WEATHER permitting, Matt and Nicky Sheppard’s racehorses are “turned out” into well fenced paddocks and rolling gallops in the lea of the Malvern Hills.

In an area which has inspired Elizabeth Barrett Browning, John Masefield and, more recently, World Downhill Racing champion Tracey Moseley, the present stable stars for the Sheppards are Munlochy Bay and Strong Weld.

The current cold snap is character-building and tests the dedication of the small team who look after the 15 or so horses in the Eastnor string.

Watching on from the loose boxes which satisfy their natural curiosity in the intimate environment at Home Farm, the horses have a good view of “Plan B” swinging into action when the outside taps in the yard are frozen and the grass areas are too risky for riding out.

In the absence of the high maintenance all-weather gallops found at bigger stables, the trainers, mindful of reducing protein levels and modifying the feed in very cold conditions, still have to find ways of getting some exercise into their equine charges.

So if it’s solid ice outside, rather than fluffy snow, the “horse walker” outside the cottage back door and right next to the horses’ living quarters proves its real value.

Suitable for up to four horses at a time and used for about an hour each, the equipment gives the horses a good workout.

On alternate days they are led by the staff down the farm approach drive to the main road provided that it’s been gritted. There they are mounted and ridden to Hollybush and back.

With a ratio of about four horses to one handler, riding out and exercising on the horse walker is rotated as well as possible to maintain variety and prevent boredom.

Matt Sheppard, who likes to to ride out every day to get a real feel for his horses, concentrates on his group of about 11 who compete for the greater prizes under National Hunt Rules.

Past wins of note include Oatis Rose in the Mares Only Hurdles Final at Newbury, Seek The Faith’s win in the Holman Cup and Smile Pleeze in the Paddy Power Amateur Handicap Chase.

Six-year-old Munlochy Bay, known to the staff as “Milly”

and owned by the Blues Partnership, has a class 3 three-mile novice hurdle win to his name at Cheltenham in April.

Nicky Sheppard is an extremely successful pointto- point trainer and has more than 120 winners under her belt so far.

Strong Weld, who will be 13 in January, owned and usually ridden by Rhys Jenkins, was the winner of five races between the flags last season.

The new point-to-point season started on Sunday and will go on until June 28, therefore lasting much longer than it did as recently as five years ago. So it’s a busy time ahead for Nicky who also cleans, inspects and prepares all of the racing equipment and, more often than not, individually bathes and grooms the horses.

In addition to Matt and Nicky Sheppard, backed up by an assistant for six mornings a week, there can be as many as three students from Hartpury College helping with the riding out and exercising.

In the prevailing cold conditions, the routine for horses competing in both codes of the sport is similar in approach and the pointers mix with the “rules” inmates.

The Sheppards’ son Stan is carrying on the family equestrian tradition.

Already a seasoned hunter, the teenage John Masefield schoolboy is fast becoming a force in the world of pony racing.