Ryan Arnel wakes up every day and looks out his window with considerable pride. It doesn’t matter how busy or stressful the approaching workday is likely to be, his reaction to seeing his 150-acre Thoroughbred horse farm, with its loam soils and beautiful creek flats, is always the same: this is mine, and no one can take it away from me.
“I’m in the best place I could possibly imagine,” 32-year-old Ryan says. “After the hurdles I had to jump through just to buy the farm — I really had to hold my corner — there was no way that I wasn’t going to make it work. Once you get hold of something like this, no one can take it from you because you’ll do whatever it takes to make sure it’s successful.”
When Ryan first tried to buy the Stonehouse Thoroughbred farm, in central Victoria, the banks wouldn’t lend to him. He took his case to various lenders, but didn’t have much of a deposit and was rebuffed repeatedly. Undeterred, he kept pushing for the loan and eventually a small lender gave him the money. “I could see the potential in Stonehouse right away. We’re not in the traditional Thoroughbred areas of North East Victoria or the Hunter Valley, but I grew up in Bendigo, so I know this land well and it’s good land for horses. If I had bought a similar stud in the Thoroughbred stud area it would have cost me triple what I paid.”
That was almost four years ago and Ryan, a graduate of Marcus Oldham’s Diploma of Equine Management, hasn’t looked back.
“We’ve managed really well, and we don’t have any overdrafts. My accountant says it’s one of the most successful young businesses he has ever seen.” This is a considerable achievement considering that Ryan does not come from a Thoroughbred racing family. Although, he clearly has a love of racing in his blood, which Ryan thinks may come from his grandmother’s enthusiasm for betting on the horses.
“She actually managed the first TAB in Victoria and, growing up, she made me run down to the pub and place bets on horses for her,” he says. His parents were hobby farmers and, for as long as Ryan can remember, he has longed to work on the land. “As a kid, you have phases with regards to what you will do with your life, but for me it always came back to agriculture.”
With typical dash and initiative, Ryan bought a farm at the age of 18 — a 100-acre sheep and cropping business outside of Bendigo that he has since sold. He also worked at a piggery for extra money once he left school, and spent some time on a farm in Skipton, in the Western District of Victoria, where he worked with stock horses. But it was securing the Australian Stud Book Scholarship to study at Marcus Oldham that really put him on the Thoroughbred racing track.
“It gave me the connections that I never had. I was asked to speak at a few industry events on behalf of the College and that connected me with a lot of people in the racing industry.”
Upon graduation, Ryan headed to the UK where he took up a role as Assistant Manager at Mickley Stud in North Shropshire.
“As part of my role, I spent three months shuttling a stallion to Chile, which was an eye-opener. The horse was grumpy, a really mean horse, and he had bitten his owner’s fingers, but he liked me. We got on really well.”
Ryan also spent time at David Redvers’ Gloucestershire-based stud, Tweenhills Farm, which gave him access to Qatar bloodstock. David Redvers is the racing and bloodstock advisor to Qatar’s Sheikh Fahad al-Thani and his brothers.
“Not only did this role give me access to Qatari bloodlines, but I learned everything about running a business and how to manage the bigger clients.”
His UK Visa, however, expired not long after and he wasn’t eligible for sponsorship from his employer. Dismayed, he returned to Australia with a sense of having turned his back on an illustrious career.
“When I returned all my friends were getting married or having babies, to be honest, I was at a bit of a loose end.” Ryan didn’t stay down for long, however, and when Stonehouse Thoroughbreds came up for sale, he leapt on it.
The farm spells athletic race horses, as well as foaling down mares and growing and preparing young horses for sale or breaking. The stud now employs three staff in addition to Ryan. Ryan still works for David Redvers, too, assisting with the Australian interests of Qatar Bloodstock, and he is due to bring his 2018 yearlings to the Inglis Melbourne Premier Sales in March. Not bad for a boy from Bendigo with no previous racing connections.
So what’s next for Ryan? Where does he see his business in five or ten years’ time? That’s easy.
“My ambition is to have a dozen of my own top-quality mares to breed,” he says. “I have three of my own that I only bought this year, as well as lots of clients’ mares. The idea is to eventually translate the success of the stud to the race track. I want Stonehouse to be synonymous with racing success.”