Robin Dickin: Alscot Parks Race Horse Trainer

PUBLISHED: 00:24 08 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:39 20 February 2013

Robin with Junior Jimble

Robin with Junior Jimble

Racehorse trainer Robin Dickin, has ridden and trained numerous winners over the years. He talks to Tessa Jenkins about life in the saddle.

Racehorse trainer Robin Dickin, has ridden and trained numerous winners over the years. He talks to Tessa Jenkins about life in the saddle.

A life without horses is simply unimaginable for Warwickshire trainer Robin Dickin. Born into a Shropshire hill farming family, learning to ride was as inevitable as learning to walk or talk.

"In many ways the only way round the sheep was on a pony, so I don't remember learning to ride, I could ride before I could walk," he says.

Aspirations of becoming as a jockey were prompted by his father Jack's sudden death when Robin was just thirteen. "I remembered my father boasting down at the cattle market about my brilliant brother Peter who was a jockey, and who was riding against Joe Mercer and Lester Piggott. When he died I had this real strong desire, more honestly than if he'd been alive, to make him proud and so I wanted to become a jockey."

On the advice of family friend and jockey David Cartwright, Robin moved to the Cotswolds where he began a 17 year association with the Nicholsons, one of racing's best known families. After an initial spell at Frenchie Nicholson's Prestbury yard, he then moved on to work for his son David 'The Duke' Nicholson at his Condicote base from where success in the saddle soon followed.

"I had my first ride, for The Duke, at Warwick in a five furlong race on a horse called Bob, and he won. The first double I rode as a jockey was also there, so Warwick is a very special place for me" he recalls.

Many jockeys will tell you that their most relentless opponent is the scales, Robin was no exception. "It was murder, although it certainly improves your appetite - there isn't anything edible that I don't enjoy!" he grins.

After three seasons he gave up the unequal battle to keep his weight at the level required to ride on the flat and shifted his efforts to National Hunt racing where his natural weight of nine and a half stone was less of an issue

"If anything I was a bit too light, and certainly didn't have to diet unlike so many other jockeys," he says.

In 1986 with 115 wins to his credit, a serious fall at Towcester brought life as a jockey to an abrupt halt.

Hospitalised with a fractured skull and severe damage to an inner ear, his injuries left his balance severely impaired and a return to race-riding out of the question.

"I went to sleep for seven weeks. When I went to sleep I was single and a jockey; when I woke up I was married and a trainer!" he jokes.

"It wasn't quite that bad!" quickly retorts Claire, his wife.

Not all jockeys go on to repeat their success as trainers, but a headline from the time, 'After the knocks the knack', tells the tale and Robin quickly began to make his mark in the trainers' league.

In 1994, after eight seasons of training in partnership with the Holder family in Newent, Robin and Claire decided it was time to branch out on their own. By chance their planning application to build a new yard was spotted by Donald Galt, the Estate Manager at Alscot Park.

"The stables here were vacant, and he suggested we took a look. That's what we did and we've been here ever since," says Robin.

It's easy to see why they were smitten, and hard to imagine a more picturesque environment in which to train. The 18th century brick-built stables nestle under an ornate clock tower, and in the shadows of the rococo-gothic splendour of Alscot House. The natural beauty of the deer park provides a stunning backdrop to the training grounds.

An air of optimism hangs in the air as Robin discusses the 34 horses he has in training for the coming season, many are youngsters who put in promising performances last term. With a running total of 325 training successes winners are the ultimate goal but he has no ambition to train on a more 'industrial scale'.

"I look at our business and set-up and I like to think we're if not king then we're nearly king of the 'village shops'. I'll never be a 'factory trainer' I can't put up with the wastage, it isn't my style, and I like being hands on too much. I know my horses upside down and inside out and if I had 100 that would slip away."

Time, patience and understanding each horse as an individual, together with an emphasis on team work are the lynch pins of Robin's approach.

Working alongside him are his wife Claire a McTimoney practitioner who helps to keep every horse's back in tip-top shape, racing secretary Susan Harris who keeps the admin on track, Annalisa Kinnersley who looks after members of the racing partnerships, and a team of dedicated lads and lasses who care for the horses and are Robin's eyes and ears

"Without them we'd be nothing at all, but I must drive them mad. At the end of every trot, every canter, every gallop I go through the string asking "Are you alright? Is the horse alright? I want their opinion, I really do, that's how I know my horses, through them."

Last but not least in the team is Toby the pony. He is Lilliputian beside his stablemates but he attends every meeting with the racehorses as their travelling companion. He helps to calms the nerves of nervous travellers and first time runners.

Owners are also considered part of the team and positively encouraged to make regular visits

"Ownership is about more than a day at the races, they get as big a buzz from coming here in the mornings, seeing the horses, being on first name terms with the staff, and generally getting involved, as they do from going to the races," explains Robin, who through the creation of racing partnerships aims to open up ownership to as broad a spectrum of people as possible.

"We've several horses split into 20 shares which helps to bring the cost down to an affordable level for the 'working' person who wants to get involved - typical costs are 85 a month all in," he says.

The gates of the yard are opened to the wider community on numerous occasions throughout the year. Events include a meet of the Warwickshire hounds, a 'Racing Rally' which offers members of the Warwickshire Pony Club the excitement of flying up the gallops, and an annual open day which raises money for local charities and allows the general public a glimpse behind the scenes.

Asked to nominate his career highlight Robin replies: "The next winner. And most difficult part of my career is the same answer. The high of racing, the emotion, the thrill of having a winner is as strong now as the very first winner I ever had and I guess the day that leaves me is the day to say I've done enough. I've dedicated my life to it, I've had a lot of fun out of it and I've no regrets, I wouldn't change a page in my life I really wouldn't."

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