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Elms’ breeding project gains top marks 16/7/09

School may be out for summer but for headmaster Clive Ashby, work at The Elms School never abates. Once the pupils have left for the holidays, there is still the small matter of looking after six thoroughbred mares and their offspring and herds of Hereford cattle and Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs.

Boys at the Worcesteshire prep school certainly get an all-round introduction to the world of breeding and are actively encouraged to help lead the mares and foals in and out to the paddocks.

“We’ve children here up to the age of 13 and they get involved in all the practical, hands-on elements of the farm – it teaches them an awful lot about breeding and also teaches them not to be too sentimental,” says Mr Ashby. “They see all the ups and downs of life with livestock and really appreciate a different view of life.”

The mares at The Elms are regular visitors to the Overbury Stud stallions. There are three Proclamation foals on the ground this year and two mares have scanned in foal to Kayf Tara and Bertolini.

“I’m very impressed with the Proclamation foals. Actually I think they’re astounding: really strong with a lovely attitude to life. That bodes well for their future,” says Mr Ashby, who has been a thoroughbred breeder for “20-odd years”.

While not so much involved with the racing side of the business, the progeny of the headmaster’s mares boast a 75 per cent winners’ ratio.

“I really enjoy breeding and it’s very satisfying to breed horses that are fit for purpose. I like to think they’ve had a good start in life here,” he says.

One of his homebred fillies in whom he kept a share for her racing career was the appropriately-named Elms Schoolgirl, a Brighton specialist who won three times at the seaside track for trainer James Eustace.

Mabait, a three-year-old currently in training with Luca Cumani, has now won two races for Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum. The Kyllachy colt was the first foal of Czarna Rose (Polish Precedent) and Mr Ashby is able to keep an extra close eye on his progress via updates from his former pupil Will Douglas, who is now second assistant to Cumani in Newmarket.

The flames of Douglas’s interest in racing were doubtless fanned by his time spent at The Elms and it will be no surprise to see future ‘old boys’ following a similar path.

“The foals are so much within the centre of the school,” says the man responsible for such a wonderfully rounded approach to academia. “The boys walk past them on their way to lessons and every year we have a competition to name them, starting with a different letter of the alphabet for each new year. We get thousands of suggestions and the winners receive an Easter egg.”

There’s no doubt that the pupils at The Elms are receiving so much more than just an Easter egg. The headmaster may pride himself on the good start he gives to his foals – the same can be said for his students.