"I love May! Last night, my friend Hilary Miles arrived to stay. Hilary is going to look after my horse, Pie, on the tour - those white legs take a lot of keeping clean! With Katie Gormley and Rosie Jones here too, it felt just like Pony Club Camp as we ran through our various ideas about what `our boys' should do on tour. I must say, Rosie's doing some amazing things with Caesar now. After Pie's Royal Windsor win this month, I'm not sure if he thinks he should just `make an appearance' and then hang out to sign a few autographs!
As usual, I'm paranoid about the safety and comfort of the boys on the trip. Colic can be a worry when travelling and I've got some good tips from Monty [Roberts] - giving them electrolytes and not letting them pick at strange grass comes to mind. Luckily Hilary, a former veterinary nurse, feels just as strongly about things as Monty and I do, and she emailed me some helpful advice before she arrived:
Had a chat with my vet as promised yesterday, and he suggested putting Pie onto probiotics. Protexin is the best – either the paste or the granules. They both work well but I would take granules for travelling. He needs to be on the level recommended for stress.
The probiotics along with the electrolytes should keep him comfortable if it is only a gassy colic.
I will bring my nursing kit with me (super stethoscope to listen to gut sounds, etc) and Ben, the vet, said he would be happy to be on the end of the phone while we’re away for advice.
See you soon.
Love Hilary xx"
I think this should just about cover things - you would think we were travelling to Japan or something. The longest journed is only four hours, but it's better to be safe than sorry."
Howard was surprised by some of the handlers at Burghley
“We took a team of dogs to the Living Heritage Country Fair at Burghley this weekend. One of the demonstration arenas that we ‘worked’ was situated with Burghley House as a backdrop - a truly spectacular house, which made me feel a little insignificant as I attempted to hold the concentration of an audience against this imposing building.
We ran training classes throughout the weekend and got to see every breed type you could imagine ranging from a pug to an American bulldog. Interestingly, the pug came in to do one of our assessments and was just amazing. The lady owner was an extremely competent dog handler and gave us what really was an obedience demonstration.
Watching a tiny little pug, which are not the breed you would normally expect to deliver such a high class performance, was proof that with patience and the correct handling skills almost anything can be achieved. My hat goes off to that lovely lady and it goes without saying that they gained a Distinction in the assessment.
Another gentleman that broke the stereotype came in with the physique of a power lifter accompanied by the tiniest of terrier puppies. To be honest, I expected a heavy handed approach to his dog handling, but was wrong again. He was sensitive, gentle, precise, superb, unexpected and a pleasure to watch.
Changing the subject altogether, I have been working with a gentleman and his working cocker spaniel, Sky, for about four months. Basic obedience, retrieving and hunting have gone extremely well and, following a couple of weeks hunting over heavily scented ‘rabbit ground’, we decided to give Sky her first retrieve on cold game. We have spent time using canvas dummies, tennis balls and fur covered dummies to ensure that she experienced as many textures ,shapes and sizes as possible in preparation for the move up to game.
For some dogs, this transition is very straight forward and in their excitement to retrieve they simply rush out and pick up whatever they are sent for. We choose a small rabbit for Sky and she rushed out to collect it, took one sniff and rushed back to her handler.
This is not unusual and if you experience this small technical hitch just stay calm, encourage the dog by baiting them with it and just throw the retrieve a short distance, gently encouraging the dog to retrieve. As expected, Sky nuzzled and sniffed but after several attempts picked up the rabbit and brought it back to her really pleased handler, who took another step towards Sky becoming the shooting companion of his dreams.”
"At the Cotswold Farm Park, shearing is well under way. The price of wool is still very low and often doesn’t cover the cost of employing contractors to shear the sheep. We are lucky enough to have a number of rare breeds and their wool is highly valued by spinners and weavers. We also shear all our sheep ourselves, as one of our seasonal demonstrations, in front of school groups and the general public. This helps to educate them about the history of wool, its uses and the various shearing techniques.
Wool is a fantastic natural, sustainable fibre with brilliant qualities. It is such a shame that it commands such a low price. Prince Charles has recently begun to champion wool, calling for processors to pay a price that recognises its true value. Well done him!"
“This week has been sheepish.
Jura, our third Ryeland ewe, gave birth to a ewe lamb on Monday night. It’s our only ewe lamb, after the two tup lambs, so our plan is to retain her in our small flock. She has been named Lyra. She and mum seem to be doing fine and she’s very perky – more so than the boys, I think, but I may be biased.
