'Working with horses does you the world of good in these uncertain times'
Industry figures tell us how they are managing in self-isolation
National Stud director Tim Lane tells us about how he is managing – both personally and professionally – with the UK government's lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus
How is life at the National Stud ticking over?
It's business as usual but all the while adhering to government guidelines and TBA protocols to ensure our staff and clients stay safe. The stallions are still in action, mares are getting covered and the horses are all being looked after.
I have to pay special tribute to the students on our course – they've been amazing. We asked if they wanted to return home to isolate when the coronavirus first broke out, but stressed that if they did they wouldn't be able to return to the stud during this period.
They all agreed to stay on site and have been working hard around the stud while being careful to maintain social distancing. Their lectures are having to be delivered over video calls, which is far from ideal but is the only solution in the current circumstances.
What measures have you brought in on the stud to deal with the coronavirus and lockdown?
We shut the coffee shop and stopped all tours before the government lockdown and have tightened everything up since the restrictions became official.
No paperwork is being handled, that's all done electronically now, and all drivers are staying in their vehicles when they bring mares to the stud. We've also stopped taking mares from overseas during this time.
Wherever possible, staff and students are working from home, and when people need to go into the office or other communal areas, they are making sure to keep away from each other.
Like every other business right now we're conducting all meetings remotely by video call – we're using BlueJeans. It's terrifying logging in and seeing all my male colleagues suddenly sporting beards. I was feeling a bit left out so I've not shaved for two days!
Are the National Stud and your clients covering fewer mares because of market concerns?
The economic impact of the coronavirus is a concern at the back of everyone's minds, of course, but I don't think it's market worries that have stopped people breeding from their mares so much.
It's more the case that some smaller breeders have been unable to get vets out to do the reproductive work with their mares as usual in recent weeks, so many either shipped the mares to be boarded in Newmarket or they just decided not to get them covered this year.
We'll have to be prepared for the crisis to shave a certain percentage off yearling prices this autumn but I think most people in the industry will just be grateful to be healthy and employed and to be working in the great outdoors.
What's your view on online sales, if they had to happen in Europe this year?
The Inglis Easter online sale in Australia worked well earlier this month but it seems to be more ingrained in the culture down there. I must admit I wouldn't personally be a fan of the virtual format; for me, there's just no substitute to seeing a horse in the flesh.
That said, it's got to be worth trialling in some shape or form to make sure we can hold auctions with government restrictions, especially as we don't know when things will get fully back to normal with travel and large gatherings of people.
Going forward we'll also have it in mind to just be a bit more internet savvy ahead of sales, to make sure we get our drafts seen by the widest audience possible. I do wonder, though, how many operations will want to share pictures of their yearlings too early as at that age they're still developing and can improve even up to ten days before the sale. It's all about knowing your audience.
Do you think there will be any positives to come out of the crisis eventually?
It's taught us that people can work from home effectively and that video calls can save us valuable travelling time in the future.
I also think it's given all of us who work with horses more appreciation of how lucky we are to do what we do. When you see all the people in towns and cities who are confined to flats and small houses with no gardens, it's humbling to think we get to work in the fresh air with plenty of space to move around in.
Feeding the horses, bringing mares in, just walking around the farm seeing what little jobs need doing – it does you the world of good in these uncertain times.
On a personal level, how are you keeping yourself busy during lockdown?
It's the breeding season, so there's plenty to keep me out of trouble. We've got a roster of busy stallions, mares coming in each day and the students to look after.
Any film, TV or book recommendations to share to get through home confinement?
Well, I used to be happy to watch the racing channels all day but then I had children. Now I'm usually on the losing end of the argument as to what's on telly, so it's wall to wall cartoons and films like Toy Story.
I miss reading through the Racing Post newspaper every day while it's not being printed, and look forward to that coming back. In the mean time I've been enjoying following the website and in particular the YouTube video recommendations.
The documentary on Tom Gentry from the 1980s was fantastic – I'm fascinated by that period of history in the bloodstock industry and Horsetrader, about the rise of Robert Sangster and the early years of Coolmore, is my favourite book. I've read my copy several times and it usually gets passed around the students each year.
What are you most looking forward to when racing returns?
Just getting back to normal. We've decided that when the lockdown is eventually over and all social distancing rules have been relaxed we're going to celebrate by throwing a big party in the coffee shop for the students and staff.
They'll have earned the chance to let their hair down – they've been brilliant during this period.
When racing is back we can start to look forward to the yearling sales, and in particular the first crop of our stallions Aclaim and Time Test. The ones we have on the farm have all developed nicely and we've received good feedback on them from other breeders.
Read our Life in Lockdown Q&As with industry figures