A yearling's appearance in the sales ring represents the culmination of two years' work by breeders, owners, bloodstock advisors, veterinarians, and sales agents. But the final hammer price is also indicative of success for a group of often-overlooked people: those at the end of the horse's shank.
For farm managers, foaling and assistant managers, and sale grooms, a polished sale yearling is months of long work days in bitter cold or stifling heat. A final price is a reflection on blistered toes from miles of hand-walking and bruised arms from playful foal teeth. A job well done in this case requires not just hard work but good luck, and often, an emotional investment which can feel just as heavy as a financial investment.
Anyone standing by the exit ramp at the Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale in Australia got a reminder of that this week as Jamee Ryder led Hip 27 out of the ring. The chestnut colt by Sebring out of Redoute's Choice mare Footprint had brought 600,000 AUD ($447,720), selling to Little Kwok Hing Hung/Bahen Bloodstock of Hong Kong and becoming the top offering early in the sale's first session. Photographer Katrina Partridge was positioned at the bottom of the ramp to catch images of horses in the seconds after sale, and caught Ryder wiping away a tear.
“It happened so fast,” Ryder said. “I heard the bidspotters calling from six different directions, and I look up and [the price is] 525,000. And at 600,000, I was just overwhelmed. And he deserved it. He's just been the coolest horse to prep. He did everything we asked of him. For all that hard work to be paid off in a couple of minutes in the ring is just amazing. It's why I do it. Very emotional, but very cool.”
Ryder is assistant farm manager at Musk Creek Farm in Flinders, Victoria, which consigned the colt, and she remembers the first months in 2015 after he arrived with his dam. Musk Creek foals its mares in the Hunter Valley, about 12 hours away. When the Footprint colt made the trip home, he was sickly and small for his age.
“He wasn't in the best state and it took us a while to get him right,” said Ryder, who remembered the foal having a gastrointestinal illness and struggling to keep weight. “We tried everything under the sun to get him to come right and it took a while, but eventually we did find something that worked for him. From that day on, he just grew and grew.”
Once the colt started growing, Ryder quickly found he was her favorite. If she had some time after returning to the farm for evening feeding and night check, his was the stall she'd slip into to give him extra head scratches or to take selfies with him. She cared for the colt and his pasturemates from weaning to sales prep and made the journey (19 hours by car) from the farm to Magic Millions to show him on the sales grounds. Sales preparation for Musk Creek involves a lot of ground work beyond the typical program to better set up older horses for early tack training.
All this means she, like many farm workers, learns the nuance of each horse's movements and moods. The Footprint colt was easygoing from the beginning, like his siblings before him, and polite enough Ryder believes he'll be more likely to make a stallion upon retirement because his temperament won't require him to be gelded early – which is good, since she heard buyers mention they thought of him as an eventual breeding prospect. She suspects the success of group winner and Hong Kong runner Lucky Bubbles, also an Australian-born son of Sebring, helped the Footprint colt.
Ryder, 28, has been working on stud farms since she was in high school, when she made up her mind to translate her love of animals into a paid profession. Now trained as a veterinary nurse, Ryder has been at Musk Creek for four and a half years and feels she is just where she belongs.
So how many hours is her work week?
“You don't really count after a while,” she said. “You can't count because you'd drive yourself mad. But it's not really a job, it's a lifestyle. If you don't love this job, these animals, then you wouldn't do it. It's a love-job. You definitely do it for the love.”
In the end, the colt's price was overtaken by a session topper of 900,000 AUD ($664,069), and another yearling that fetched 700,000 AUD ($516,498), but it didn't matter to Ryder. She's still proud, even if the drop of the hammer was slightly bittersweet.
“It is hard to see them go,” she said. “He actually left straight away last night. I came to check the horses about eight o'clock and he was gone. But I've got so many photos of that horse. I can't wait to follow his career.”
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