Racehorse trainers in West Berkshire struggling to hire skilled staff amid 'shift from rural life'

  • Report by ITV News Meridian's Penny Silvester

Racehorse trainers in West Berkshire have welcomed the news that it could become easier to recruit workers from overseas once again.

They say it would help tackle the serious shortage of stable staff which has been made worse post-Brexit.

Racing is at the heart of rural communities like Lambourn where one in three people work in the industry. But racing stables and stud farms are struggling to find the highly skilled staff they need.

The British Horseracing Authority is urging the government to add racing roles to the official Shortage Occupation List while they find ways to attract more home-grown talent.

Daniel Kubler, who trains around 40 horses at the racing yard in Lambourn, said: "There are staff shortages because there has been a shift away from rural life and people growing up around horses.

"That means there are fewer people who've got that practical experience and knowledge.

"Horses need care every day of the week and the traditional way was that it meant you had to work every day. That doesn't fit with modern society.

"We need to be able to demonstrate to people coming into the industry that there is a career progression within the sport and beyond."

Watership Down Stud farm Credit: ITV Meridian

Stud farms where racehorses are bred have been particularly badly hit by a lack of skilled staff.

Watership Down Stud manager, Terry Doherty, said: "Horses take a lot of nurturing and an awful lot goes on behind the scenes to produce a racehorse.

"We would have originally drawn all our staff from an agricultural base.

"Farming has changed to the extent that you don't have farm workers living in the countryside any more.

"We're a commuter belt area so a lot of people live here but they don't work here."

Racehorses on Lambourn gallops Credit: ITV Meridian

Harriet Collins from the Thoroughbred Breeders Association said the staff shortages are a challenge for the breeding industry.

She said: "It is a serious problem which has become more exposed since Brexit. Many roles on stud farms require a very high level of specialist care."

Lambourn in West Berkshire is the second largest racehorse training centre in the country and a recent study in and around the village has shown that it is worth more than £22m to the economy every year.

She said: "It's hugely important especially in West Berkshire because there is such a community aspect here.

"You've got Newbury racecourse down the road and Lambourn with all these incredible yards.

"Then the supporting number of stud farms close by which have lots of brood mares and fantastic opportunities and that feeds the rural economy as well."

Racehorse on gallops

A major study was carried out by the horse racing industry last year.

It revealed that more than a quarter of current workers cited a lack of job satisfaction, pay, working conditions and a lack of career prospects as reasons why they were planning to leave the industry in the next two years.

The British Horseracing Association (BHA) acknowledged that it needs to do more to attract people into the sport. Spokesman Greg Swift said they want to develop home-grown talent but they need to fill the skills gap as a matter of urgency.

"We have Careers in Racing which is doing terrific work at opening up career paths into the sport particularly for people who may have never considered racing or breeding as a career," he said.

"And we have established an industry People Board this year made up from senior figures across horseracing and beyond.

"They are working at pace to get a deeper understanding of the issues facing our workforce in terms of pay and conditions and work-life balance and will report their findings next year."

In the meantime, the BHA has submitted evidence to the Migration Advisory Committee making a case for a number of roles they have identified that should go on the Shortage Occupation List.

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