At Home With The Brosnans
Busy is an understatement when describing the lives of Matamata based trainers, Pete and Jess Brosnan.
As well as running a successful multifaceted business, this dynamic duo are proud parents to three young boys, Oliver (8), James (4) and Lucas (2), and very recently welcomed their first daughter, Molly, at the beginning of November.
You might think that training racehorses and raising their young family would be enough to keep Pete and Jess well and truly run off their feet, but as Love Racing found out, there is plenty more on the go at their 70-acre farm on the outskirts of Matamata.
Home to the Brosnan family is Fieldhouse Park, which is perfectly positioned five minutes from the Matamata township and Matamata Racecourse, with stunning views up to the Kaimai Range.
Pete has trained from the farm since his parents bought it about 20 years ago, with Jess joining him when they got together 10 years ago. It was only about four years ago though that they bought the property from Pete’s parents and moved their own family into the original four-bedroom farmhouse.
With the four children and up to 20 horses in work at their busiest times, their stables and house are a hive of activity every day, but Jess says their location makes it a relaxing place to live.
“It’s such a nice place, it’s quiet and remote, so it’s peaceful, but only five minutes from town and we look up to the Kaimais, a lot of people want to buy on this road,” she says.
There are two houses on the farm - the original house, which is over 100 years old, is home to Pete and Jess and their four children, and Pete’s sister and 96-year-old father live in another house on the property.
Being an old house, Jess laughs telling us it is “not something they brag about”, but says the kitchen area is a special place and one of her favourites in their home.
“I like cooking, roast pork with crackling is a family favourite,” says Jess. “The kitchen is tiny and we can only fit two people in at once, but the table is just off to the side and is where we eat a lot of our meals. There’s a photo of Don’t Break My Heart winning a hurdle race hanging in the kitchen, so every time we eat we stare at him.”
Winning photos of other good horses are some of their most special items throughout the house, and Jess also makes mention of the old wooden signs bearing the names of past resident stallions, when Pete’s parents ran a large thoroughbred stud farm from another property, also in Matamata .
“We have the old stallion signs for the likes of Cocky Golfer and Imperial Seal hanging over in the tie ups, they are very cool,” says Jess.
The house is mostly just a place for the family to eat and sleep, as the majority of their life is spent outdoors. With stabling for 10 horses, which being made from concrete blocks, are lovely and cool for the horses in the summer, a sand track, grass track complete with a set of hurdles and a new horse treadmill, the Brosnans are perfectly set up to run their busy stable.
Pete and Jess usually have 18-20 horses in work during winter and drop down to about 12 in summer. They have horses in for race training, pre-training, breaking in and, more recently with the addition of the horse treadmill in February, horses in for rehabilitation from injuries.
“The treadmill has been a big expense but it’s helped, and hard as it is to convince people of its benefits, the proof is in the pudding,” explains Jess. “It’s a guaranteed smooth surface, they can go an incline and get off their legs and the work is done all in a straight line. One horse that we had through winter training on the treadmill won first up and I don’t think she’s won fresh up like that before.”
Being out of town, there is space for horses in training to live in a paddock, rather than a stable, which is also attractive to owners.
“Quite a lot of our horses are ones that have not coped in town in the stables all the time and have been sent here so they can live in a paddock,” says Jess.
Each day starts early for the Brosnan family, with Pete and their apprentice, Tui Miles, up to take a load to the track at 5.30am and getting back about 8am, just in time to wave Jess off as she gets Oliver on the bus to local Matamata Primary, and James and Lucas go to a local day care three times a week.
When Jess is back from the drop offs, they normally have a bit of breakfast together before starting with the rest of the horses.
“We’ll work through to get all the horses done before lunch and then there are just jobs to do in the afternoon before feed up,” says Jess.
With lots to be done around the place, the Brosnan kids don’t have video games or iPads to entertain them; instead they have jobs to do and pets and ponies to play with.
“Oliver will have friends come round and we don’t have games and things on the TV, it can be a bit embarrassing,” laughs Jess. “They’re pretty lucky kids though and they enjoy being outside and all have jobs to do.”
Oliver knows how to work the treadmill and can get quiet horses in, and Jess says even James is old enough now to help out with filling up buckets and will potter around helping.
They all ride ponies and do a bit of pony club, with James being the keenest rider of the three boys at this stage.
Between them they have two welsh ponies, Tommy who they share, and a younger one Dynamo, as well as a Shetland pony called Missy.
“We quite often take Missy and Tommy to the races, Tommy has been all round the countryside!” says Jess. “Oliver is pretty lucky too as he often gets to travel the countryside with Pete going to race meetings, we can plonk him in the café at the races and we come back and he’s chatting to a trainer or someone.”
It’s not just horses and ponies that keep the kids busy, they also have a cat, a couple of dogs, chickens, and in spring, there are 100 odd calves that they help Jess to raise.
“We’ve only done a 100 this year but other years have done 200 or 300,” says Jess. “I hand rear 40 or 50 and we mother the rest onto a cow, so a mother would have her calf, plus two or three others, it’s labour intensive and takes a few days to mother them on, but once they are on that’s it.”
When they reach 110kg, most of the calves are sold but they will keep around 30 to sell throughout the year and as yearlings.
The kids muck in and help Jess feed the calves, and usually Oliver has a pet calf to keep and raise for his school calf club day.
“They all pitch in a bit with the calves and are good little helpers,” says Jess.
But, there is still more. Pete and Jess have yet another seasonal dimension to their business, and rather than taking it easy after their busy winter racing season and then raising spring calves, they kick off their hay and silage making in summer.
They do mini bales, big silage bales and supply hay to a lot of the racing stables in town.
“Pete’s done that for years and years and it’s gotten bigger and bigger, the kids love the tractors and machinery and it won’t be long until Oliver can drive a tractor and help,” says Jess.
Running the farm and the business is a seven day a week job, 365 days a year, but when they do get a rare few hours or a day away, like many kiwi families, the Brosnans are drawn to the water.
“We like going to the beach and try to get the kids over to the Mount (Maunganui) a couple of times over summer or somewhere they can do a bit of fishing,” says Jess. “The kids will have a week or so in the school holidays where they go to the Central Hawkes Bay to my family and that’s their little break.”
With summer just around the corner and the jumps season well and truly over, it is a quieter time around the stable, but they will still have a few horses out flat racing and Jess plans to take a few of their jumpers out to compete in show jumping after Christmas too.
“We have a couple of nice up and coming horses, The Dash is a nice one to keep an eye on for next winter,” says Jess. “I show jumped him last summer and he had a few hurdle races over winter and I hope to get him out show jumping again after Christmas.
“We like our horses to be able to multitask, then we know they can go on and be rehomed when they retire, finding good homes for our horses when they retire is really important to us.”
While they enjoy the flat racing, Pete and Jess’ passion really lies with the jumpers and they are looking forward to the season kicking off again in May next year.
“We love the jumpers, we enjoy the flat racing too, but with the jumpers it just takes that much more, what you put in is what you get out, and that brings a lot of satisfaction, there’s nothing better!” says Jess.