A farmer develops a business training thoroughbred horses
Moira Murdoch was born and raised in One Tree Hill, in Auckland. She says she was always horse mad. She and husband Michael Murdoch now fatten beef, mostly for local trade, on close to 300ha on the west coast of Auckland near Waiuku.
Moira started pre-training racehorses to supplement the farm income, and the business of Isola Stables grew from there. She knew a horse trainer who suggested she look after a couple of his horses for her, letting them work on the farm. She now works in partnership with her daughter Kieran. Son Chris is an agricultural contractor in the area and helps her husband Mike on the farm.
Moira’s biggest win was the Cox Plate back in 1994 with a horse called Solvit. The horse was bought for $4500 and went on to win over $1.5m in stakes in a 6 year racing career.
Moira says a lot of horses come to Isola Stables because the owners are looking for a different environment. The business offers beach training on the sands of nearby Karioitahi Beach and also the 300ha farm environment. She says the overall atmosphere is deliberately relaxed. Moira claims there’s no school you can study at to learn to be a horse trainer. “It’s the school of life”, she jokes. Liking horses is a really good starting point, and after that it is learning to watch them and understand what their needs are.
The stables train horses for horse owners but there are also a few that they race in partnership with other extended family members.
The farm runs as a separate operation. There an adjistment property across the road where horses are outdoors. Moira says farming and race horse training are quite similar - “You are caring for the animals, you’re looking to make sure you’re giving it everything they need at different times of the year.”
Horse training is a labour intensive business. There are eight staff on the property - four work the horses on the beach while the others are at the stables. Moira says she looks for people who are quiet and calm - the right kind of temperament to be around horses. Her advice to anyone entering the industry would be to prepare themselves for a lot of hard work – and a lot fun. “There’s nothing quite like getting a thoroughbred to win races. It’s a great achievement.”
The training at the nearby beach is a big selling point for the stables. Moira says they’ve been training there for over 30 years. She says it’s very different to track racing - the main plus being the horses can run in a straight line rather than running on a curve which can put an uneven strain on certain parts of their legs. The black sand of the beach is also a very consistent surface for the legs and not too hard on tendons and hooves.
The number of horses Isola Stables can train is limited by the number they can transport to the beach each day. On any given day there are around 2 dozen horses being brought down in lots of four. Their riders saddle up and take them down the beach and then they’re taken home for a wash down and a feed.
Moira used to ride but spends her time these days watching the horses – making sure they’re doing their work and recovering well.