I’ve been collecting poo samples from the sheep so that we can have worm egg counts done. We want to use the minimum of chemicals here, so rather than routinely worm, we have regular analysis done of the sheep’s poo to see what the worm burden is. If it gets too high, then we will worm. I also use a herbal wormer once a month. The land that they went on to in 2007 hadn’t had sheep on it for seven years and our ewes were wormed prior to us getting them, so the initial worm burden should have been low – the aim is to keep it that way.
We don’t have a lot of land and four ewes will be about our maximum. It also means we have to manage what grazing we have. It was stressing me a bit, but I now have a grazing plan that, if it works in practice, should allow each parcel of land to rest and recover for six months of the year.
I had to buy sheep tags for the first time this week. Our new lambs will need to be individually identified, with a tag in each ear. The legislative burden on farmers grows yearly.
Although we try to restrict chemical inputs, we have decided to routinely treat all our sheep against clostridial diseases, such as tetanus. So little Bud and Dickie got their first injection this week; a second will be administered in six weeks. It’s then an annual booster, if they are still around.
Next sheep tasks are applying the tags; registering the two lambs we are retaining and organizing shearing.
We’ve also been busy in the vegetable garden. All the beans that we started in the greenhouse – broad beans, runner beans and dwarf French beans – plus the peas, have been planted out. The cabbages and sweetcorn aren’t quite ready.
We have to net everything to prevent hen damage. We’ve constructed new covers with alkathene pipe supports that are much more robust that our previous efforts – but they are very blue. Our plan for winter is to construct a higher fence round the vegetable garden to exclude the hens during the growing season.”
“Last week began with lots of schooling and lessons with John Thelwall, as well as doing a bit of teaching myself. On Wednesday, I rode a couple of horses before leaving for Towerlands with Dave (Mightaswell), Beanie (Breeze IV), Harry (Azeb) and Joe (Jorrocks Curtis). The horses jumped fantastically; Dave was second in the Discovery and fifth in the Newcomers with four clear rounds! Harry jumped very well but was a little strong, so we jumped several rounds, which really helped. Joe jumped his best rounds ever and jumped clear in the 1.15. Beanie jumped beautifully and only had one pole down in the jump off of the Foxhunter. A very productive day!
On Thursday, I rode before leaving for Houghton Hall with Jasper (Tankers Town) and Bruno (Ultimate Opposition) to do the 3* test and jumping. I thought it was a great way to practice for Bramham, as it was in the main arena and had the necessary atmosphere. Bruno was a little strong and a bit tight occasionally, but generally produced a very nice test. I have been trying a different warm up and regime at home with Jasper, which has proved to work brilliantly as he did a superb test and was awarded a 37; not bad as he received all eights and some nines – a test like that at Bramham would be ideal. They both show jumped clear, so Jasper won and Bruno was eighth. I took Jasper over to the start box and played with that for a while; hopefully we'll sort his issue out quite easily. Back home at 9pm, and once again a very productive day!
On Friday, I had an early start and I schooled Bob (Good Sport II) before leaving for the gallops. I am very excited about Bob; I’ve started jumping him again now and so will enter an event with him soon. I went to the Links with a lorry load: Bruno (Ultimate Opposition), Kenny (Kenny), Dave (Mightaswell), Joe (Jorrocks Curtis) and Beanie (Breeze IV). I galloped the Bramham boys together – they all went well and then I took the other three horses up the track twice.
I had a lovely weekend and celebrated my mother’s birthday and, as I didn’t have an event, I spent the rest of it catching up with family and friends – something I particularly enjoy, as it’s a great way to relax and spend time.”
“Today, I rang Morris at UK Game to see if they can supply me with 120 wild rabbits because they’re on my students’ exam menus. 60 are to be used for a stuffed saddle of rabbit dish, filled with a chicken and pistachio mousse and wrapped in pancetta and served with a Dijon and tarragon Sauce. This recipe is for my level three part-time students. The other rabbits will go to the second year full-time students, as they have a ballontine of rabbit, filled with a chicken and herb mousse dish to prepare.
It’s good to see dishes like this on our exam papers as it shows that the college, exam boards and the students are well versed in game as a commodity. This has much to do with a surge in the popularity of game.
Lots of people eat in pubs and restaurants around the country regularly. This has exposed us to new and exciting ingredients from all over the world. We tasted it, liked it and then looked for it in our supermarkets. The reason that some of these ingredients were stocked was because of the hard work of organisations and campaigns that promoted them.
The Game to Eat campaign was one of the first to promote game to chefs, restaurants and pubs. We tasted it, liked it and then looked for it in our supermarkets. Game to Eat broadened chefs’ horizons and gave them an understanding of a product that many had misunderstood.
