It all started in a small Dutch field not far from her home. That is where Liz Barclay as a four-year old preferred to spend her time dreaming of riding a little fat Shetland. It became the red thread through her life. Her love for horses together with her dedication made her into the trainer and dressage rider she is, today. She is versatile and inventive and likes a challenge; whether it is a technical training question, a confidence issue or a problem involving the management of the horse or pony. The mix of working with all ages and also her interest in all aspects of riding, including `hacking a horse in a friendly and balanced manner’ keep her fresh and motivated.
LORNA WILSON OF ELITE STALLIONS; A SPECIAL HORSE WOMAN WITH A VISION
Three years ago, at the stallion show in Den Bosch, I heard two ladies talking to each other in English. One of those ladies was Lorna Wilson from Devon. I went over to have a chat and Lorna told me enough to know that this was someone with a strong vision and an enormous desire to learn from the Dutch and German studbooks how to tackle her own breeding program.
This young woman intrigued me, so I asked her if I could come and visit sometime. "Sure, just let me know."
A few weeks ago, on a glorious autumn day, I finally made it. After having been hopelessly lost, I drove into the yard of Newton Stud, also the home to the semen agency Elite Stallions. A company she bought several years ago and gives her access to the semen of hundreds of stallions, the creme de la creme, throughout Europe.
I couldn’t believe my eyes! This looked like a stud farm, the kind I have only seen in the Netherlands. The only thing that gave away we were in Devon was the hilly landscape.
FROM SURVEYOR TO HORSE BREEDING
My gut feeling was correct. Lorna Wilson has an extremely good set of brains, and, likes to use them. She started her professional life as a surveyor. When I asked her whether she rode, she was not overly enthousiastic about her own riding skills. Does not ride anymore. All she wanted to do was breed, so in 2001 she bought the broodmare Nicole (Indoctro X Pion) out of whom she bred a number of foals. Three became Grand Prix.
17 Years later I am at a stud of about 500 acres, 'how much exactly, I really don’t know', says Lorna with a chuckle. The yard filled with a stable complex and endless airy and safe loose-boxes, feeling peaceful and happy.
Lorna bought the business name Elite Stallions from the previous owners in 2014, for whom she had already been working. This was a huge step, but a very good one. It catapulted the company in a growing spurt, continuing to this day.
THREE TIMES AMISS
I parked my car next to a trailer, which also just arrived. A tidy lady with a perky blonde ponytail was as relieved as I was that we had found Lorna, having been lost as well. This lady came to collect a mare from her daughter, who is now working abroad. That phase for mothers, when the children have left, but mummy must still pick up the pieces that are left behind.
After three misses at the local veterinarian, the family had brought the mare to Newton Stud, where it appeared that the mare had an infection in her uterus. Equine veterinarian, Irma Rosati from Italy, was successful in clearing the infection and the idea was that the mare would now go home and come back in the spring for insemination.
I am fully responsible for what happened next. When the nice lady started to talk about foaling at home, it just popped out, 'do it here, safest option’. Lorna had to laugh; I relieved.
LESS ROMANTIC, BUT WITHOUT ANY WORRIES
There were more options. At Newton Stud the mares come in, as soon as the weather changes, into the large loose boxes, with the lights on until 12 o'clock at night. This helps the mares to come into season as early as possible. If this lady would take her mare home and not do exactly that, the semen of the very popular jumping stallion Chacfly who she had selected together with Lorna, would probably not be available due to high demand.
To cut a long story short, this lady drove away without a mare. Less romantic, but without any further worries.
HOME DEVELOPED FOOD PROGRAM
When Lorna took me on a round, she told how the mares, when the weather turns, come in and are divided into ‘fat and thin’ groups. Not only does dividing the mares according to their condition make the feeding program simple and safe, but also the fact that they themselves produce a very precise feed product, which the mares can eat together and in peace, just like the haylage; without any jealousy. Lorna says, grinning, "it saves my staff, broken legs, and a lot of stitches."
