Damien’s journey from newbie to horseman

Not growing up surrounded by horses has been no barrier for Arrowfield employee Damien Fitton, whose passion and enthusiasm for the thoroughbred industry has allowed him to establish a rewarding career. He recently returned home to Arrowfield having completed the Irish National Stud Breeding Course as a scholar sponsored by the Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association. 

Damien was first introduced to the world of horse racing at a young age when he attended races on the weekend with his dad and brother. Attracted to the athleticism and energy of the horses, Damien found it wasn’t long until he was hooked and yearning to learn more. 

As fate would have it, one day at the races Damien met trainer Gai Waterhouse and her then-Racing Manager, Bruce Slade. With enthusiasm and confidence on his side Damien spoke about his passion for the sport and his lack of experience with horses. 

It was quickly organised that Damien would join the Waterhouse Stable to complete his Year 10 work experience and gain an insight to the industry. He’d never touched a horse before joining the Stable, but with the encouragement and kindness of Mark Newnham and a gentle mare by the name of Kontiki Dane, Damien was soon handling thoroughbreds with confidence.

At the end of his work experience Damien was even more passionate about the industry and planned to drop out of school to continue working. However, a stern word from Gai convinced him that finishing his education was important, and he commenced a school-based apprenticeship which saw him at school for four days a week with one day spent at the stables learning about the industry. In his school holidays Damien would pack up and head to the stables to pursue his practical education. After finishing school, Damien continued working with Gai and was promoted to  Foreman just after his 18th birthday. 

Damien joined the Arrowfield team in 2016 to gain a more holistic view of the industry. “I joined Arrowfield because I wanted to learn about the other half of the industry. I was lucky to join a stud where I was able to participate in the full operation of serving, foaling and sales.”

Pictured:  HTBA Irish National Stud scholar Damien with Champion Sire Galileo at Coolmore Ireland. 

Fellow workers who were graduates of the Irish National Stud breeding course told him about the program and Paul Messara encouraged him to apply. Paul nominated Damien for the Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association Irish National Stud Scholarship and within a week of his interview Damien received the news that he was the recipient of the 2017 Scholarship. 

Life on the breeding program involved daily stud work as well as evening lectures and classes. Students were involved in assisting with daily vet work as well as night watch and foaling. A particular highlight of the course was when Damien foaled down one of the best National Hunt mares in Europe, Quevega, who gave birth with no complications to a healthy colt by Walk In The Park. In the classroom Damien particularly enjoyed John Osborne’s lectures on purchasing stallions, as well as lectures by veterinarians which provided him with a more technical understanding of the breeding process.

Damien has returned to Arrowfield with a new skill set and increased ability. “My horsemanship skills have definitely increased, and I am far more capable and experienced in all aspects of my job. In particular, I have a grounded understanding of the entire breeding process and I’m able to evaluate all situations with more depth having learnt the European ways of doing things and comparing those methods to those used back here.” 

Damien also credits course co-ordinator Sally Carroll for encouraging him to step outside his comfort zone and increase his communication skills. “Whenever visitors were on a tour of the stud Sally would encourage me to explain processes to them. I had no previous experience speaking in front of large groups, but doing this really gave me a lot of confidence to talk to people and teach them about the industry.”

So far Damien’s Arrowfield highlight is being a part of the 2017 Magic Millions sales team, and seeing Dundeel become the Leading First Crop Sire by sale average. As for the future, Damien hopes to “continue learning and progressing within the industry. My long-term goal is to become a bloodstock agent. 

“I am also very passionate about encouraging younger people to become involved with the industry. Coming from a background where I didn’t grow up with horses, I feel so lucky to now be involved with such a dynamic industry and I would love to encourage other young people to pursue this path too.”

When asked what the experience meant to him, Damien replied with a smile, “The Irish National Stud Breeding program allowed me to develop not only as a horseman, but as an employee and as a person. I will forever be grateful to the Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association for believing in me and for sponsoring me on this learning trip.

“I would also like to thank Gai Waterhouse for giving me such a good start, and John and Paul Messara for recommending me for the Scholarship and for encouraging all employees at Arrowfield to achieve their personal best. And finally to my family and friends – thank you for backing me always.”

Meet Arrowfielders Michelle Nichols & Nigel Bentley

MEET ARROWFIELDERS MICHELLE NICHOLS & NIGEL BENTLEY

Arrowfield’s Stud Secretary Michelle Nichols has been with us for almost 20 years and is a mainstay of our business and community. Her special gift is liaising with owners, other farms and our breeding staff every Spring to fulfil more than a thousand bookings to the Arrowfield stallions. 
Michelle is the 2017 winner of the Hunter Valley Thoroughbred Breeders Association Employee of the Year (Administration) award.

All-time favourite Arrowfield horse, and why.  
Redoute’s Choice, because he’s such a good coverer and very fertile which has made doing the stallion bookings easy, especially in his busiest years. He always brings a sense of calmness.

Most exciting Arrowfield racing moment. 
Miss Finland winning the 2006 Golden Slipper.

Your saddest day at Arrowfield.
When some of my fantastic workmates like Sam Fairgray and Melanie Caban left us, but I’m grateful to see them go on to further their ambitions and dreams.

Favourite place on the farm, and why. 
It’s the bridge at the Pages River below Cath’s Barn, it’s always so peaceful and forever changing.

Favourite time of the year at work. 
Funnily enough, it’s early September when the stallions start covering mares, everyone is enthusiastic and excited.

What do you most enjoy about your work? 
Meeting and talking to people.

Most satisfying personal achievement.
That my children Heath and Abbey have grown up to be great people and have excelled in their chosen fields.

Particular people who have helped you during your career, and how. 
Many fantastic people I have worked with over the years, too many to mention!

How would you describe Arrowfield?
Arrowfield is a constantly changing, challenging but enjoyable place to be.


Nigel Bentley joined Arrowfield in 2007, initially working at the Training Centre before taking on the role of Broodmare Farm Manager in 2014. Nigel’s outstanding horsemanship, dedication and approachability make him a valuable member of the farm management team, with responsibility for around 180 broodmares & young horses and up to eight staff. 
Nigel was a Finalist for the 2017 Hunter Valley Breeders Association Employee of the Year (Horsemanship) award.

All-time favourite Arrowfield horses, and why.
Beneteau and Scissor Kick, I had the privilege of working with these two amazing colts while they were in training. They both had wonderful natures and personalities.

Most exciting Arrowfield racing moment.
When Alverta, Arrowfield-born, -raised and –raced, won the 2010 Coolmore Classic. [Alverta, now at stud at Arrowfield, was Paul Messara’s first Group 1 winner as a trainer.]

Your saddest day at Arrowfield. 
The day Battlefield broke down[Battlefield was a charismatic and gifted sprinter who won five of his 7 starts from the Paul Messara stable, but suffered serious injuries during a trial and was subsequently euthanased.]

Favourite place on the farm, and why.
Bellerive of course, it’s so quiet and secluded. [Bellerive is the name of Arrowfield’s Broodmare Farm, adjacent to the main Stud property.]

Favourite time of the year at work. 
When the first foals start to hit the ground.

What do you most enjoy about your work?

Working with the horses and getting to know their different personalities and quirks.

Most satisfying personal achievement
Visiting China for three months, breaking in 30 horses there and teaching students how to do it.

Particular people who have helped you during your career, and how.
I’ve worked with a lot of great people along the way, too many to list, but my main mentor would have to be my father Kel Bentley. He was a very successful horse breaker and trainer, and he taught me most of what I know.

How would you describe Arrowfield?
A beautiful stud and a wonderful place to work.