A visit to Kingsclere: British elegance on the world stage

Park House Stables, Kingsclere, England
Credit : Supplied

Thursday 31 January - 14h16 | Marie De Pellegars-Malhortie, translated by Ian Clayton

A visit to Kingsclere: British elegance on the world stage

Located in the heart of the English countryside, the sublime Park House Stables at Kingsclere are considered a temple for English Thoroughbreds. Indeed, the large red brick complex ringed by kilometres of gallop tracks has witnessed the births of numerous champions at the highest level. And with a unique blend of authenticity and modernity, the stables have stood proudly in their stunning rural setting since the late 19th century. Below, a visit to the stables, originally published in Grand Prix heroes magazine. 

 - A visit to Kingsclere: British elegance on the world stage

Sir Joseph Hawley, 1870
Credit : Alfred Thompson

Rising from a picturesque, rolling landscape in Newbury, Berkshire, 100 kilometres west of London, Kingsclere is undoubtedly one of the oldest, best-equipped and most beautiful equestrian properties in the world. Its foundations were laid in the 1860s by Sir Joseph Hawley, a prominent figure in horse racing during the Victorian era, and over the following years the site never stopped being improved upon as it passed between the hands of various owners and trainers. 

A native of London, Hawley had begun by renovating the farm buildings at the neighbouring Cannons Heath site before establishing Park House Stables at Kingsclere in 1867. Wishing to guarantee the longevity and success of his stables and mounts, the colourful owner and breeder hired John Porter as his trainer. Little-known up to that point, Porter would prove himself to be a real genius, and in just two years, he developed (notably) Blue Gown, winner of the Epsom Derby in 1868. After several years of fruitful collaboration, Sir Joseph Hawley passed away in 1875, stipulating in his will that the young trainer could buy the property for £4,000 – half its true value!

The ambitious Porter pounced on the opportunity and set about making his new jewel sparkle. Stuck in bed one day with typhoid fever, the trainer reworked the plans for the site and committed himself to renewing the complex once recovered. And it is to him that we owe the incredible stables and endless gallop tracks sprinkled today across the undulating plains near Watership Down. Retiring in 1905, Porter handed over the reins to William Waugh – already a successful trainer at the stables – who was later succeeded by Fred Butters, younger brother of the Aga Khan’s trainer. But the new team’s work would be curtailed by the outbreak of World War II, and Kingsclere’s tracks fell silent. 

In the 1950s, Peter Hastings, son of the famous jockey and trainer Aubrey Hastings, purchased the Park House Stables. There, he developed more than 340 winning mounts before passing away in 1964. Ian Balding, his then 26-year-old son-in-law and assistant, took over the top job and began shaping what would turn out to be a remarkable career. During his 39 years at the head of Kingsclere, Balding welcomed and trained more than two thousand champions from across the world, including from owners like Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In 2003, Ian entrusted the stables to his son Andrew, a trainer who had already racked up countless victories in Group 1, the highest level of racing. Today at Kingsclere, an entire family works with the horses: Andrew’s partner Anna Lisa is responsible for client relations, while Emma, his mother, is in charge of breeding. Clare, Andrew’s sister, is a sports journalist in London, but regularly returns to the relaxing family home. Article continues below.

 - A visit to Kingsclere: British elegance on the world stage

A dream site focused on performance

A dream site focused on performance - A visit to Kingsclere: British elegance on the world stage

Extensive amenities, including for equine hydrotherapy
Credit : Supplied

These days, the sumptuous facilities at Kingsclere feature 199 boxes spread across eight yards, whose styles vary from bucolic British to modern American. The older ochre-bricked buildings have a stately presence and are bordered by newer structures on the edge of vast green fields. Between the stables lie two lunging rings, a pair of horse walkers, a circular pool, and 400 metres of covered ground for all-weather work-outs. And as part of their health check-ups, the animals are regularly weighed on the stables’ precise scale. Beyond that, the resident horses are cared for and trained like true stars. And judging by the stables’ trophy collection, its methods have clearly borne fruit!

In line with its cutting-edge approach, Park House Stables was among the first operations in Great Britain to recognise the importance of equine pools. Over time, hydrotherapy has been used as an important part of horses’ training regimens – particularly for those in recovery phase or who are physically or mentally fragile. This technique allows trainers to gently work on the muscles and endurance of the athletes. Moreover, the Kingsclere team disposes of a treadmill to supplement training sessions and benefit horses during rest periods. Article continues below. 

​Galloping across the English countryside

​Galloping across the English countryside - A visit to Kingsclere: British elegance on the world stage

Credit : Supplied

Kingsclere’s gallop tracks, situated 500 metres from the stables and practiced on every day, extend out towards the horizon. One of them, 900 metres long, was fully restored in 2018 to ensure the optimum physical well-being of its users. Another is made up of 1,100 metres of a sand and fibre mixture. In addition, trainers have access to an 800-metre circular arena with weather-resistant surface. A woodchip path, which slopes uphill for 600 metres, allows for a range of targeted training sessions adapted to specific competition requirements. Finally, Kingsclere also offers 50 hectares of surrounding plains, divided into eight distinct grass terrains. During downtime, horses can relax in one of the grazing paddocks. And in order to better prepare yearlings for their future careers, the site’s owners have also invested in three sets of starting stalls. Over the course of their education, the young talents are guided by an experienced horse familiar with the structures. Little by little, the thoroughbreds learn to enter them calmly and wait for the bell giving the signal to spring into action on the track. 

Each day, 70 people work at Park House, mainly taking care of the racehorses. In order to provide them with the best conditions possible, the youngest employees live together in an immense residence on site, in close proximity to the five apartments and 20 cottages allocated to their older colleagues. As a result, in addition to its gorgeous setting and authentic British style, the complex has nourished its longevity with a familial spirit rooted in tradition. All in all, a great recipe for long-term success. 

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