Andy Blanch has grown up with horses and certainly has a natural way with them. This skill has been developed over many years and now Andy is respected as one of the best nagsmen on the Island.
Andy Blanch, 40, started riding horses at the age of nine when his mother took him to his local riding school at Luccombe at weekends. “I suppose it got me out from under her feet, and anyway I liked it because it was primarily a girl’s sport, so I had lots of girlfriends and I wasn’t complaining,” he says. Andy left school with nine CSEs and knew straight away he wanted a career in horses. His first year after leaving school was spent at Luccombe Farm earning only £15 per week, helping out in the yard and doing odd jobs.
“When I was on £15 a week it was really hard. Even though I lived at home and paid no rent, I still could not go out anywhere, my life was horses,” he explains. During this time Andy’s aunt bought a horse for his cousin and within no time at all his cousin lost interest in riding. This resulted in Andy being given the four-year old New Forest cross Thoroughbred.
Andy left Luccombe Farm at the age of 17 and by 18 had started work with Phil Legge, the owner of Brickfields Horse Country, earning £25 per week. “I remember one day at Phil’s he had some youngsters in the yard which he threw me onto and that’s how it all started I suppose. I was in at the deep end as I had no training or anything like that, it was nerve-racking at the time and I truly learnt the hard way.
“The first young sharp horse I ever backed was at Luccombe, I even remember coming home from school on the bus thinking I got to ride that horse tonight. I got her in the end though simply because I don’t like being beaten.” Whilst at Brickfields, Andy’s job ranged from digging holes, repairing stables, putting up barns, and, of course, backing young horses. “The best thing I learnt at Brickfields was horsemanship. I suppose really most of my trade I learnt from Phil, as he is one of the best horsemen on the Island. The funniest thing I’ve seen Phil do was to ride a Shire horse in a dressage show.”
After a long spell at Brickfields, Andy thought it would be a good idea to do some travelling, so he decided to take a job in New Zealand working in a racing yard.
“This was probably the worst job I had ever done, it was awful. My main job was what they call a ‘work-rider’, which was working the racehorses. I was up at 5am riding horses in the dark and we were expected to be on duty 24 hours a day. Most of the time I was backing the youngsters and it was hard to even find time to sleep. The yard was in the middle of nowhere and it was like being in an open air prison. I hated it! I had a 10-month visa and I came home after only five months. In the whole of the time I was away, my only claim to fame was that I rode one of the best mares in New Zealand, Clear Rose.”
Upon his return to the Island, nine years ago, Andy decided it was time to give self-employment a go. “I placed a few adverts in the County Press offering a service to people with problem horses. This proved to be a good move as I am still, to this day, sorting out problem horses for Island owners.
“One of the biggest problems today is lack of knowledge. Now that people have more money, and because horses are more accessible, people think that they can just go and buy a horse and ride it after a few lessons. People also feed their horses too much. They seem to think that in the winter, when the horse is rugged up nice and warm, they need more feed. They don’t! If the horse is warm it needs no more feed than it does in the summer. Many people have also got horses and don’t use them. I’m sure the horses love sitting in a field eating grass, but when the owners come to ride them, they cannot get on them, and then they blame the horse.
“I think people should have more lessons, and in a way I blame these horse videos such as Pirelli and Monty Roberts. Don’t get me wrong, they are professional horseman but they put these videos out and people think they can go and copy them, but they haven’t got the same feel for a horse as Pirelli or Monty Roberts. If owners get the horse right on the ground, they will be a lot more willing when they actually get round to riding them.”
Andy insists that people should enjoy their horses more, and feels it’s becoming too competitive. “We all love to win, however I am just as happy to go out there and for the horse to go well” But does Andy think that people expect too much from their horse nowadays? “No not at Island level,” he answers. “Most riders don’t get the full potential from their horses anyway because they do not ride and train them enough. The most common thing I see are owners who leave their horse in a field all week and only bring them out on a Sunday and expect the horse to behave. This will never be the case, horses need to be worked.”
Andy’s job has its risks, but he says he doesn’t come off that often. “Touch wood, it’s been pretty good,” he says. “I haven’t broken any bones, but I’ve cracked a few ribs, although that was when I rode Point to Pointers. You have horses that won’t leave the yard and they stand up and tip backwards, but when they reach the point of no return that’s when I flip off. You can’t sit on them when they are going over backwards, self preservation has to slip in somewhere. If they are going to hit the floor they are not doing it with me on them!”
And finally, we asked Andy for some pointers to follow when buying a horse: “Take someone with you who knows what they are looking at, don’t over horse yourself, and finally get the horse vetted!” he advises. Makes sense to us!
You can contact Andy on 07837 350313.