grade One winners in the yard; there aren't many yards which could do that! Ray Ward arrived in October as our first horse for re-training and that was when it felt like we were starting to piece everything together. As things started to fall in place - it was hugely rewarding to find that visitors found the RoR story as compelling as I knew it was; the way that the visitors responded to the horses - and the horses responded to the visitors was, at times, both humbling and heart warming.
How have you found working at the home of horseracing?
Newmarket is the historic centre of the racing world - but much more than that, because it remains a centre of excellence not only for its racing but everything which surrounds it - the training facilities, the studs, the research facilities, the veterinary hospitals, Tattersalls and so much more. The National Horseracing Museum had done a great job with limited resources - but the town needed a dedicated attraction for visitors which could tell horseracing's amazing story. It was a great pleasure to return to a town which was our home for so long and to catch up with many friends but it was a huge privilege to play a small part in such an important development for Newmarket.
How would you describe a typical day in the Rothschild Yard?
I would normally arrive at about 7:20am; Sue starts at 7am - feeding and mucking out - so I was normally welcomed by a full barrow to empty! We aimed to have all the horses exercised on the walker, boxes cleaned, hayed and watered and the yards tidied by 9am; it was much easier on the days when we were lucky enough to have a kind volunteer. Next job was to try to catch up on e-mails and office work; not too bad when the computer in the yard functioned but often requiring a walk to the office in the old museum. Depending on how many horses needed exercise in the Arena, I was normally back in the yard by 10:30am - either to help with the demonstration or to supervise the yard. Throughout the day, we tried to keep the stables clean and rotate the horses in the paddock or the pen; attempts to keep the horses clean were normally frustrated by their desire to roll as soon as we had finished! There was also a steady stream of visitors to the yard and we brought out the horses to "meet & greet". In addition to the afternoon demonstration, all the horses go back on the walker - droppings are picked from the paddocks, boxes are set fair, haynets filled, water troughs cleaned and filled, and the horses are fed. About once a week, I harrowed the Arena and took the muck trailer to Tattersalls for emptying. That would normally leave some time for office work before I checked the horses, tidied beds and topped up waters before finishing at 5:30pm; Sue, assisted by the wonderful Mick, repeated the process at around 9pm.
What do you think of the facilities we have here at the National Heritage Centre in particular those relating to RoR?
We always knew that the paddock would be a limiting factor - but it was an interesting challenge to manage it. The stables have "unusual" features - most notably the doors opening inwards - but they are stunning; the passive ventilation system - backed by carefully counterweighted windows and adjustable wall vents - demonstrated the knowledge and craftsmanship of the early 1900's. There was also a huge amount of skill invested in re-instating the stables - they looked amazing.
The Peter O'Sullevan Arena is just brilliant and becoming increasing popular with local riders both for clinics and for private use. The Peter O'Sullevan Trust supports many fantastic projects and I hope that this one will be particularly effective to showcase their wonderful work as well as that of RoR.
The work you do must give you so much pleasure, how has it evolved since you started?
There is still plenty of room for improvement - but we seem to be making great progress in every department. Sue and Jess - supported by our amazing volunteers - have become a great team and the whole process is settling into an efficient programme. We have stretched ourselves at times - most notably when we had 5 horses being actively retrained - and we are finding our limits and our potential. One area which will develop with time is being recognised as a "go to" place for people looking to rehome an ex-racehorse and we are already developing the interest in RoR.
How do you think the twice daily demonstrations/ clinics and exhibitions in the Peter O'Sullevan Arena help the visitor experience?
The horses play their part just by being there - meeting and greeting the public; but RoR adds a whole new dimension. Watching horses going through the process of retraining - with a real potential outcome - is a key part both of explaining the challenges (to horse and handler) as well as demonstrating how willing, versatile and rewarding these horses can be. RoR is a fantastic story to tell - people love to hear about it and, on many occasions, are truly amazed; we are getting rid of myths and misconceptions.
Which famous visitors have come to see you at the Heritage Centre?
I was hugely lucky to have considerable access to The Queen when I managed The Royal Studs - so it was appropriate to take a back seat when she officially opened the Heritage Centre; it was, however, a very special day and I was re-united with 3 equine friends in Barber's Shop, Princes Trust and Quadrille. It is always a great pleasure to see the Balding family - Lady Emma, Clare and Ian have all been great supporters of RoR and, at various times, great friends to me. Frankie Dettori always seems to bring a ray of sunshine with him - Sir Michael Stoute, Derek Thompson, Bob Champion, Lester Piggott, Tony Morris - and so many more people who have made particular contributions to the wonderful world of horseracing.
Aside from your own role what else do you like about the Heritage Centre?
I suspect that anybody who looks around the Centre will be amazed, amused, challenged, inspired and touched - if they try the equiciser, they could be sore too! It is hard to pick one highlight and the strength of the Centre is the huge variety but consistent quality on offer; I loved every aspect of it - and not just the displays but the whole environment.
What will you miss most and will you come back to see us?
That is an easy one - the horses and the people (not always in that order); there is no doubt that I will be back.
And what will I miss least - the yard's computer which was about as reliable as April showers.
Where are going to work when you leave us on 16th May?
I was very lucky to be asked to become Director of Carisbrooke Stud - a new breeding operation owned by Yvonne Jacques who is a highly successful business woman with a real passion for horses and racing - inspirational, ambitious and used to success! She already owns quality mares - and next year we hope to have foals by Dark Angel, Exceed & Excel, Frankel, Oasis Dream and others. She also has well bred fillies by Dansili, Galileo, Lawman, Pivotal, Sea The Stars and others which we hope to retire to stud in the future in addition to a further purchases by Cathy Grassick. The operation will be based on the site previously known as Raffin Stud, between Lambourn and Hungerford, which is being substantially upgraded. It is another very exciting project!