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Mick Easterby talks Brexit, summer parties and spring water

We catch up with Mick Easterby as the summer approaches and New House Farm and surrounds enjoy the late spring sunshine.

The Mitsubishi has been worked hard since we last did a tour of the farm just two weeks ago.

The collection of rocks in the rear footwells are piled up to resemble a hilltop cairn and the liberal coating of soil on the passenger seat floor can now be described as generous. One cannot yet see the potato shoots but they can't be far off.

First job is to clear the passenger seat, this time occupied by a pile of cards from the local Norton Grove Stud advertising their new national hunt stallion, Forever Now, who has caught Easterby's eye as something of a bargain. Cards are there to be handed to the fortunate few who are in the local business of breeding jumpers and point-to-pointers.

"We'll go to Bulmer this morning, someone I want to go see", Easterby begins.

There's a direct road goes to Mill House Farm, up the steep Bulmer Bank, but why go direct when you can take a detour through the fields?

We set off on the track that runs parallel to the uphill gallop, rising about 120 feet courtesy of two stiff sections. As we bump and bounce along the track we are joined by several horses who are also tackling the hill, their single horsepower seemingly equalling the 225 hp under the Easterby bonnet. Jockey Nathan Evans, apprentice Harrison Shaw and amateur jockey Joanna Mason, Easterby's grand-daughter, are amongst the more than capable riders exercising the Easterby string this morning.

Happy with what he's seen, we drive through a farmyard, onto track, onto a public road and then into a field. The back way to Bulmer, surely the road would be easier but not half as much fun.

"Never fall out", Easterby begins his wisely words. "Agree to disagree. If ever you don't like what someone says or does, simply state that you disagree. I don't like a 'yes' man. I like a good debate. Reasoned mind, I like to hear the reasons why someone disagrees."

I ask about any recent disagreements Easterby may have had, assuming he won't have to go far back to recall the last.

"There was plenty of disagreement over Brexit", he continues. "I think it will all be OK. I can't stand being told what and what not to grow. I'll be able to grow what I want for the first time in years".

"Have you noticed there's a lot of jealousy in the world? It's like a disease, runs in families. It's an awful thing. People become lazy and they look at what others have got and they want that, but they're too bloody lazy to work for it. People who will lay about and expect to be given everything. It's criminal. What a waste of life."

We arrive at Bulmer via the back gate. In the field a tractor and a trailer are loaded up with fence posts and a post-driving machine is at work. Posts are inserted and the machine drives them into the ground to make a sturdy boundary which when finished will keep the yearlings within the bounds of a huge field. The attached barn houses seven or eight young fillies, who are being kept inside while their accommodation is revamped. All of the fillies are homebred and thanks to the post driving machine they will be back out in the sunshine in no time at all. At the end of the summer they will begin their training, being broken in and ridden to race as two year olds in 2019. Driving over to where the work is taking place, Easterby introduces me to his 'buddy' Jock Fairclough. The two are dressed in braces, light blue shirts and baggy trousers, something of a countryside uniform. Easterby puts his sun hat on Jock's head for a photo and the two have a catch up.

"We'll need to clear the barn out, that's where I'm having the summer party", Easterby declares.

The big barn is currently home to a couple of two year old store horses, and there's also machinery of many shapes and sizes, but come July, or maybe even June, it will be the location of the summer party. Formerly an event for family and owners, the event has been extended as an open invitation to racing enthusiasts to come along and have lunch. The food is excellent, and there's ample drink in vast buckets of ice. Guests are just asked to put some money in a tin for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance and are then free to pick the Easterby brains over anything they wish, with brother Peter, a multiple Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup winning trainer also a regular at these get-togethers.

Easterby points to a pipe which extends over the adjoining Bulmer Beck, which, despite the previous week of hot dry weather is gushing with water.

"Never dried out that", states Easterby. "Runs with water no matter how little rain there's been".

The pipe runs from a sizeable pond to the east of Mill House Farm, which is fed from springs. The pond is surrounded by trees and shrubs and is a haven for wildlife.

"Rises up at Brandsby does the beck," informs Easterby. "There's other becks flow in and it feeds Spital Beck at Barton and then joins the Derwent."

On its way to the Derwent it also fills Easterby's water troughs which provide refreshment for the horse housed in several large fields at Bulmer.

Easterby bids farewell to Jock and we climb aboard the Mitsubishi and head off to examine the springs. The setting is remarkable. The horses have a large field by the beck, with water and hay. There is then a track via a small bridge over the beck where the horses can cross freely to a huge hillside of grass with more water troughs fed by springs.

