Matt Brocklebank visited racehorse re-training and rehoming centre New Beginnings in North Yorkshire and discovered a charity going places.
Not all new beginnings are good.
There’s the beginning of the end, for instance; the inauguration of Donald John Trump as the 45th President of the United States and the start of the Hundred Years’ War are other examples that spring to mind.
But generally the turn of phrase is packed with positive connotations of fresh challenges, welcome change, hope and expectation. And it’s precisely for that reason why New Beginnings is the perfect name for the progressive and passionate organisation nestled in the sprawling North Yorkshire estate of the Earl and Countess of Halifax, which helps retired racehorses prepare for the next stage of their lives.
But be on the lookout for an abridged version of the title in the near future, as Kevin Atkinson – who runs the charity along with his partner and co-director Pam Hollingworth - explained with a reasonably exasperated look: "Believe it or not we get so many misspellings of the word ‘beginnings’ that we’re seriously considering dropping it to NB Horses."
Kevin, who "worked in insurance for God knows how many years, but always had horses", conjured the idea of a retraining yard for thoroughbreds when asked to take in an ex-racehorse some 20 years ago.
"I was doing some horse transport at the time, which was predominantly racing based, and I was stood with an owner at 5am one morning and he said he had 60-odd horses that hadn’t been covered that year and asked if I’d take one, and I ended up taking four of them home with me.
"So that’s when the principle of New Beginnings started. Then I met Pam and we’ve developed it into what it is now. So it’s built on passion. It’s certainly not built on money!"
Along with fundraising events, collection buckets and raceday parades of some of their resident star names - Mister McGoldrick, Nanton and recent acquisition Chil The Kite among others - New Beginnings relies on contributions from its many supporters, including York and Pontefract racecourses, the ROR (Retraining of Racehorses), feed company Fibre-Beet, and Sky Bet.
The online bookmaker’s association with the project dates back to 2012, and it was during one of the now annual volunteer days this week that members of the Sky Bet staff were able to get up close and personal with some of the 25 lucky horses currently being cared for at Low House Stud, before setting about some serious graft in a bid to help prepare New Beginnings' next home eight miles south at The Grange in Bishop Wilton.
Since becoming a registered charity in January 2016, Kevin and Pam have been eager to move premises in order to cope more effectively with the growing demands following an influx of interest from all over the country.
"We’ll miss this place (Low House) but we're definitely ready to go," reflects Kevin as he gazes out across the striking landscape with York Minster visible 16 miles in the distance.
"We'll miss the views but we won't miss the hills. Working on these hills every day is hard work and in the winter it's very cold. And we've basically outgrown it. At the new yard we've got protection from the elements, we've got more places to store things before winter comes and amazingly it's about three degrees milder.
"It'll be a lot better for us down there. It's a new beginning for New Beginnings."
There are clearly numerous challenges ahead and one of the ongoing issues the charity has faced is the perception they are somehow "do-gooders" whose very existence reflects badly on the trainers with whom the horses were initially associated during their time on the track.
This misplaced notion is evidently something Kevin feels very strongly about and is constantly striving to dispel.
"Most trainers find good homes for their retired horses, it’s very rare that we get one straight after they’ve been rehomed by a trainer. It’s usually two or three homes down the line when things go wrong.
"It’s just some people take them on and think they can afford them and look after them but it doesn’t work out, we certainly don’t judge anyone.
"Depending on where they come from, whether they’ve come straight out of racing or from vulnerable homes, we’d hope to turn them around in no more than a year.
"When our work’s done the horse is ready for a new home to take it on to the next stage. We can get them to a certain level but then we have to concentrate on the next one. We’re not a sanctuary, we simply can’t afford to just take any horses in and keep them in a field and feed them.
"But once they’ve been here they’re always a New Beginnings horse, we never sell them. We put them out on long-term loan. They’re lodged with Weatherbys under our name and they know not to change it.
"We visit them annually, although we don’t really need to as we get Facebook pictures and messages. We get lots of proud people showing us what they’ve done with the horses.
"If you sell something, once you’ve cashed the cheque you’ve lost control."
When it comes to control out in the field of colts and geldings, there’s no doubt who is in charge, with high-profile ambassador Mister McGoldrick, an eight-time Wetherby winner and 2008 Cheltenham Festival hero, seemingly acutely aware of his status as a Yorkshire racing legend.
"It’s a bit like with elite human athletes,” Kevin explains. "If they’ve competed at a high level then they possess that mental strength, the killer instinct that made them so successful, and they never lose it.
"He knows he’s the boss alright, he’s generally at the front over there with the others all just behind him. They all just take a step back and let him lead whenever there’s people visiting."
The affectionately named ‘Mac’ has recently been joined by Chil The Kite, himself twice a winner in the white rose county but predominantly campaigned in the south by trainer Hughie Morrison.
While stressing that each and every animal is cared for with the same degree of attention, Kevin admits having such well-known horses in the stable can only enhance the overall profile of New Beginnings and help generate more funding in the long term.
"It’s great to have Chil The Kite with us here now. He was a good horse and along with everything else you’ve got to look at the marketing aspect and how people perceive you.
"When he first came he was trying to nip us and all sorts but he’s nicely relaxed now. We were recommended to the lady who owned him and she liked what we could offer so much she sent him all the way from Lambourn. She’s chuffed to bits with how he’s settled in."
It is unquestionably a positive new beginning for Chil The Kite, and with Kevin and Pam at the helm there’s little doubt there will be countless more fulfilling stories to emerge through a charity on the move in more ways than one.