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Breaking Prowess

30 May 2013

The breaking-in skills employed by young Davey Ellis are certainly not going unnoticed at the Te Akau stables in Matamata; drawing praise from trainer Jason Bridgman and stable foreman and riding mentor Tommy Hazlett.

“Over my years in the thoroughbred industry I’ve ridden young horses broken in by people reputed to be the best in their field, but I can say with confidence that the horses broken in by young Davey are the most well-mannered and forward group of youngsters I’ve ridden yet,” said Hazlett.

Hardworking Davey and his fiancée, Lucy (who arrive at daybreak) along with equestrian rider and horse dentist James Jackson and the team, undertook to break in sixty yearlings last year and a similar number again this season at Te Akau Stud, home of his father and Te Akau principal David Ellis.

“I’ve ridden young horses broken in by the most experienced in New Zealand, and Australia, but these horses that Davey breaks are the nicest horses I’ve ever ridden. They’ve got good mouths and they just go forward,” said Hazlett.

The breaking process sees horses mounted for the first time. After sufficient ground work, such as handling, and long reining have been done, then the breaking in can begin. This way the horse will already have a basic understanding of wearing tack, voice commands, steering and stopping.

“The actual breaking-in is what the cowboys used to do but the process has evolved a lot more now,” said Davey Ellis. “What I’m doing is educating horses in a three step process. The first step is mouthing which is teaching the horse to grab the bit and take it forward. Because it’s unnatural for a horse to have a bit in its mouth, quite often when we put the bit in its mouth the horse will go backwards, so we teach them to grab the bit and take it forward.

“The second step is long reining, which is teaching them to turn. With a set a long reins, we’re not on their backs but behind them asking them to move forward and teaching them to turn. Long reining is quite straining mentally, concentrating on ten things at once in order to have the horse do what you want it to do. Through the reins we are asking the horse to walk in a perfect five-metre circle. If you can only get a horse to do an average circle then you are only an average breaker. It is something I really try to do perfectly and I can see the results through the breakers. I’ve worked for a lot of horse breakers and I’ve seen the way they long rein them, thinking they can take shortcuts because it is so straining on the brain.

“The third part is hopping on their backs. The whole process can take between 3.5 to 7 weeks, but the average is around four weeks.

Ellis reflected on breaking in current juvenile stars War Affair (2 g O’Reilly – Kristique, by Kris S), purchased by David Ellis for $70,000 at the New Zealand Bloodstock Premier Yearling Sale, from the draft of Trelawney Stud, and Catalonia (2 c Commands – Valpolicella, by Red Ransom), bought from the same sale for $150,000 by David Ellis, from the Haunui Farm draft.

“They both felt really good on their feet,” said Davey. “I ride them in paddocks and for a young horse that doesn’t know which direction it’s going initially, horses like War Affair and Catalonia were both so surefooted. The way they moved around the paddock, they just instinctively knew where to put their feet and I’d feel the strength coming up through the ground.

“War Affair I remember was quite interesting because we had a period when we did like him and then weren’t too sure, as he weakened off a bit at that early stage. He was quite a big horse and I didn’t really think he would be a two-year-old. The first week riding, I thought what a horse but in the second week it changed a bit with him. But, Catalonia was just an up and run type horse the whole way through. A lot of the Fastnet Rock (Danehill) horses from the same year I liked, but they were not going to be earlier type horses; and better at three.

Prepared by Te Akau trainer Jason Bridgman at Matamata, War Affair was an impressive three-length trial winner in January at Paeroa, before transferring in February to Te Akau trainer Mark Walker in Singapore. A winner on debut in April, he scored again before taking the richest race for two-year-olds on May 17 in Singapore; the $325,000 Aushorse Golden Horseshoe (Gr. 2, 1200m).

Catalonia, now racing as Vilanova in Australia, won his two trials effortlessly on rain-affected footing and scored impressively in the Wentwood Grange Stakes (Listed, 1100m) at Te Rapa. Unlucky when fifth to Ruud Awakening (Bernardini) in the Karaka Million (Restricted Listed, 1200m), he finished second on May 11 in the Champagne Classic (Gr. 2, 1200m) at Eagle Farm, and second again on May 25 in the Sires’ Produce Stakes (Gr. 2, 1350m) at Doomben.

“Again, I like the yearlings we have had this year from the sale,” said Davey. “What I see in the early education, and what I base my thoughts on, are those that show they can cope mentally with the process and should be able to cope with what they are to undertake at the stables and in training.

“We also have some nice home-bred horses this year by Minstrel Court, Saperavi and Darci Brahma and I think one of the differences here at the stud, as opposed to the breaking in businesses, is that I ride all the horses.

For Jason Bridgman, the job of training yearlings has been made easier by the way they come in from Te Akau Stud.

“We’ve found the yearlings broken in at the farm to be arriving in a very forward state,” said Bridgman. “They are relaxed, confident, and begin work like horses on their second preparations rather than their first. So, they’ve been a pleasure to handle and it’s a credit to Davey and David’s staff. Certainly, given that they haven’t seen a track or running rail etc, or having other horses working around them, speaks volumes for how professionally they act.

“They really have been great to work with,” said Bridgman.

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