Love of the horse trumps all at Silverdale Farm
Silverdale Farm in the Southern Highlands of NSW, like all thoroughbred stud farms across Australia, is in its busiest and best time of year, as the team ensures that all of their foals arrive safely and in good health.
Springtime is the best time in the thoroughbred breeding business and it’s also the busiest.
For Robert Petith, who manages Silverdale Farm in the Southern Highlands of NSW, this means not getting much sleep but the passionate horseman doesn’t mind one bit at all. His entire focus is on making sure that the 27 foals they are expecting to be born there this season all arrive safely and in good health.
“There’s a couple of restless nights. When you are trying to do right by the horse you are running on very little sleep, only a few hours a night sometimes,” said Petith.
Compared to some of Australia’s bigger stud farm operations, Silverdale has a small team of staff that all share a deep commitment to ensuring everything goes as smoothly as possible during this important period of the year.
“While our aim is to leave things to nature as much as we can, it’s also about being there to intercept when things are not going the right way and trying to remove the risk as much as possible.
“We are really lucky we have a small team of keen people who want to do a good job.”
The incredible state of the art horse facilities, that are the brainchild the farm’s owner Steve Grant, certainly make their job easier.
“Our horses are under 24 hour surveillance and we have a fantastic camera set up so from anywhere in the world I can see my pre-foaling paddock and the paddock that precedes that and see mares likely to foal and mares that are the next step away and mares with newborn foals,” said Petith.
He has worked in the thoroughbred breeding industry all his life and says his deep emotional connection to the horse makes all the sleepless nights during the breeding season well worthwhile.
"The love of the horse trumps all. You look at the hours that I've done in the last week here and you wouldn't be able to do it if it wasn't for the feeling of greater good of leaving no stone unturned.
"You can’t work in this game and be any good at it if you don't have that love of the animal because it's hard work."
A few months after foals have hit the ground, Petith starts planning for the weaning process which usually takes place during February and March each year.
This is a delicate and gradual process that takes a lot of good horse sense and management.
"We really like to see our mare and foal groups very settled. We don't chop and change paddocks very often and keep them in a group they have progressed with and were born at a similar time to.
"While foals are still on the mare we introduce a nanny which is an old gelding or old retired mare that has the right temperament to enable them to be caught easily and if something spooks the weanlings will take it in their stride and keep a level head. They become part of the mob before we wean."
When it comes to separating a young horse from his or her mother, it's usually done two foals at a time and over the course of several weeks until the entire herd is weaned.
"It depends on foal development. As soon as we see changes in growth plates or foals getting too heavy that's the first thing we do is take those mares away and manage the feed more.
"If the foal is not doing as well, sometimes they will do better once they’re weaned, especially if mare's greedy. We generally let the foal tell us when it's time to come off."
Nutrition during their early days of independence is crucial and Silverdale Farm uses individual pens to feed the young stock during this vital stage of their development.
"We us a pre-mix from Horsepower and this gets good results. Horses that are reared on this feed go on and perform on the track and a lot of well-respected farms use their feed.
"Every little thing you do has an impact and I am conscious of decisions that have strong results. A change in feed could have an impact on x-ray results at the yearling sales. I'm comfortable that the weanlings and yearlings that we turn out are good boned and the quality feed we use plays a big part," he said.
The way in which young stock is handled in the infancy stages is also a major focus at Silverdale Farm.
"We do quite a lot of foal handling. Once they are weaned they come through the barn for weekly handling opportunities.
"They are loaded and trucked to the yearling barn and exposed to the walker and walked across the treadmill and out into the round yard and bagged down, put in the tie-ups and wash bay and through the scoping crush.
"We want to expose them to these things nice and early and produce a product that as soon as breaker and trainer gets them home they are going to be resilient."
A commercial operation, Silverdale Farm breeds to sell and takes great pride in every single horse that carries its brand through the sales ring, onto the racetrack and beyond.
With this firmly in mind, Petith aims to equip them with everything they need to help ensure it’s a successful journey.
"The greatest gift you can give a horse is to educate him well because he will be sought after and have a friend wherever he goes.
"We hope they will be competitive on the track, that's our goal and if they can't be that, they will be loved wherever they go and that strongly comes down to how we handle them.
"It won't be the difference of turning a fast horse into a Group One winner but it will enable that horse to be as good as he or she can be without limitation. " - Robert Petith
On occasion, some horses that have been bred at Silverdale Farm return to its lush, rolling hills to retire.
"Provided they have the right temperament to suit the job they return back and some of our old broodmares we use as nannies. We are always keen, if we can, to welcome them back.
"Any horse we have sold or been involved with or has our brand on it, we are 100 per cent behind it even if we have no ownership interest we still take our responsibility very seriously. We make sure that horse lives out its days in a good way."