26 February 1999

ADDING VALUE TO A STUD BUSINESS

Horses are not classed as

agricultural animals but a

farm-based equine businesses

can get farm diversification

support as Ann Rogers

found when she met

Susan Corbett at the

Girsonfield Stud

WHEN Susan Corbett says her horses are bomb proof she means it. The Girsonfield Stud is right next to the army range at Otterburn, Northumberland and the Corbetts have a permit to ride along the lanes which cross the range. Their horses are used to all manner of military noises, including the sounds of helicopters and low flying aircraft.

"Visiting mares see that our horses are not worried and they take little notice, too," says Susan, who set out to breed point-to-point horses but is now producing competition ones too and running a diverse equine operation which recently qualified for diversification grants.

When Susan, whose career had been in advertising and marketing, met her future husband, farmer Frank Corbett, both owned mares. Susan began to breed from hers Angerton Annie, and the offspring included a useful point- to-pointer placed fourth on its first time out, as well as Anzana, her first point to point winner, and Tess, a mare that is now eventing successfully. While on holiday in Ireland they spotted another mare, Gay Vixen, which they could not resist buying.

"By then the hobby was starting to become a big drain on the bank account," says Susan, who has since turned it into a business, principally by applying to her own enterprise the expertise she sells to others. For besides running the stud Susan runs Triad Marketing in partnership with Karen Brunton. Together they provide clients – vets, solicitors, shops and holiday enterprises among them – with product advice, public relations, marketing and advertising services.

They are often called in to help companies through Business Link, the regional service which has its roots in the Department of Trade and Industry, and to which anyone may turn for advice on starting up or developing their own business. Through this work Susan realised that she could be eligible for a MAFF farm diversification grant herself. A wife, a husband or relation of a farmer is eligible if they are living on the farm, she explains.

A panel of judges assesses your business plan to see if the venture is viable, that it wont detract from the farm but add to it, and also takes into account whether or not you are employing anyone.

"We have Fiona and Natasha," says Susan who put together a three-year business plan and was awarded grants of 40% on buildings and 30% on marketing and equipment last November.

&#42 Right-hand woman

Fiona Fyall, a local woman who has worked on studs in the south, is Susans right-hand woman. Her responsibilities include riding out the point-to-pointers and, with Frank, qualify them for racing by following the Border Hunt.

Natasha Elliott is a student from the National Stud at Newmarket working for her NVQ level 2. Susan is a member of the Thoroughbred Breeders Assoc-iation and took a stud management course at Newmarket. Both she and Fiona have since trained as NVQ assessors to allow them to progress Natashas training which is further checked every two months by a representative from Newmarket.

Most recently Susan and Fiona, together with their vets, have received training from Martin Boyle of Cambridge in the collection and storage of semen.

"We would like to offer semen from our stallions for eventing and showjumping mares," says Susan who has three stallions standing at Girsonfield. The first to arrive was Respect, who earned £34,465 with five wins and 12 placings in his racing career and is by Mummys Pet out of Restive. His progeny are already making their mark in the show ring, eventing and point to pointing or are starting out in National Hunt racing.

When Respect arrived at Girsonfield it was as a visitor until his owner could place him elsewhere. Frank and Susan said that if he could get bookings to serve 20 mares they would buy him, but they would keep him in the interim. "He got exactly 20 mares," recalls Susan and only two of these, one that was elderly and one that was later found to be ill, failed to produce foals.

The next stallion to arrive was Endoli, whose sire line includes Northern Dancer and whose dam line includes Ribot the Derby winner. He earned £44,423 in his racing career. "A very pretty boy, very fast, a proper flat bred horse," is how Susan describes Endoli who passed into her hands from Lady Beaver-brooks estate last September.

The latest to arrive is Feelings, the top point-to-point sire of the north. He was left to the stud groom of his former owner. The groom was unable to stand him and so Feelings came to Susan at Girsonfield.

"He is extremely well bred for breeding National Hunt horses," says Susan. Feelings too has Northern Dancer in his sire line and his progeny have won more than £101,000 National Hunt racing.

&#42 Other horses

Besides the stallions there are 21 other horses at Girsonfield which includes four horses at livery, young stock and mares. Grant money has helped Susan to put down rubber flooring in the boxes and to install closed circuit TV so the foaling boxes can be checked from the house.

"Does that mean you wont have to sleep on the bales any more, Mummy," her younger son, Jamie (5) asked her. Jamies ambitions are to be a vet or a jockey, but brother Richard (6) has little interest in horses.

Susan has permission to build four more boxes, for which she can claim a 40% grant and grant money has also helped the Corbetts build eight stalls in a barn for overnight accommodation.

The stalls can be removed in the summer if the barn is needed for agricultural purposes, but the farm, a livestock enterprise with 1000 sheep and 40 cattle, and the stud are run as two quite separate businesses, explains Susan.

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