To get to the springs we have to cross the bridge, and there is clearance of what can only be a couple of inches either side of the vehicle but Easterby has done this before and we make it without incident. The troughs lie half way up the hillside, and the water can be seen pouring out, but the field looks boggy.

As we climb the hillside it gets more and more boggy until the vehicle will move no more. A couple of heavy touches on the gas and we're in even deeper. It's rescue time.

"Go fetch Jock and the tractor", instructs and unflustered Easterby. "He'll pull us out."

Jock is working what seems about half a mile away so the instructions are relayed by foot and within half an hour the tractor is attached and the vehicle is pulled out of the mud. Throughout the whole affair Easterby has spent the time surveying the field and the horses and the surrounds. Never a moment is wasted as the half hour is put to good use.

We're up and running again, and having escaped the field we're now at the Easterby mini-golf course.

Miles, who lives at Mill House Farm, is trimming the grass with a mower, the surface being tidied for the mini-golf at the summer party.

Easterby pulls up by the course, and chats to Miles, inspecting the new cherry trees planted by the track. They discuss the planting and how deep the roots should be and then its time to examine the greens.

On the course is another spring spilling out into a stone trough.

"Pure is that water, you try it, " instructs Easterby.

Could this be the secret as to why the 87 year old is still enthusiastically juggling two jobs at a time in life when most are long retired. It's worth a try, and the water truly is refreshing, icy cold as it appears from a spout.

Easterby takes a drink from the spring and it's time to move on.

Wheatclose Farm is next and we stop by the road to check on an enormous field of oil seed. A vast acreage of yellow flowers are in full bloom, with bees visiting from the hives that are nearby. Steph, wife of Easterby's son David, has been on bee-keeping courses recently and has set up a number of hives to make honey.

"What will the oil seed be used for?" I ask.

"Animal feed, margarine, I don't know yet", replies Easterby who is contented with the crop and we can move on.

"This is usually me afternoon job is farming," continues the master of New House Farm. "Farming is relaxing. Training horses is very stressful. Farming is like a switch, it's just what you need after the stresses of training".

But the next job is racing related as its time to give several of the yearlings their vaccinations. We head up to a field full of young colts. A group of staff have assembled after riding out and are located in strategic positions. Easterby is in the thick of it, as the lively colts are taken from their field, put into boxes, and given their vaccinations by vet Matthew Swarbrick from Minster Equine. The Easterby sun hat comes in useful in directing the colts and after their treatment they're moved back via a couple of tracks and run together as a small herd to their ample paddocks.

It's time to return to New House Farm. The last lot of the morning has arrived back at the yard. Easterby stops apprentice jockey Harrison Shaw, riding an impressive gelding, and gives the horse a once over. The horse is Desert Dream, a new purchase, and he has just finished a strong canter and will be washed down before going on the walker.

"Michael Stoute advised me to buy this horse", Easterby remarks. "Harry Easterby, who's the son of me cousin Peter, has a Syndicate who own him, there's one share available. He'll win races this year. If anyone's interested get in touch with Harry."

Harry is no stranger to winners, his father Peter being the proud owner of the multiple winning sprinter Bosham. That's Peter Easterby as in Peter Easterby and not as in Miles Henry Easterby, who is also known as Peter. Peter, that's the Miles Henry Peter, not the Peter Peter, is Mick Easterby's brother.

I think we're done. Another fascinating couple of hours around the farm has been a pleasure and Easterby has work to do in the office before resuming his afternoon occupation with another trip around the farm.

"Don't forget the summer party, tell everyone to come along, I'll tell you the date soon, be a good turnout this year".

And with that the fly curtain rattles and he's gone. Next week the season starts at York and the sun hat will be back and the suit pressed and cleaned, time to catch up with old friends and plunder some more Knavesmire loot.

But for now it's time to make some lunch, and as many folk his age prepare for an afternoon at the Darby and Joan Club there's hundreds of acres of farm to keep an eye on before settling back to watch the evening racing.

The early summer sees Easterby in his prime, he may be a farmer in an afternoon but you know there's still a race or two being plotted in that wise old mind.

Added: Mon 07 May 2018

Catching up with Jock who is putting up new fences at Bulmer.

The kit is all set to drive in the fence posts

The pond at Bulmer

Overflow from the pond into Bulmer Beck

The secret of eternal youth? Spring water at Bulmer

Stuck, as Jock arrives with the Easterby equivalent of the AA.

Finally on our way from Bulmer

Cherry trees freshly planted by the farm track

Water as pure as it gets from the springs

Mowing the mini golf course in preparation for the summer party.

Acre after acre of oil seed

Yearling colts at Sheepclose Farm

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Mick Easterby, New House Farm, Sheriff Hutton, York, UK
YO60 6TN Tel: 01347 878368

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