Sophie Woolf – The Horse Midwife

Meet Sophie Woolf – The Horse Midewife

Winter 2023 – pg.10

Sophie lives in Gloucestershire and helps to manage a private Thorougbred stud alongside two other team members. She discovered IH after attending a Monty Roberts demonstration, then became a member and attended the IH Five-Day Foundation course. Sophie now successfully utilises IH ideals when handling and backing youngsters at the stud.

“I get to go to a job every day that I love…”


I have been working in the Thoroughbred stud world since 1998 and moved from Suffolk to my current position in 2015. I manage a small privately owned stud of 12 mares, and with foals and yearlings, we normally have around 30 horses on the place, depending on the time of year. As Stud Manager, my job is overseeing their day-to-day care.

The team consists of three full-time staff, including me, and we’ve all completed the IH Five Day Foundation course. Additionally, there is a lady who helps on the yard during the foaling season, ensuring that we have plenty of time to handle all the horses as needed.

All the mares foal at the stud in Gloucestershire, and we “walk in” to whichever stallion we are using for breeding. There is no artificial insemination for breeding with racehorses, so the mares physically visit the stallions. Colts are sold in October of their yearling year, while the fillies stay here. We start them and work with them until they are ready to go into training and learn to be racehorses.

From the moment the mare is in foal, and once the foal is delivered, I am always aware that they ultimately have a job as athletes. They are not treated as pets, so their care is organized accordingly. However, I can’t make them fast – that’s in the lap of the Gods. But the one thing I can do for them is to give them as many of the skills they will need to navigate the human world in whatever home they end up in.

I am incredibly lucky that the owners get real enjoyment from watching them grow up in the paddocks and watching them run in the stud colors. They have been incredibly supportive of the IH methods we now use. The weanlings now get some short lessons in coming off pressure and are introduced to being led in the Dually® for around a month before they are moved up to their winter paddocks.

I firmly believe that horses are best kept outside as much as possible over the winter and summer, weather permitting, until they come into work. Last year was the first year that the whole process from weanlings to the girls leaving for the trainers was done with the IH ideals. The speed at which they learned and processed was amazing to me and helped with every aspect, not just the carrying tack and rider part, but with things like the first bath and trip in the lorry. I’m sure it made the adjustment for them from a teenager into a racehorse much easier.

I grew up in a totally non-horsey family near Leamington Spa in Warwickshire, with two older brothers. My mum grew up during the war on a farm in occupied Austria and only thought that animals were for working or eating. My dad came to England to escape the Nazi regime, and none of them to this day really understand my horse obsession or where it came from.

The family legend goes that my parents went to visit friends dragging me, aged four, along with them. The friends were the owners of a little Welsh Section D mare who was living behind their house, and who happened to I have been working in the Thoroughbred stud world since 1998 and moved from Suffolk to my current position in 2015. I manage a small privately owned stud of 12 mares, and with foals and yearlings, we normally have around 30 horses on the place, depending on the time of year. As Stud Manager, my job is overseeing their day-to-day care.

The team consists of three full-time staff, including me, and we’ve all completed the IH Five Day Foundation course. Additionally, there is a lady who helps on the yard during the foaling season, ensuring that we have plenty of time to handle all the horses as needed.

All the mares foal at the stud in Gloucestershire, and we “walk in” to whichever stallion we are using for breeding. There is no artificial insemination for breeding with racehorses, so the mares physically visit the stallions. Colts are sold in October of their yearling year, while the fillies stay here. We start them and work with them until they are ready to go into training and learn to be racehorses.

From the moment the mare is in foal, and once the foal is delivered, I am always aware that they ultimately have a job as athletes. They are not treated as pets, so their care is organized accordingly. However, I can’t make them fast – that’s in the lap of the Gods. But the one thing I can do for them is to give them as many of the skills they will need to navigate the human world in whatever home they end up in.

I am incredibly lucky that the owners get real enjoyment from watching them grow up in the paddocks and watching them run in the stud colors. They have been incredibly supportive of the IH methods we now use. The weanlings now get some short lessons in coming off pressure and are introduced to being led in the Dually® for around a month before they are moved up to their winter paddocks.

I firmly believe that horses are best kept outside as much as possible over the winter and summer, weather permitting, until they come into work. Last year was the first year that the whole process from weanlings to the girls leaving for the trainers was done with the IH ideals. The speed at which they learned and processed was amazing to me and helped with every aspect, not just the carrying tack and rider part, but with things like the first bath and trip in the lorry. I’m sure it made the adjustment for them from a teenager into a racehorse much easier.

I grew up in a totally non-horsey family near Leamington Spa in Warwickshire, with two older brothers. My mum grew up during the war on a farm in occupied Austria and only thought that animals were for working or eating. My dad came to England to escape the Nazi regime, and none of them to this day really understand my horse obsession or where it came from.

