Best of bwoothrlds

Cel­e­brated stan­dard­bred train­ers David and Cather­ine Butt have ex­panded their equine pur­suits to in­clude a new pur­pose-built eques­trian cen­tre on the out­skirts of Christchurch, as AN­NIE STUDHOLME dis­cov­ers

NZ Horse & Pony - - Horse & Home -

As you drive down the wind­ing road to the tiny set­tle­ment of Wood­end Beach it’s plain to see why David and Cather­ine Butt’s Birch­brook Eques­trian Cen­tre is hot prop­erty in both the har­ness world and the sporthorse world.

Less than a ve minute jog to the beach, the stun­ning 88-hectare prop­erty has pro­duced many champions. It’s not only home to their own small team of stan­dard­breds and brood­mares, but their son Bob Butt also trains from here, as well as lead­ing fa­ther-and-son duo, Robert and John Dunn.

It’s an im­pres­sive set-up with tree-lined laneways, nu­mer­ous barns, three train­ing tracks, a swim­ming pool, and tread­mill, but it was the close prox­im­ity to the beach that ini­tially at­tracted them to the prop­erty in the late 1990s.

Back then, very few train­ers were beach-train­ing full time, but the Butts could see the ad­van­tages. “Sure, it’s eas­ier on their legs and joints but I think it is the men­tal fresh­ness that the beach brings out in them which is the most im­por­tant part of it,” ex­plains David.

e de­ci­sion to move from West Mel­ton to Wood­end Beach proved to be the mak­ing of their ca­reers. Al­most overnight

For Cather­ine, it was a ma­jor shock to the sys­tem mov­ing from their pre­vi­ous lovely new house. And it was nine long years be­fore the old cot­tage fi­nally made way for a stylish new dwelling and as their train­ing busi­ness grew, they kept ex­pand­ing, buy­ing more land. First, it was 20 hectares next door, and re­cently they added a fur­ther ad­join­ing 56 hectares, tak­ing them to al­most 90 hectares in to­tal.

“We have a lot of brood­mares and it was get­ting harder and harder to find good graz­ing, so we thought it would be great to be able to have them at home and graze a few cat­tle. It was too good an op­por­tu­nity to miss,” ex­plains Cather­ine.

Over the past two years they have scaled down their own train­ing op­er­a­tion to make way for son Bob to go it alone. Fewer horses in work has al­lowed them to con­sider other busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties that utilise the land, beach and fa­cil­i­ties, which is where the idea of an eques­trian cen­tre was first mooted.

Although har­ness rac­ing and eques­trian sport seem worlds apart to out­siders, here in Can­ter­bury at least, many fam­i­lies are in­volved in both, and the Butts knew plenty of fam­i­lies with chil­dren rid­ing.

De­spite their lim­ited knowl­edge of eques­trian sports, the love of horses is the com­mon link. While they have ended up work­ing with stan­dard­breds, the cou­ple agree they could have just as eas­ily ended up work­ing with thor­ough­bred race­horses or show jumpers. “It’s all about what you are ex­posed to,” says David. “At the end of the day, horse peo­ple are horse peo­ple. If you like horses, you like horses. We might not know much about eques­trian sports, but we know horses.”

Hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced such suc­cess with beach train­ing, es­pe­cially with horses with leg prob­lems, the Butts knew the beach would be a huge at­trac­tion for all rid­ers, and with a mass ex­o­dus of peo­ple mov­ing away from Christchurch in the wake of the 2011 earth­quake, the sur­round­ing ar­eas were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing mas­sive pop­u­la­tion growth. While the growth was breath­ing new life into the smaller towns, it had meant find­ing suit­able graz­ing and good places to ride had sub­se­quently be­come much more dif­fi­cult.

Grow­ing up, Cather­ine had al­ways wanted to ride but her par­ents were busy with their mar­ket gar­den­ing busi­ness and her fa­ther spent all his spare time with the stan­dard­breds. “Part of the rea­son I wanted to do this was to give peo­ple that op­por­tu­nity to have horses with­out the need for own­ing land,” ex­plains Cather­ine.

Their vi­sion for Birch­brook Eques­trian was sim­ple: to build a cen­tre where peo­ple not only had a safe place to keep their horses, of­fer­ing un­par­al­leled beach ac­cess, and use of their state-of-the-art fa­cil­i­ties and are­nas, but also a fa­cil­ity where peo­ple could have DIY horse­care or close to full liv­ery, de­pend­ing on their cir­cum­stances.

Both David and Cather­ine grew up sur­rounded by stan­dard­breds. David is the grand­son of leg­endary trainer Wes Butt, part of New Zealand’s first fam­ily of har­ness rac­ing. As a child grow­ing up in West Mel­ton he rode and did pony club but as soon as he was old enough to drive, the ponies went beg­ging. He went on to be­come a top young driver, twice fin­ish­ing sec­ond in the Aus­tralasian Ju­nior Driv­ers Se­ries, be­fore be­com­ing a suc­cess­ful trainer on his own ac­count.

Cather­ine too was des­tined for a ca­reer in the stan­dard­bred in­dus­try. The daugh­ter of owner/trainer John Thomp­son, she was im­mersed in it from day one. “I had plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties with horses, just not with rid­ing or pony club,” she says. Prior to get­ting mar­ried, she used to drive at the work­outs and only stopped driv­ing fast-work af­ter an ac­ci­dent in 2003 which tore three lig­a­ments off the bone in her leg.

David trained on his own ac­count from 1983, train­ing 99 win­ners, be­fore join­ing forces with his wife in 2002. It’s very much a team ef­fort. With David do­ing the driv­ing at home and on race­day, it falls back on Cather­ine to en­sure all the horses are ready to go, and on race­day she’s re­spon­si­ble for gear­ing them up, look­ing af­ter them, talk­ing to the own­ers and do­ing the ac­counts.

Within two years the Butts had made his­tory, tak­ing out the premier­ship for the first time with 79 win­ners. It also made Cather­ine the first fe­male to win a train­ing premier­ship in New Zealand.

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