We catch up with Mick Easterby as the spring arrives and the farm and the stables are hard at work
It's that time again. Time to catch up with Mick Easterby, farmer and racehorse trainer. And you can be assured there won't be a dull moment.
We jump into the Mitsubishi, it's four years old but it could easily pass for 40. It's recently been valeted and came back sparkling but even a daily valet would barely be enough given the frequent depositions of mud and boulders. One has to pity the poor soul who opened the door to the Easterby vehicle and was told to clean it.
"What a beautiful day. I love this time of year" states Easterby as we pass a field full of foals. "Everything's just starting to grow, the foals are now going out in the fields. It's just marvellous."
Heading across a couple of fields, there is no point across the vast expenses of farmland which cannot be reached by vehicle, the hedgerows and drainage ditches being the only feasible barriers.
"I'm really a farmer", Easterby states. "Training is like a hobby, it's a pastime. I'm from a long line of farmers and blacksmiths. Farming's me occupation."
First stop is to see Pete, the farm manager, who is preparing the ground for sowing seed tomorrow.
"Four tonnes that thing." Easterby points to a huge harrowing machine being dragged by the tractor. "Cuts down about a foot into the ground and then the roller at the back firms down the ground."
It's been wet of late, very wet.
"I was deciding what to put in here, peas or oats, but this year its barley".
Tomorrow tons of seed will be drilled into the field, and then it's time for nature to do it's work, with careful management from Pete.
The route back to the road is again a direct one, this time along the point-to-point course. Every January Easterby holds a point-to-point with all proceeds going to the Yorkshire Air Ambulance. The course completely encloses the barley field, lush grass growing after the huge disappointment of having to cancel the previous racing. The land has now dried out and it's hard to imagine that just a few weeks ago it was unraceable.
"If you do work for charity you have to do it because you want to do it. Don't do it for thanks. There's a lot of people out there who just do the charity work just to be seen to be doing it, to get the thanks. Like them celebrities on the telly. They even charge money to do it."
"Why the Air Ambulance," I ask, aware of Easterby's dedication to raising money for the cause.
"They saved me daughter and me grand-daughter", answers Easterby. "Saved their lives. When young Joanna (Mason) broke her back and when they came for me daughter Cherry when she had a hunting accident. 'Oss jumped a hedge and Cherry came off and the 'oss fell on top of her."
His commitment to the cause is impressive.
"Last year we brought in £34,000", he continues. "But we need to keep the course maintained so we can keep bringing in the funds every year. When you have a course that's raced once or twice a year it's easy to take yer eye off it, but we have to keep it maintained, and it's expensive. We started ten years ago and it's just got more and more popular."
The course is certainly impressive, a good mile and a half enclosing the field where Pete's tractor is still busy.
"I enjoy doing it," continues Easterby. "There's a pleasure in putting something back."
"When we get back I've got a flask to show you, I'm going to put it up for auction. Whatever we raise goes to the Air Ambulance. I'll throw in a tour of the yard as well."
The phone is constantly ringing, and Easterby has perfected multi-tasking. The field inspection is carried out at the same time as a phone conversation about a horse that looks to be coming to the yard from a new owner.
Easterby confirms that it's a done deal and there's another horse arriving next week.
Next stop is to see the drilling, but as always there's a diversion.
We pause at East End Farm, where the horses that were holidaying there a few months earlier have gone into training and in their place is a yard full of cattle. Easterby leaps from the Mitsubishi, quickly looks them over, then it's back on the trail.
After about two minutes drive we stop again. By the side of the road is a trailer with five big white bags of spring oats seed.
"How much is in those?" I ask.
"Ton each. Top quality oats. Human grade", replies Easterby proudly. "Those will be brought in in October, and they'll be stored up at Wheatclose Farm, then next year they'll be feeding the horses."
The racing and farming cycles are closely inter-twined. Sowing the seed now to feed racehorses that probably aren't even at the yard yet, horses that may be with Godolphin or Sir Michael Stoute but that will find their way to Sheriff Hutton via the sales in October.
Not that there's any shortage of horses in the yard.
"How many horses do you have in training right now?" I ask.
"Over a hundred," replies Easterby, "more than we've had for many years. There's a lot of two year olds and some of them could be very good. Then there's the older horses, old Hoof It will be back on Monday and Perfect Pasture who won the opening race of the flat season at Doncaster."
"And they eat a lot, a hell of a lot."
"Hundred acres that field," Easterby remarks as he points to the huge field in which the seed is being drilled. It'll give about three and a half tonnes per acre. That's a lot. 350 tonnes of oats."
"Do you keep the lot?" I ask.
"I'll keep some for the horses but I'll sell a lot of it. I send a lot to Quaker, the porridge people. Human grade you see, the same stuff that feeds the horses also goes in your porridge."
Easterby has an eye for detail and perfection with the farm just as with the horses. Scanning the field he spots what looks like a big boulder and he's off to collect it.
"Boulder clay that, the machine's brought it up."
The offending article is removed and thrown in the back of the Mitsubishi where it won't be alone for long.
"What do you do with then?" I ask.
"They go in the hedgerows, the car will be full by the end of the week and then they'll be put somewhere. Do you want it for your garden?"
Yes is the answer and this piece of boulder clay will be given a home by my pond, a genuine piece of Easterby real estate on it's way to reside in the suburbs of York.
Next stop is to find where the seed is being drilled and Easterby beckons the tractor to stop.
The driver jumps out and after a chat and an inspection of the vehicle and seed drill she is allowed to carry on.
Back in the Mitsubishi there's another destination.
"Do you ever have holidays?" I ask.
"I don't need a holiday. Life is a holiday, I spend all day doing what I love, farming and training. Why would I ever need to go on holiday. I went to Barbados once, I've never been so bored. I couldn't wait to get home. I spent all week riding up and down the beach on a horse I'd hired. Bloody criminal it is when you see all those people lying around doing nothing. Haven't they got anything better to do?"
"What's your ambition for the year then, anything you really want to achieve?" is my next question.
"No, nothing particular. Take it as it comes. People have asked me before if I think I'll go to heaven. Do you know what I tell them? I tell them there's no need, I'm not worried about going to heaven, because I'm already there."
"I'm lucky, I have a wonderful life here and I love every minute of it. I just love walking round the farm and the horses and all of it. What a wonderful life. Aren't I lucky?"
The circular tour is done, and it's time for a cup of tea at New House Farm, there's a runner in a few minutes at Kelso and it will get the boss's full attention.
As always it's been a thoroughly entertaining afternoon. The notebooks are full, and one can only marvel at the enthusiasm of a man who has successfully combined farming and training since the days when Winston Churchill was Prime Minister.
Two decades after most folk have drawn their first pensions the desire to learn, to improve, and to train winners still burns as bright as ever.
Mick Easterby was talking to Steve Parrott.
Posted: Sunday 22 April 2018
Discussing what will be a barley field with Pete, the farm manager.
Preparing the field for the sowing of barley tomorrow.
Multi-tasking. Inspecting the land and talking with owners.
The Point-to-Point course at East End Farm.
Checking in with the cattle at East End Farm.
Ready to sow the oats opposite New House Farm.
Drilling the oats. Behind us is the uphill gallop.
Always time for a discussion.
Spring oats being sown which will be the fuel for the racehorses next year.
Removing boulder clay from the fields.
Keeping an eye on the drilling.
I have a wonderful staff here, many of whom have worked for me for years.
Checking the seeding of the field.
The finished product. Five tonnes of oats being delivered to the loft at New House Farm which will feed the racehorses for about a month.