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Phil Latham: Horses everywhere, grazing management dominates, and putting the case for the cull

Last weekend we hosted the Pony Clubs National Novice Championships.

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With nearly 1,000 competitors attending from across the UK over two days and 288 temporary stables on site it feels like we have been invaded by the population of a small village.

 

It’s a real privilege to host the event and I think it’s a triumph of the Pony Club to get so many youngsters away from techno gadgets and out competing. I enjoy the adrenalin that comes with getting ready against a tight schedule with a small team of regular and part time staff, particularly so this time as I managed to work alongside my nephew who had his first taste of life outside school.

 

In just four weeks we’ll be setting it all up again for British Eventing horse trials. Captain Mark Phillips will be with us next Friday to plan the five courses on offer, so we have 150 fences to move and a massive clear up operation to complete. To get the grass growing we have been injecting pig slurry into the sward. The benefits to the grass are clear, perhaps too much so as the cross country looks like a zebra crossing where some areas have been missed; there will be some patching up to do next week.

 

Grazing management seems to have dominated the last month, with six hectares (15 acres) reseeded at Brook House and 6ha (15 acres) more to do at Organsdale. We have 8ha (20 acres) of Italian rye-grass still to conserve for horse haylage or cattle feed, with the weather being the key factor. I think we’ll survive without doing a third cut - instead we’ll say the excess grass is our attempt to build a grazing wedge for next spring, but I expect I will get some stick for it.

 

To add to the burden of pressure I have accepted an invite to debate the badger cull on the Monday before the horse trials. The debate will take place in Manchester at a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference, with Cheshire vet Den Leonard and myself sharing the platform with Dominic Dyer (CEO Badger Trust), Tim Coulson (expert panel member), and Angela Smith MP. The cull, which is due to start imminently, will no doubt be as contentious as last year’s but I am delighted to have a chance to put the case for wildlife control to an audience who I suspect will not naturally share that view.

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