A Little Off Base: National Stud lets visitors get close to young horses
The idea of a little boy or girl wanting to own a pony or horse is an American dream as dear as apple pie, drive-ins and running the Redcoats out of the colonies.
Sure, horses are graceful and fast, and they have those nice eyes, but you ever stand next to one of these things? They’re huge, all muscle and forever ready to give you a kick with their hind legs that would definitely knock something loose.
Plenty of folks have been on the business end of that dreaded rear-quarter kick. Look on youtube.com if you don’t believe me. A guy’s just walking to the rear of the animal, forgets to keep his hand on the horse’s haunch to let it know he’s there, then WHAM! the guy is blasted out of the camera frame and the clip ends.
So imagine my pleasant surprise when I took a day trip to The National Stud near Newmarket, the U.K.’s premier farm for breeding thoroughbred, and surprisingly nonthreatening, racehorses.
It is here that the modern-day British horse aristocracy mixes stallions and mares with famed race histories to produce the next generation of beasts that will run around a track really fast.
And while the horses at The National Stud are privately owned, you can go on a tour of the facilities and see what kind of horseplay is ensuing. Pun intended.
You’ll start your tour at a gift shop-cafe hybrid, which offers the standard amenities. Next to the shop is a little fenced off area where you’ll find 3-foot-tall Shetland ponies, all little furry balls of cute, grass-munching friendliness.
A knowledgeable tour guide and horse fan will then take you on a tour that lasts a little more than an hour. You’ll see young horses, the stallion dads and mare mothers with their newborn and adorably rickety foals, all on a beautiful verdant estate of more than 500 acres.
And you know what? The horses are nice. On a recent visit, there was no threatening vibe. Both mama and baby horse approached me and let me scratch their muzzles and necks.
One mother seemed to look at me as if to say, “Man up and pet me. For the love of pete moss, I’m behind a fence here.”
Tours run twice daily from March 1 to Sept. 30.
“They’re bred to race eventually,” said Jane Evans, a former employee and member of the Racehorse Owners Association. “This is where they grow up, and we give them a great start.”
It’s a good time for everyone in your brood, from the kids to their visiting grandparents, as you work to kill a Saturday afternoon.
Getting thereThe National Stud is Britain’s premier thoroughbred racehorse breeding estate, where the best horses make babies. Tours of the lush estate, which includes foals and mini ponies, are also offered.
Hours: Open daily, with tours at 11:15 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. from March 1 to Sept. 30.
Cost: 6.50 pounds for adults, 5 pounds for seniors, students and children older than 6, free for kids younger than 6. Family tickets are available for 20 pounds. Group rates are also available.
Directions: The National Stud is two miles southwest of Newmarket, near the “rearing stallion” roundabout that links the A1303 (A14) and the A1304 (A11). From the M11/A11, exit at the 1304 for Newmarket. Follow the road straight through town and you’ll see signs for the Stud shortly. Look for the horse roundabout, and The National Stud entrance will be the fourth exit.
Tour booking is recommended. For more information, log on to www.nationalstud.co.uk.