I became involved with Game to Eat in 2004 by doing a demonstration to the press. Since then, I’ve done countless demos and training days for them all over the country. They have worked hard to promote game and to make people aware of it as a viable commodity. UK Game took the next step and made this fantastic ingredient available to us all through the supermarkets.
UK Game and some of the other leading game dealers in this country have worked to improve the quality and handling of game and made it appealing and attainable. Both groups have done wonders for British game and dispelled many of the misconceptions people have had over the years.
This year, I’ll be demonstrating at various fairs across the country and I hope to enlighten even more people about the versatility of game and the easy ways to make it a more common feature on our menus.”
“I’ve just broken a PB – a personal best for the uninitiated. A tench caught at 10.30 in the morning, at fifteen yards range on a maggot feeder on the Kingfisher Lake, Norfolk. A magnificent fish. A wonderful moment. Made even better because close friend, John Gilman, also landed his own PB tench just seconds afterwards – eight pounds eight ounces.
Unless you’re a fisherman you can hardly guess the euphoria such catches induce. It’s three hours after the event now, and I’m still walking on air. I’m still reliving the sight of the buzzer blaring, the rod hooping, these great mahogany fish fighting in the crystal clear water, their flanks picked out by the sunshine.
This is why fishing is so magnificent. At the end of the day, there’s no thrill like it and unless you’re a fisherman you just won’t get it. But there are two million who understand completely!”
"This week began with an early start; I had all the horses to work that I hadn’t ridden while I was at Badminton. I worked my way through all of them, which took all day while my lorry was delivered to the mechanics – hopefully she’ll be back soon!
Tuesday was a really good day. At 9.30am the Horse & Country team arrived – a producer, sound engineer and cameraman/director, all of whom were very friendly and professional. I have predominantly experienced TV interviews relating to the World Games and the Olympics, so this was a little new as they were asking me about eventing and my experiences in much broader terms. I had a great day and really enjoyed it. It takes a little while to warm up to the camera, but once I was used to it the whole situation felt very natural.
I schooled Harry (Azeb), who was a little strong as he is not used to the camera, but it was great experience for him and the others – Kenny and Romeo (Romeo Z), both of whom demonstrated some grid work for the camera. The H&C team was extremely helpful and brilliant at giving direction and I am very pleased to be involved. H&C is such an excellent channel.
On Thursday, I was up at 6:15am and left for Aston-le-Walls in a borrowed lorry (thank you, Jim Ratcliffe!) with Romeo (Romeo X) in the Novice and Kenny (Kenny), Beanie (Breeze IV) and Dave (Mightaswell) in the Intermediate. We arrived at a very firm Aston, but they watered the course and I was surprised at how effective it was later on in the day. We also show jumped on a surface – great idea, and it saves any jarring. Romeo did a very good test, 29 and clear show jumping but I withdrew him from the XC as he was running early in the day and the going was still pretty firm.
The others did good tests, so this was promising. Kenny and Beanie both had one down during the show jumping and went clear XC – I didn’t go too fast as it was still pretty firm by the time they ran. Dave had a runout at a big triple brush arrowhead – something we can work on in the school. The day was very good except for the queue at the show jumping. The poor steward (who often has a thankless task!) had got in a muddle and by the time my three horses had jumped, it was 6:15pm and I didn’t XC the last horse until 7:20pm! We were so lucky that the rain held off and the light remained good enough.
The next day I was up early for lessons with John Thelwell; I enjoy new ideas and methods of training – the horses went well and I've plenty to work on. I then had a radio interview for BBC Radio Suffolk – they were asking me about Badminton and my future plans.
The weekend was marked by disappointment for me with Chatsworth unfortunately being cancelled due to rain. I really felt for the organisers after all their hard work – the weather can be so cruel! I decided to make a virtue out of my new-found free time and stopped at the gallops on the way home. Jasper (Tankers Town) felt very good – I am still deciding where to take him for a three day – and Bruno (Ultimate Opposition) was great and is feeling fit for Bramham."
The Druidstone Inn's romantic views attract couples
"The story goes that a famous celebrity was staying at the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong when he saw a sign proclaiming it the ‘Best Hotel in the World.’ Affronted by such gall, he walked up to the manager and said that this simply was not true, saying that: “The Druidstone in Wales has that title.”
True or not, there can be no doubt that if you are lucky enough to get a room and dinner reservation a the Druidstone, you will be transported to a different and much more pleasurable world.
To say it is difficult to get a room here is an understatement. People in the know book years ahead and will often plan their lives around room availability. To prove a point, my sister, lyrically named Corisande, allegedly planned her three children’s births so as not to miss their booked summer window. That said, if you are persistent and flexible you will get in. And it's worth it.
