A day in the life of an equine manager
Continuing our series 'down on the farm', we meet equine commercial and events manager Sonia Wilkes to learn all about her typical working day.
Words by Pat Crawford pictures by Manu Palomeque
Name: Sonia Joanne Wilkes
Job title: Equine Commercial and Events Manager
Where: Hadlow College Equine Department, Faculty of Equine and Rural Activities
How did you start?
I was just six when I first became pony-mad. My parents arranged for me to have lessons at the local riding school at Northiam in East Sussex. When it was obvious that it wasn’t a ‘flash in the pan interest’, my parents arranged for me to have a pony on loan and I used to help at the riding centre in exchange for a lesson.
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Who or what has inspired you?
Right from an early age I was attracted to eventing. I love the fact that it involves all three main disciplines – dressage, cross-country and show jumping. My earliest inspirations were some of the great event riders, Lucinda Green, Ian Stark and Ginny Leng. Now it is William Fox-Pitt and Mary King and, above all, Mark Todd.
How long have you been in the equestrian industry?
Counting from the time I began helping in the riding centre at weekends, it is a horrifying 27 years!
What training did you have?
After A-levels, I obtained an Advanced Certificate in Equine Business Management and the British Horse Society Stage 3 certificate and subsequently the Intermediate Instructor’s certificate. I worked for Frances Hooper, one of our leading event riders (was excellent experience) and for six years I instructed and managed the yard at a large equestrian centre in Buckinghamshire. I think my varied work experience was a key factor in my getting my present job.
How many horses in the yard?
We have 64, some of which have competed to a high standard – made up of liveries, student liveries, some on permanent loan and some that are college owned. We also stand our own stallion and have a breeding programme.
Describe your working day
My days vary quite a lot because I have a wide range of responsibilities and I also lecture three days a week. My job includes constructing our events programme and I enjoy building up its breadth and diversity. I also oversee the events planned and organised by the higher education students as part of their courses. I am responsible for ordering feed and supplies as well as overseeing other factors essential to ensuring a big complex like this shows the exemplar standards we set.
How are the horses looked after?
At Hadlow our horses are all stable kept but go out once a week, the youngstock daily. To give students wide experience of all types of bedding, we use straw, paper, rubber matting and shavings and also undertake trials with innovative materials. The land here is flat and not well-drained and, with so many horses on the establishment, careful paddock maintenance is an important factor. Every horse is exercised or worked once or twice a day and we devise individual schooling programmes. Students, under supervision, undertake the day-to-day care of the horses they are allocated and are expected to maintain the highest standards in relation to both the animals they are looking after and the yard in general.
What are the horses fed?
An individual dietary plan is developed for each horse depending on age, management, temperament and work routine. In addition, they are fed either hay or haylage.
Do you compete with the horses?
All staff and students are encouraged to compete, both in the wide range of competitions we hold here and at local, regional and national levels. I am fortunate to be bringing on and eventing a college-bred mare, Ditto. I also compete with my own horse, a Belgian Warmblood called Dear Ollie.
Job satisfaction score?
For me the diversity of the work is very important, and we have good facilities in a lovely setting. We are part of a specialist land-based college and there are plenty of opportunities to mix with people in other faculties, such as agriculture and horticulture, which have a natural overlap with the equestrian industry. I love my job – so it has to be a 10!
Hadlow, Tonbridge TN11 OAL
01732 850 551