IT'S not often that you get to lead a million euro worth of horse flesh around the sales ring.
My year 'down under' saw me helping to prep dozens of well-bred yearlings at Coolmore's 11,000 acre stud in the thoroughbred capital of Australia, the Hunter Valley.
Around 80 yearlings were sold between two sales. A large draft of 50 yearlings went to the Magic Millions sale on the Gold Coast, in January, followed by a smaller, select draft of yearlings for the Inglis Easter sale in Sydney.
The Magic Millions yearlings underwent an eight week preparation, while the Inglis yearlings underwent a very long preparation of 12 weeks.
The average selling price this year at the Magic Millions was AUD$134,311 (€93,187), while the average for the Inglis sale was $290,881 (€201,818).
Top prices for these sales realised $1.2m (€831,161) and $2.2m (€1,523,796) respectively.
Champion sire Fastnet Rock was the leading sire for both sales, while a yearling from Sepoy's first crop sold for $1.6m (€1,108,318) at the Inglis Easter sale, a record for a first season sire in Australia.
It will be interesting to see how Sepoy's first yearlings are received at auction in Europe this year.
Emphasis was placed on hand-walking as the main method of exercising yearlings, which can be useful depending on manpower.
This was done first thing in the morning at 6am. It is essential to start as early as possible in the morning in order to avoid the fast approaching scorching sun.
Colts were hand-walked one day, while the fillies would go on the walker, the opposite would happen the following day.
Along with careful handling from Day One, each yearling was walked in-hand around the perimeter of a large field for 50 minutes, followed by a quick practice show for the manager.
This resulted in very well behaved yearlings, which was an absolute blessing by the time we reached the sales.
The yearlings were fed a grain mix and hay which was harvested from almost completely Lucerne grass strains.
Lucerne, also known as alfalfa, is high in protein and digestible fibre. The feed was composed of oats, steam flaked barley, sunflower black seeds, cracked corn, oaten chaff, Lucerne chaff, corn oil and molasses - all mixed in a Keenan mixer.
Some yearlings weighed more than half a tonne by the end of the season.
The on-site vets were kept very busy with pre-sale scoping, x-rays and general veterinary care. A full set of clean x-rays is essential for sales such as the Inglis Easter sale, where yearlings have to be impeccably bred, big and physically perfect, to realise the million dollar prices.
In contrast to other farms where turn-out is considered to be an essential part of yearling preparation, the horses here were not turned out for the season.
Due to the heat, which can reach 40C, and wearing rugs, the horses do a lot of getting up and down in their stables. They also roll around and this often leads to them getting cast against walls or water troughs, resulting in injuries.
Having worked previously on a farm which turns out their yearlings, I think this is the best option for the horse. However, if I owned a million dollar yearling, I may have to think twice before watching it run loose around a field.
There is a certain amount of uniformity around the world when it comes to working with thoroughbreds, however, evening activities after work in Australia certainly differ.
Finishing by 4pm in the evening allows plenty of time for lazing by the pool or going fishing. It is safe to say I enjoyed my yearling season down under.
Orla Donworth graduated last year from the Equine Science course at the University of Limerick