It’s not often you get a chance to spend a day with one of Britain’s top show jumpers and this was one assignment that my wife would not let me turn down: a day at Tim Stockdale’s yard, located in Northampton.
Tim kindly gave us permission to roam around wherever we wished, unaccompanied, weighed down with our cameras. “I don’t usually do this as a rule, but I do like your magazine and I trust you,” he said as we arrived.
Tim’s day had already begun and we found him hard at work in the outdoor school, training top Irish show jumper Melanie Davidson, who had travelled from Dublin with four of her best horses and a groom.
“It’s quite rare that I do these sessions,” he says, “but I had some time in my schedule, so I could fit this in. Really my job this week is to train the horses, not necessarily the rider, but if I see Melanie do something wrong, of course I will tell her, but that’s not likely as she is a very competent rider.”
Does Tim enjoy doing this type of work? “Yes, but I wouldn’t like to do it full time, I only enjoy training riders who are near the top. I have a filtering system in place to make sure both the horses and riders are at a certain level before I agree to work with them. They must have won some top shows for me to be interested. I’m not here to teach people to ride; I am here to take already successful horses and riders to the next level. Refinement is the word. It would be my worst nightmare to give riding lessons all day on horses that would not move even if you lit a bonfire underneath them.”
One thing Tim’s certainly not, is a Prima Donna. While he was training Melanie, he barely took time for a cup of tea, and he stuck to a strict half hour lunch. “I feel that I must give people their money’s worth,” he says. “Melanie is a lovely lady and has travelled all the way from Ireland with four of her top horses, and that’s not cheap to do, so I feel that she deserves 100% commitment from me. I don’t mind putting in the time for good riders and horses, both the horse and the rider deserve it, they’ve worked very hard to get where they are.”
We asked Melanie why she trains with Tim when their must be an equivalent trainer in Ireland? “I’m not saying that there are no good horse people in Ireland, but the benefit of training with Tim is that he goes that extra mile in explaining things. He doesn’t just tell you, he explains what is happening and how to correct it. That to me makes a big difference, and it’s well worth travelling all this way. When I go back to Ireland, the horses go so much better and I have gained invaluable knowledge.” So, does Melanie share the tips that Tim gives her with her friends? “Of course I do,” she laughs. “It’s not that competitive and I feel it’s only fair to help my friends out.” she adds.
Walking around Tim’s yard was an experience in itself. Over the years, Tim has extended the facilities and strongly believes in an immaculate yard, in fact, a spotless yard. We could have walked around with bare feet it was so clean. “To me this is very important; I have people who turn up to visit their horses that are very smartly dressed and driving very expensive cars. The last thing they want to do is put on a pair of wellies and walk through horse s**t everywhere. Also, I have horses in the yard like Fresh Direct Corlato who’s probably worth a million pounds and the last thing the owner would want to see is an untidy yard, it doesn’t reflect well at all,” Tim explains in his usual direct manner.
Dovecote, Tim’s property, was not an easy purchase; it took a lot of negotiation as the main property had another cottage and land attached to it. “We spent months negotiating. I wanted to buy just the main house and some of the land, but the owner didn’t want to split the properties. He finally agreed to split, right up until we were due to exchange, and then he decided he wanted to sell the whole lot. “At this late stage I had to pull out because, in those days, I could not afford his asking price. In the end I managed to do a back to back sale on the other cottage and land to ensure the sale went through, albeit by the skin of its teeth.”
Since Tim has been in Dovecote, he has spent a lot of money re-furbishing it and now the property has full size indoor and outdoor schools, a horse walker, a washroom for the horses, a shoeing area, and over 25 first class stables. In addition, he has acres of paddocks all with post and rail/electric fencing and several outbuildings and barns. It’s now without question The Hilton for horses.
“Running costs for the yard are about. £4,000 a week, which is no small amount, and if I was not Tim Stockdale it would be hard to make ends meet. I feel sorry for people who run yards nowadays as there is very little money in it, and if you break a leg you could be out of business within a month.
“I’m no fool, though and I know that I am very lucky to be in the position I’m in today where I can demand good fees, but I have worked hard to get myself into this position. I have to continue the hard work every day with my technique and horses to maintain my position, if I don’t, I’m not that foolish to think I couldn’t lose it all.”