Welcome to the next instalment in our Countryside Conversation series, where we speak to Countryside Adventurers the G&G team have met over the years and this time we speak to Victoria Twiston-Davies. Victoria's interview coincides nicely with the upcoming Cheltenham Festival, which G&G will be standing at for the very first time.
This is a MUST read for anyone that has grown up with horses, on a farm or in the countryside - it will bring back memories that you never knew you had!
We met Victoria Twiston-Davies and her children on our stand at Olympia horse show in 2019. Sharing a hunting background and love of racing, we got to chatting immediately and we also helped Vic's children smuggle away a surprise Christmas gift for her!
Victoria grew up in Staffordshire, and now lives with her husband, Nigel, at Grange Hill Farm racing yard in Gloucestershire with their four children, in what can be described as an idyllic childhood with lots of ponies and lots of mud. She is a dedicated mother, supportive wife and business woman - running holiday cottages in the picturesque Cotswolds. Nigel is a highly successful National Hunt trainer, he has trained over 1000 winners including two Grand National winners and Imperial Commander, winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2010.
We absolutely LOVED chatting with Vic, drawn into her incredibly kind, fun and friendly personality and can imagine just what is like for her dare-devil children growing up on a busy racing yard. Not only did we want to regress back to our childhood, we have been moved by Vic's devotion to her family and enthusiasm for making her children's childhoods as fun and fresh as possible.
Over to Vic to tell us all about her family & lifestyle...
What is your background & where did you grow up?
"Up to the age of 11 we lived in Staffordshire & I have many happy memories on the most brilliant, but not the most beautiful albino pony, Lily The Pink. Lots of mischievous pony club days with the South Staffs.
I loved my eventing, hunting & tetrathlon."
"As a Child out with the Meynell, Kiwi the pony & Penny the Jack Russel who was the runt of the litter, I’m not sure if Dad won or lost at Liar dice with Greg Moseley the terrier man but he came home with her in his pocket."
Have you always been involved in horses, racing & hunting (and/or any other countryside sports)?
"My parents were Joint Masters of the Meynell & South Staffordshire so although being their daughter I was constantly called upon for gates, in equal measures Lily the Pink and I were fortunate enough to accompany the then Huntsman, David Barker - luckily as with most children, I was fearless then!
I truly believe that even though I was only young, I met some of life’s most wonderful characters during these years, the farmers Mum visited, the tales after hunting and, as with today Hunt Supporters are very much a community who encourage children to get involved, the fresh air, the loving of our ponies, the respect for our countryside, young and old together.
Sadly, when we moved to The Cotswolds my family stopped hunting and Mum became a sheep farmer!"
"Dad as Master of the Meynell and South Staffordshire."
As home to Nigel’s racing yard, Grange Hill Farm must be a constant hive of activity - do you mind explaining a bit about your involvement and how you balance that with life as very busy mum of four young children?
"When I met Nigel I had absolutely no involvement with National Hunt Racing, I think that appealed to him!
Before we had children, I rode out in the yard everyday but then made the choice that children only come around once & there is always another day to ride out! So, over recent years my riding out has been rather sporadic. Whenever I do ride out, I always ask myself why I don’t do it more often! The yard banter, getting to know the horses, it’s so satisfying when you can chat to an owner & have 1st hand experience of riding their horse. We are blessed where we live & there is nothing like the feeling of escaping the feeding of 4 young children to get out in the morning air, listening to the chat of the yard & the minute you turn the loop up the gallop on the most majestic animal, pretty awesome."
"Nigel and Poppy"
"Retired racehorses up at my Sister in laws, Rosie adores Babyrun."
Can you tell us a little about your children and what equestrian disciplines are they involved in?
"The children are 10, 8, 6 & nearly 4, without a doubt, they get up the gallops more than I do. After the school run this morning, I asked our 3 year old if she’d like to ride to the village for hot chocolate, to which she replied, ‘I’d like to canter up the gallop then jump in the school’ - and that is exactly what we did! But she is bonkers!
Poppy (10yrs) took our beloved Bandit, Shetland racing last Summer - neither were sure it was for them, but they had a blast. Rosie is delighted to finally be 8yrs & cannot wait to get going…..
