Within the next couple of weeks – or so – the National Hunt trainer Emma Lavelle moves into the Bonita Stables in Ogbourne Maizey she has bought from Peter Makin, who has retired after 48 years as a trainer.
They say that moving house is one of the most stressful things you will do in your life. Moving training stables – with sixty valuable horses – should be even worse. But what if you are moving into an ambitious looking building site?
Emma Lavelle is utterly calm and apparently completely unstressed. The day before I visited Bonita her builders had lost a day to incessant rain. When I arrived her assistant trainer and husband, Barry Fenton, was painting the new tack room and cement trucks were delivering special concrete for the base of the new horse walker.
Twenty-five of the loose boxes in Bonita’s original red brick have been refurbished from the roof down and new drainage put in. But twenty new boxes in the middle of the yard are so far represented by a concrete base and steel uprights.
And another set of new boxes just outside the main yard do not yet have all their steel uprights in place.
The work is being done to very high standards – so they have carefully re-used the old semi-glazed black bricks that now edge the yard and its new drainage and the new boxes will use red brick to match the colour of Bonita’s early twentieth century stabling. As Emma Lavelle puts it: “The aim is to keep it all as authentic as possible – just making it more practical.”
The Bonita yard is horseshoe shaped. In the middle is the main house, which was not part of the yard’s sale and will still be lived in by Peter Makin and his wife. One arm holds the main or upper yard where the horses will be and all the offices and the two horse walkers (one for five horses and a new one for eight horses.)
The other arm of the horseshoe, down the hill, is the lower yard. This will be mothballed for the time being – except for a couple of quarantine boxes. But the lower yard is the site for new staff homes: two 4-bedroom houses and one bungalow.
Emma and her husband will be living in the bungalow that is nearly at the apex of the horseshoe. Nearby is an annex where owners can stay the night.
With so much work to be done and time and the weather against her, why is Emma Lavelle so calm? It must be because she is so excited by the potential of Bonita: “It’s just stunning. It’s the most stunning place.”
She is moving from Cottage Stables at Hatherden between Newbury and Andover where she has been training for eighteen years. She has been renting there and wants to develop her own yard and when Bonita came on the market she seized the chance: “It’s a long process that will be perfected over years.”
She feels very privileged to have such extensive facilities with such a history. Bonita stables were set up by the theatrical impressario George Edwardes in the 1890s. Before Peter Makin came to Ogbourne Maizey, other famous racing names associated with the yard included Bill Marshall, Sir Gordon Richards and Bob Turnell.
Emma Lavelle is installing an all weather gallop. When I was there it was a deep trench waiting for drier weather to add its layer of washed limestone, a membrane and then the all-weather surface.
That will be a major investment for the future. I certainly got the impression that she believes her new facilities will be really good for her horses. Over the past five seasons her horses have won £1,511,840 in prize money – it will be interesting to see what Bonita does to the next five year total.
It is widely agreed that Bonita’s gallops are some of the best in the country. As we drive up to see them, Emma Lavelle is openly thrilled at the thought of getting her sixty horses out on the Marlborough Downs’ grass: “It’s such a privilege that this is ours…though really, of course, we’re just its caretakers.”
There are three grass gallops. The longest and most spectacular can be used with a mile-and-a-half or a mile-and-a-quarter finish – Emma is delighted to find that it has just been mown and is looking its Spring best.
There is a mile gallop known as the Bungalow Gallop because it passes in front of the bungalow that Sir Gordon Richards lived in when he trained at Bonita for nine years. And finally there is an oval-shaped gallop: “We’ve even got our own racecourse!”
She smiles when – prompted by these amazing gallops – I ask whether she will stick to training only for jump racing at the Bonita yard: “It certainly lends itself to training flat horses as well. We’ll see.”
The gallops aside, she also has 45 acres of paddocks. She has sixty horses to move of which half will have already been turned out at the end of the jump season – leaving about 25 still in training for summer jump meetings and needing loose boxes.
When it comes, she thinks ‘moving week’ will be a ‘gentle process’. She will need a lot of transport and horseboxes. But her brother runs a transport company so she is hoping it will be straightforward – and that she will get ‘sibling rates’.
As she moves off to talk to the builders, Emma smiles broadly and says: “Next time you come there’ll be horses here!”
NOTE: Marlborough.News visited the Bonita yard last Tuesday (April 12) – by now it will be looking very different. [Click on photos to enlarge them.]