Trainer Feature: Maria Lewis

The great thing about point to pointing is that there are many trainers out there with just one or two horses. Donna Harris has been going behind the scenes to find out who they are and how they get their horses fit. Here is the first spotlight feature – Maria Lewis

Point to Point trainer Maria Lewis is based on the Devon and Cornwall border, at the Lamerton Hunt Kennels, where she lives with Huntsman husband David, and daughter Heidi.

She started riding at an early age at her local riding school and by the age of 11, had found a mucking out job at a local stables, where she was able to ride out in return for her labour. She attended the odd local show on any spare pony she could find. By the age of 14, Maria was offered many other horses and ponies to ride, until her parents moved to Devon, to a property with land, so she could have her own horses.

Once Maria started hunting, she met David. “He was the whipper-in to the Mid-Devon Foxhounds.  David loved his racing, and I was soon hooked on Point-to-Point,” stated Maria

The couple were soon married, and had Heidi, who  “was hunting at the age of 15 months, on her Shetland, and by nine, started pony racing, on a pony we bought called ‘Double Trouble’. By then we were all completely hooked!”

Heidi now works at Richard and Kayley Woollacott’s yards and is just starting on her third season as a point to point rider. Maria has never race ridden but she deeply admires and envies those who do, and wishes she had had the chance. “With Heidi involved in point to points at work, and having graduated from pony racing, it seemed natural for us to train pointers for her,” Maria said.

Her philosophy on training, is to keep all her horses out in the field as long as possible –  they are worked from the field until the weather turns. Once in, they are always turned out for half an hour per day. “I believe in a lot of walk exercise – we’re lucky that we are surrounded by hills, which really make them work. I am lucky that I have David, and between us we step up their fitness, and once the horses are up and fit to go, they go hunting fairly regularly until just after Christmas. Canter work starts in a large field, and then moves onto the Moors. We live close to Emma and Dean Summersby, who kindly let me use their schooling fences whenever I want. Heidi comes home to school them when she can, and we also have the option to loose school at Cholwell Equestrian Centre.”

The Lewis’s work hard, with their day normally starting at 6am, with Maria feeding, mucking out the two pointers and three hunters, whilst David is on kennel duties with the hounds. They both then exercise the hounds. “I exercise the three hunters, whilst David collects the fallen stock, a service this hunt still provides to the farmers. We then take the pointers in the lorry to the moors and gallop, wash them off and come home.”  The couple then deal with the fallen stock, after which David does kennel duties and Maria grooms and beds up the horses for the night.

Last season they had Tres Bien and Kawana Cove in training. “Tres Bien we had for Heidi for Novice Riders races, he ran honestly and gave his all, being a schoolmaster, he knew his job and taught both Heidi and us a lot during the season. He gave us some tense moments and a couple of placings which will not be forgotten. Tres Bien has moved on to a new home with Tash Dickinson as a schoolmaster. We are looking forward to seeing Tash have her first ride, and hope she enjoys him as much as we did.”

Kawana Cove had a few problems at the start of last season, which the team had to sort out. “He is a horse that needs firmer ground, which we didn’t really get until the end of the season. The trouble was he needed to run – we had a good fourth at Flete Park, which seemed to be the start of a better spell for him – followed up by a third at Upcott Cross in very wet ground, and a fourth at Bratton Down, where he stayed on well up the hill.”

At Umberleigh, with the firmer ground, Jamie Thomas took the ride on Kawana Cove, as Heidi had taken her yard ride on Pasternak Jack who is trained by Kayley Woollacott. Maria had been invited to watch the race from Jeff Guyett’s filming tower, and could hardly contain her excitement as the race unfolded with both her daughter and home trained horse both going well.  Kawana Cove gave the Lewis’s their first winner, with Pasternak Jack second with Heidi on board.

Kawana Cove is staying in training this season.Their new addition to the yard is Nudge The Nugget, a maiden who ran consistently last term. “We are looking forward to seeing what he has to offer, and he will be Heidi’s ride,” added Maria.

The team are delighted to have had support in the sponsorship of  Kawana Cove from Dartmoor Windows & Conservatories in Okehampton.

Maria prides herself with the turnout of the pointers: “I like to see horses turned out to a high standard, and have had my fair share of turnout prizes. The turnout money normally ends up back in the diesel tank!”

“I have an excellent race day team of my husband David, who I couldn’t do this without (he is also the lorry driver), our jockeys Heidi Lewis and Jamie Thomas. Sarah Ford is my right arm on a racing day, and she reads me like a book! David’s mum Margaret and sister Caroline are in charge of food and drink and David’s dad Gilmore makes sure they don’t forget anything. I would like to thank our farrier Steve Craddock who keeps the horses’ feet in good order, equine physio Katherine Davis who makes sure everything is moving properly and  Bill Lomas. horse dentist. We are very grateful to sponsors Dartmoor Windows & Conservatories of Okehampton and the Kelly family for the loan of Shadow on race days as travelling companion.”