The family legend goes that my parents went to visit friends, dragging me, aged four, along with them. The friends were the owners of a little Welsh Section D mare who was living behind their house, and who happened to have a foal at foot. At some point, I was scooped up and placed on her back while she was grazing, and I have been addicted ever since. My mum’s favorite tale is how I screamed blue murder when they tried to take me off the pony and go home – she threatened to leave me there, and I just smiled and said, “Yes, please!”

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, as a family, we didn’t have the money needed to support my horsey addiction, so my riding lessons at the local riding school came as a result of birthday and Christmas presents. That was until I reached the magical age of fourteen when I was considered old enough to help out during weekends and holidays in exchange for free lessons.

It has to be said that at this point my poor parents entered into the battle of keeping their daughter not only in school but studying anything other than horses, which unsurprisingly was not on the school curriculum. For example, the first time I can remember cutting school was to watch the legendary RED RUM open a local betting shop. Skipping school obviously wasn’t that difficult, I wasn’t caught, and it happened on many occasions after that for all kinds of horse shows.

We battled until I had taken my O-Levels, when I think they found it easier to surrender, and I was allowed to go to agricultural college where they did let me study horses. I did three years there and came away with an education and the qualifications my parents so desperately wanted me to have. I spent the next 15 years hunting, eventing, and show jumping; I was living the dream, and then the universe intervened and provided me with the best job of my life – and to use my favorite saying when people ask what I do for a living, “I am a horse midwife.” I get to share the special seconds, minutes, and hours of a mare’s life when she brings her newborn into the world. I have been gifted with the job of helping the babies grow, develop, and explore the world and giving them the skills they need to progress and succeed in life.

I work in an equine profession, in which like all of the horse industry, there are good and bad sides. It’s too easy to stand on the sidelines, point the finger, and criticize, but it very rarely changes much. So, my ethos has always been to help one horse at a time, which I hope can affect some small change somewhere down the line.

Since having found the IH team, I know I have the start of a skill set that will enable myself and the team here to encourage others to do the same. I was in my early 30s when I actually owned my first horse; my best friend from college and I bred Lia from her retired Thoroughbred mare, and when she was 5 I bought out my friend’s half share, and Lia quickly arrived down in Suffolk. I had finally achieved my childhood dream of owning my own horse. We had years of fun and adventure; she brought all the best friends into my life and has left me with so many memories. She was 15.3hh and so sharp! She taught me to sit down in the saddle, keep my leg still and only ever just think about gear or direction changes. Most importantly, she taught me how to converse with a mare, although at the time I didn’t realize how important that was going to be.

It was actually Lia that took me down the Monty and IH road. She was really difficult to load, totally something she was entitled to be as her issues were created by humans – courtesy of a transport company sent to move her as a yearling.

I went to a Monty demo in Essex hoping for inspiration, and boy did I get it in spades! I dutifully stood in line at the end of the evening, shook the maestro’s hand, had him sign my copy of his book, and then had one of the most rewarding conversations of my life with Kelly. Lia was always a bit of baggage about going into the trailer, but she became so much easier to understand and develop a partnership with in every aspect of our life together after that. Kelly and Monty’s books became my bible and replaced most of my nighttime reading! Lia and I were pals until it was her time to leave some 20 years later. I do still own a horse, a Haflinger called Bruce; he arrived at our madhouse one Christmas Eve, and he was the pony that taught me to drive. He is as solid as a rock and regularly pulled us to the local pub for a pint on Sunday afternoon. When my life changed in 2015 and I left Suffolk after 18 years, it proved a little difficult to arrive for my new manager’s job with sheep, chickens, dogs, and horses in tow, so Bruce is currently in a loan home, helping to teach disabled people to carriage drive. Although I’m not sure if he still goes to the pub on a Sunday afternoon?

Quick fast forward to 2021 and like everyone I guess, I had cabin fever. Following lockdown, with the shops closed, I had managed to save a small fortune (for me anyway) and then fate stepped in. I saw a last-minute space on Facebook for the IH Five-Day Foundation course; it was one off the bucket list so I signed up, dug my riding hat and gloves out of the tack room and was sitting two days later in the Hartsop Farm classroom. Those five days gave me skills and a totally new perspective, not only with my horses but in all aspects of my life. Rachel Murat was also on the course as a refresher and is now a valued member of our team. Charlie More (a previous Meet a Member) has become a great friend and I have superb fun with her and watching her develop her own youngsters. Going forward all my staff are now sent on the Five Day course, like Marc, my assistant here. At only 25, and under Rachel’s guidance, he is fast becoming a joy to watch in the round pen with the yearlings. In my honest opinion, it is he and his age group that will affect the most changes in the welfare of our horses in the future. He has time on his side.

Standout moments for me are hard to pin down, to be honest; they range from the small seemingly insignificant ones such as when a weanling comes forward off the Dually® over a sheet in the lunge pen, to the massive ones like when I get to stand and watch one of the girls cross the line first in a Group 1 race, remembering how I have watched her get to her feet and start to discover the world.

I’ve been lucky in life for which I am eternally grateful. I get to go to a job every day that I love. I work with the most amazing animals and people, and it must be said they give me something to look back on and smile about most days.

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