Home of the month: At home with horses
PUBLISHED: 12:39 11 August 2014
Pat Bramley visits showjumping trainer David Brown at the Gosmore home he transformed into a centre for world-beating horses
David Brown has had two careers since he left Berkhamsted School in the late 1970s. Each has been a high-pressure job requiring huge talent and determination.
In his 20s, he was a professional show- jumper, mixing with riders at the top of the sport. Then, with his partner Kirsty, he set up a stableyard at Thistley End at Gosmore in Hitchin and trained horses, a career he has excelled in – one of his young charges is now ridden by 2008 Olympic gold medalist Lara Kraut and another by perhaps Britain’s most famous showjumper, John Whittaker.
Unsurprisingly, the equestrian facilities at the house in the village of Gosmore are state-of-the-art. As well as nine stables including two larger-than-usual boxes for mares and their foals, there’s a solarium for drying off horses in double-quick time after they’ve been washed down, a walker that can exercise automatically up to five horses at a gentle pace while their stables are being mucked out, and a top-of-the-range super-sized manege.
The house is pretty good too. It’s a proper home, not just a glorified extension of the stables for humans. On the first floor are three large bedrooms, each with its own en-suite bathroom. On the ground floor, two self-contained annexes have their own entrances from outside, plus there are numerous reception rooms, a farmhouse-style kitchen and a super conservatory.
David says, ‘The house has flexible accommodation, ideal for an extended family or if you need staff to live on-site. After a hard day riding, there’s a nice Jacuzzi and a full-length balcony for sun worshippers. After all, it’s not only the horses that need a few luxuries in life,’ he laughs.
‘We set the yard up as a professional outfit but it would be perfect for a family which was seriously into horses. There are four major competition centres within one hour of here, including Addington in Bucks and Patchets in South Herts. Alternatively, you could live in the house and forget horses altogether and use the barns and stables for something else entirely.’
Unlike many in the sport, David, 51, wasn’t the product of an equestrian dynasty. At the family home in Kings Langley, there were no horses and his parents didn’t ride. But there were stables down the road, and after he was taken there for a riding lesson by his mum, well, that was him smitten. ‘Horses have always been my passion,’ he says.
There was no question about what he wanted to do after A-levels. He was hell-bent on having a crack at show-jumping for a living.
His first major break came at 21 when he had the opportunity to go to Germany to ride young horses for Hans Gunter Winkler, the only showjumper to win seven Olympic medals, five of them gold.
Following that, he went on to join the stables of the great Alwin Schockemohle. In all, he was in Germany for six years. From there he moved to Switzerland to work for Belgian Philippe Le Jeune, who would go on to become one of the best showjumpers of all time. He is currently world champion.
For the rider from Hertfordshire, helping to select and train promising young horses for world-famous names was the experience of a lifetime, but it didn’t make him sufficiently well-off financially to invest in top-class horses and make the big time in his own right.
Back home in England at the age of 30, he felt the time had come ‘to get a proper job’. The only option that appealed and for which he was qualified was a career in the City.
With Kirsty, another highly-accomplished rider, he bought a house in Brookmans Park, where they had two children and kept their horses at stables run by a friend in Borehamwood. Although he no longer depended on showjumping as a primary source of income, riding remained his passion.
Eventually, seven years ago, the pair took the plunge and set up their own yard as a professional outfit at Thistley End.
‘We decided to select young horses that were unbroken and train them up for potential top-class competition,’ David explains. ‘At that point it seemed like a lifetime ago that I was working for Winkler, Schockemohle and Le Jenue, but you never forget the attributes a young horse requires to make it to the top.
‘Kirsty looked after the riding side, I know what to look for when you’re choosing an animal with potential and the facilities you need to prepare them for competition at the highest level. Between us, we had the experience and know-how to make a professional go of it.’
Kirsty and David have now separated, so there is just one young horse left in the breeding programme, which will be sent away shortly to be professionally trained . ‘I also still have the three older mares we used for breeding – I wouldn’t want to sell them, they’ll stay with me for the rest of their lives,’ says David.
The children are now 19 and 21 and both at university ‘not interested in horses, thank heavens,’ laughs their father. Now a successful broker, trading in European bonds, David says the facilities are wasted now and the five-bedroom home is too large for him.
For these reasons, Thistley End is on the market through Savills with a guide price of £1.695m.
And of course it comes with the full works for anyone, like the Browns, who wants an equestrian centre to train up tomorrow’s winners.