We do a bit of all sorts, the girls enjoy cross country & show jumping and we probably do a couple of events a year, dressage is not our forte! We had a great day last Summer when we took all 4 to an ODE, every time we thought it was picnic time, one of them was on, it was brilliant but not something I could do every weekend!
Ted is 6 & so far, a typical boy, doesn’t want to faff, definitely no brushing (unless it’s the yard!) just wants to get on & ride! My proud moment was Ted winning his Halloween show jumping in 2021. You don’t find ponies like his, I’d trust him to look after Ted anywhere.
Minnie is 3 and scarily thinks she is the same age as the others!"
How important is it to you that your children are brought up in the countryside atmosphere?
"I genuinely do not mind if our children never ride again, for now it is their childhood & to have 4 children who don’t know any different than muddy wellies, filling saddle bags with goodies & heading off on pony adventures - that’s all I can ask for now. We’re also rather lucky that we have several great pubs on our riding routes & we’re quite partial to apple juice & crisps, I think the children forget they are riding & it’s just about having fun."
What do you think that and being involved with horses specifically brings to their childhood?
"I lost Rosie (8yrs) before school this morning and thought she must have gone out to the gallops with her Daddy but no, she came in and told me she’d hayed all the ponies - the independence, confidence & care of others, in this case, ponies, this instils in a child, I think would be hard to teach at school.
I don’t think our children have been pushed, we don’t compete much, and I really believe and hope that’s why they love riding. It’s fun, it’s about adventures, one of my absolute favourite things in life is to do the school run on horseback with one or all of them, to or from school. We have snacks in pockets (of course), Rosie could tell you how many ditches there are between home & school as she trains her Shetland, we know where fords are, fields to canter, who’s homes we pass & might find a biscuit - I hope they will remember sticking jodhpurs under school uniform & seeing who can sing the loudest!"
Would you like any of them to carry on the family tradition into racing as a career like their stepbrothers - Sam and William (now retired)?
"As for their future, who knows, I think that although the racing world is strongly in their roots, but it is important to know that there is also a big, wonderful world out there to explore too."
Having two ourselves, we are big fans of ex-racers at G&G, and have seen some lovely photos of your girls on some the racehorses Nigel trains/has trained – what is it about some racehorses that make them fabulous riding horses post racing?
"I think, as with most animals or humans, some of the horses are more highly strung, others much gentler. At home I think many of the horses must be relaxed to put up with us. As they head out to the gallops, they must dodge dogs, chickens, children, bikes.
The stable staff love & treat their horses as their babies, so it is terribly hard for them when their time comes to retire & move on, some never go & live out their days doing fun rides, team chasing, hunting or hacking.
A hard question as to why some racehorses make brilliant riding horses, post racing. I think, as with any horse or animal, some are gentle & kind, others not quite the same. If a horse is treated right, in the right hands then I am sure they will be willing. Many of the racehorses here are non-spooky & gentle to handle, of course some are not so easy. They are also pretty different horses once they are not racing fit, but I think you can tell a kind natured horse as you can a human & most of them are. People must understand horses & give them time to adjust."
Can you tell us some of your most memorable experiences involving horses and/or the countryside (good or bad!)?
"So many memories! An obvious one was Imperial Commander winning the Gold Cup.
When you see the yard working day in, day out, going out to the gallops in the sunshine, the rain, the sideways sleeting ice, the snow, the dark, the cold, starting work at 5am, you appreciate the side of racing that not many see. The work & love that is poured into these horses is just incredible; their stables are tidier & snugger than our home, they’re all wrapped up in duvets. When the work & the plans come together it means the world to the whole yard.
Nigel once told me it can be a lonely place out in the top of the gallops, having to be responsible for making decisions, never wanting to let owners down - it’s tough. Stan, his sheepdog, shares the load the poor thing! So, when, as with the Gold Cup, he wins a big race, after I’ve seen the worries & sleepless nights, I always think, ‘Well done, husband, you did it’."
Thank you so much to Victoria for answering our questions and providing such an insight into her family life. We love all the photos!
We will be attending The Cheltenham Festival 2022 from Tuesday 15th - Friday 18th March with our Glaze & Gordon racing goodies, we look forward to seeing some old faces and meeting new ones on the stand then.