Chasemore Farm office manager Kerry Harrison is such a restless soul, and thrives on work to such an extent, that you feel exhausted just from reading her CV.
The Rhodesian-born horse lover has worked in numerous roles in racing and beyond, both in South Africa and in Britain, but is now settled into her new position at Andrew and Jane Black’s successful nursery in Surrey.
Remarkably, considering how immersed she has been in the thoroughbred realm for so long, Harrison is not from a traditionally ‘horsey’ family.
“I always thought I must be the postman’s daughter, as no one in my family had anything to do with horses,” she says. “I went for a riding lesson with a school friend when I was 11 – that gave me my first taste of horses – and then when I went to boarding school I’d spend the weekends and any other spare time I had at riding schools.
“As a youngster I rode in a lot of cross-country shows – not competitively, more just for fun – and my first job was with Dr Brian Baker in his veterinary practice in KwaZulu-Natal, which later became part of the international Baker McVeigh equine practices.”
Harrison got her first job in racing in 1992, riding work for trainer Doug Campbell, and at the end of the next year she was employed by noted eye surgeon Rod Mackenzie to manage his small farm, overseeing the mares and foals and pre-training yearlings – “I was learning on the job and it was hard work, but I was young and enthusiastic,” she recalls.
In the mornings the tireless Harrison was assistant to another trainer and in 1998, after serving a five-year apprenticeship, she received a private trainers’ licence and started to oversee the careers of 20 racehorses for Mackenzie at the Ashburton training centre in Pietermaritzburg, sending out a fair few winners along the way.
“There were no superstars,” she says, “but we had a few back-to-back winners and knocked a few people out of the Pick Six when our horses came in and they weren’t expected to.”
The arrangement came to an abrupt end a year later when Mackenzie was killed in a car accident and his property and horses had to be sold, and after a four-year spell working as assistant trainer to Paul Denysschen, she spent some time outside of racing.
“I worked in real estate and a legal office, and started doing paralegal studies, but I missed horses too much and started helping out trainers at the weekends again, and eventually found a job managing Callaho warmblood sports horse farm, which was a little different,” says Harrison.
“But racehorses were calling me, and by 2008 I was running my own yard at home, as I had a collection of 18 of my own horses I’d amassed over the years. I then spent eight years working in construction as a site administrator, for a company that was building 1,200 upmarket retirement residences with a care home, tennis courts and swimming pools, and I was in charge of sourcing building materials, the hiring of contractors and so on.”
Harrison emigrated to the UK, where two of her children live, in November 2016. She worked for two seasons as stud groom at Old Buckenham Stud, served as racing secretary to Mick Channon and spent a season at Whitsbury Manor Stud, foaling down mares and undertaking stud work.
She says: “All the time I was working hands-on with horses, I continued with administrative studies and did various Microsoft courses, got my typing speed up to a high standard, achieved a diploma with The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs and did the stud secretary course at the National Stud in Newmarket.”
Phew! Harrison is clearly a busy bee. “I work better under pressure and can’t stand sitting around doing nothing,” says the Jill of all trades, who was also an accomplished singer and guitarist in her youth, even recording a CD.
Just as well she is so industrious and multi-skilled, as her duties in her new role at Chasemore Farm are many and varied.
“I started at the end of October and Sophie Watmuff, who had worked here for almost eight years before me, left a very big pair of shoes to fill, and I’m still learning as I’m going along,” says Harrison. “The job I do is a bit of everything. I’m not only a stud secretary, as I also do do HR, payroll and general office management.
“I’m supported by a brilliant management team here, though. Jack Conroy, the farm manager, is absolutely fantastic with the horses and Jamie Lewis is excellent on the maintenance side, and they work really well together as a team. Our resident vet Pat Sells vet is also brilliant, he’s on site most of the time and is involved with everything.
“All the Staff at Chasemore Farm work really well together and their combined knowledge and experience ensures excellent care and wellbeing of the horses.
She adds: “The whole ethos here is that Andrew and Jane make sure everything is done correctly. They treat the staff like an extension of their family, and want them to be happy and to work together well as a team. It’s one of the few studs where the staff work only one weekend in three.
“They’re also keen for everyone on the stud to keep learning and improving their skills – so the business is paying for them to do the National Stud’s online courses, for example. Chasemore also supports the Racing Welfare’s Workforce Wellbeing Programme, which is brilliant for the staff employed here.
Harrison believes that the human positivity on the stud is transferred to the horses. “Everything works in harmony and contributes to a calm and relaxed atmosphere, and it makes for happy horses,” she says. “Some people might think horses don’t know the difference, but they do. There’s no expense spared on their accommodation and care here, either.”
Among Harrison’s favourite foals born at Chasemore Farm so far this year are the Lope De Vega filly out of Gr.3 Prestige Stakes winner Boomer (Kingman) who was rejected by her dam and was nursed instead by her great-granddam Veiled Beauty (Royal Academy) – “she had a hard start to life but she’s very friendly and famous now” – as well as a Zoustar colt out of Sassy Dresser (Kingman) and a Study Of Man filly out of Strong And Stable (Motivator). “It’s an outstanding crop so far,” she adds.
Although Harrison has served so many different roles in her career to date, she says she is happily settled now at Chasemore Farm.
“I have a granddaughter in South Africa, and I miss her very much, but other than her I don’t miss home at all,” she adds. “I’ve got no intention of going back, and I’d say they’re going to have to carry me out of Britain in a box now!
“I’m not running down South Africa or the horses, as they’re magnificent – all horses are magnificent – but I think below the top level there it’s quite easy to become despondent, and the standard of stallions and pedigrees here in Britain are just outstanding. And even in spite of Brexit and Covid, there is optimism in the industry here and sales prices have been amazing.”