This feed product was developed by Lorna's partner Eddie Hosegood ('no, not married, no time for that, haha!'). Eddie is a farmer and Newton Stud is still a mixed farm where, in addition to sheep and beef cattle, grain and maize are also grown. Eddie has always been interested in developing quality mixed feed products and now makes this very effective combination of ingredients, which the mares love and thrive on.
ON A MISSION! ELITE FOALS UK REGISTRATION TOUR
Two years ago, a lovely girl I know well, Cara Jasper, told me that she and her foal had gone to an open day at Newton Stud. I also saw the beautiful photos of a grading day at the stud on Facebook. Finally! Something that I had missed at the shows, here in England. Good runners, which gave the mares and foals a chance to show themselves at their best. Also, neatly dressed in white. Just like the grading inspections in the Netherlands.
This year this happened at 11 venues throughout the UK. Lorna was on a mission. What she had started had to be bigger, more nationally available. So that more breeders would be motivated to breed good quality and have the possibility to choose a professional studbook. To be judged by the official judges of that studbook from that country, be it Holland, Germany, Denmark or any other country. To be able to obtain the studbook paper, chip and even a brand.
A sales program was also set up. And so, the 'Elite Foals UK Registration Tour' was born.
What Lorna has started, could be the beginning of the first successful registration for sport horses in the UK that actually matters, stands for genuine quality. So much has already been tried, from the Database to the Futurity. Nothing ever really got off the ground. In England dozens of registrations are possible, but nothing gives a breeder or a potential buyer of a horse any idea of what the quality really is.
COOPERATION WITH DRESSAGE RIDER ANNA ROSS
Flushing embryos, transporting embryos, it is day to day life at Newton Stud, with some 70 recipient mares owned, loaned and leased, and you are nuts (no pun intended!) if you do not benefit from it yourself.
Lorna owns ten broodmares, and then another ten together with Grand Prix rider Anna Ross, who moved from Wiltshire to barely a mile from Newton Stud. Anna trains and competes the donor mares, which is possible without interruption because the embryo transfer to the recipient mares can take place so close to home.
IN 17 YEARS FROM ONE SINGLE BROODMARE TO AN ICSI LABORATORY
At Newton Stud, everything is possible, and, yes, the next plan is an ICSI laboratory in the sheep barn. Lorna looks at the development of Brexit with suspicion (think of the cost of sperm) and tries everything to avoid as many negative consequences as possible for her bustling business.
She has secured the RCVS approval for an equine veterinarian from Argentina, intensively involved in research on ICSI, the impregnation of an egg cell outside the uterus with one single sperm cell. Together with Irma Rosati, she is going to continue this research for the ICSI at Newton Stud.
THE BIG LEAP
It's not that long ago that if you were looking for a stallion for your mare, here in England, all you could do, was look at him in the stable and possibly see him trotted up in a cobbled yard. This has certainly improved, but what Lorna has done is take the big leap.
This, by doing an incredible amount of homework, visiting grading shows throughout Europe, approaching the big boys in the stallion industry, making gutsy investments. But also, being fair and respectful with her employees. Nobody really wants to leave once they have arrived.
Another very strong point is that she dares to think incredibly inventive. Together with partner Eddie of course. Storm, responsible for the PR and much more, said with a smile, "we never allow Lorna and Eddie to have the same day off. If those two start brainstorming together, that’s dangerous! "
BOYFRIEND IN A BOX
The next day after my visit, I sent Lorna a few more questions. One of them was whether she might want to invest in her own stallion in the future. "No, we like ‘boyfriends in a box’, much more peaceful than all that testosterone!"
I could write forever about Newton Stud and its people, but I'll keep that for my next visit, when the sheep barn is ready for the ICSI program. "Yes, come back any time!" What a woman, dynamic, business like, but also, so very cheerful and hospitable.