There are three very good reasons it is worth all the effort to get in. First, is the location with its view of the coast. The hotel is perched on top of a cliff overlooking the sea and a picture perfect beach that is only reachable via a windy, flower bracketed path. Horses gallop along the sand and crystal clear water laps at the pitch black rocks. I could go on, but you really have to be there.
The second reason you must not miss a chance to visit is the food. With their own kitchen garden and friendly local fishermen, the menu is simple, pure and fantastic. Whether you are grabbing a fresh crab sandwich at the packed bar or sitting in the only slightly more formal dining room for local lamb, you will have nothing less than a great meal. Add to this an incredible breakfast choice that ranges from home baked ciabbatta with fresh tomato, great olive oil and basil to a truly heart-stopping full Welsh, as well as picnic lunches and you really start needing the walk down to the beach.
And the third reason to go to all the effort to plan a stay at the Druidstone is the hosts. The Inn has been family-run from inception. With the wonderful Jane at the helm, this is not your average Four Seasons - and thank God for that.
Punch in the postcode for Druidstone - SA62 3NE - into your Sat Nav and you will end up in the Irish Sea. Now that’s an Inn with confidence and that’s as good a recommendation as any I could give.
P.S. Well, I don’t know if it’s really the best hotel in the world, but it tops my list. Sorry, Mandarin Hong Kong.
Next week, the last in my Welsh trilogy of typecast-busting country inns: the Felin Fach Griffin. Weird name, great food and a romantic place for Mr and Mrs Smiths."
I made this dish up after a day out and it serves as the perfect warm finish to cold day’s hunting.
You can get chorizo from any supermarket; it is a paprika flavoured pork sausage from Spain that can be eaten as it is or be used as part of a dish. The nice thing about chorizo is that when you cook with it, it releases paprika flavoured oils into the food and gives it a slightly spicy flavour.
The union of rabbit and thyme was made in heaven, and in most Mediterranean countries rabbits feed on wild thyme. They naturally have a distinct thyme flavour.
British rabbits feed largely on grass and do not have such a flavour. Add tomatoes, garlic, a few potatoes and you have a real winter warmer. It’s best topped off with a glass of Rioja - an Ondarre Reserve or a Faustino would do well.
This recipe is for four people.
2 Rabbits skinned and jointed
500g Chorizo Sausage
1 Spanish Onion
2 Cloves of Garlic
2 Tins of Chopped Tomatoes
1 Chicken Stock Cube
1 Good Sprig of Thyme
1 Bay Leaf
3 or 4 Potatoes
1 Glass White wine
Salt / Pepper
Step one: Preheat oven to full.
Step two: Finely chop the onion and the garlic
Step three: Remove the skin from the chorizo and cut the sausage into slices, about 1cm thick.
Step four: Pull the thyme leaves off the sprigs.
Step five: Add some olive oil to a large pan and heat. Seal off the rabbit so that it appears cooked on the outside. Remove from the pan and leave to one side.
Step six: Add a little more oil to pan and turn the flame down.
Step seven: Sauté the onions and garlic for about one minute then add the chorizo, thyme leaves, thyme stork and a bay leaf. Cook for another three minutes. You will see the paprika oils come out of the sausage. Add the wine and allow to reduce by half.
Step eight: Once the wine has reduced, add the tomatoes and the stock cube dissolved in half a litre of boiling water.
Step nine: Add the rabbit and bring to boil, then turn down to simmer. Mean while peel the potatoes and slices of half a centimetre.
Step ten: Remove the thyme sprig and bay leaf from the rabbit and place into a deep ovenproof dish.
Step 11: Layer the potatoes on top, over-lapping in straight lines across the dish similar to the scales on a fish.
Step 12: Melt some butter and brush this over the potatoes before placing the dish into the oven and turning it down to a medium heat.
Step 13: Cook until the potatoes are golden brown and the rabbit is tender – this will take about two hours, depending on your oven.
Step 14: Serve with some boiled rice cooked in chicken stock.
Jose’s top tips:
Do not use a freshly caught rabbit of that day. Rabbits do well if they’re left gutted and skinned in the fridge for a day or two to relax the meat. If you do use a freshly caught one, the meat will be very tough and it will shrink to half its size.
When sealing the rabbit, just colour it on the outside. Do not try to cook it any further or it will become dry.
When placing the rabbit into your oven dish, add a little more stock if the liquid does not cover the rabbit. Remember, it is going to spend at least two hours in the oven and a lot of the liquid will evaporate in that time