Donna Williamson ... vet, trainer and much more

Foaling season is in full swing and for Canterbury-based vet Donna Williamson that translates to an extremely busy time in an already busy schedule.

By Rob Courtney 

As a veterinarian, yearling preparer, trainer and breeder, it's no exaggeration to say that Donna Williamson's days are full to overflowing.

Born and bred in South Canterbury, Williamson relocated her Belmont Park business to Aylesbury on the outskirts of West Melton some three years ago.

The 65 acre property currently houses 100 broodmares, consisting of permanent broodmare residents and other visiting broodmares looking to make use of Williamson’s vet skills to successfully produce yet another foal. All this with very little promotion apart from the proverbial word of mouth.

“Covid had kicked in and things had become quite difficult managing the semen arrivals at Timaru airport and so the time seemed right to make a move north,” Williamson explained.

“We did arrive rather unannounced” she added.

Donna Williamson has been around horses all her life from the time she could follow Grandad Jim (a successful horse trainer in his own right) around the stables.

“He asked me at morning tea one day what I wanted to do when I grew up, I think I was about nine, and I told him I wanted to be a horse trainer like him. 
Absolutely not was the reply but he did think becoming a vet would be a positive alternative and so that’s where I headed.”

Williamson was in her last year of high school when Grandad Jim Williamson passed away and she promptly took the following year off to train the remaining two horses in his stable, Springfield Eden and Top Effort (closely related to top trotter No Response).

Her father was the ‘racebook trainer’ of the two trotters as Williamson was then too young to have a trainer’s licence. Both won races for the fledgling trainer.

“Gary Shand used to drive for us and Springfield Eden won at Timaru one day and paid $125 to win. Nana put $1 EW for me and I thought it was Christmas," she reflected.

Training horses is still in the blood and Williamson, along with partner Craig Thornley, is currently working a team of five headed by seven-win trotter Clyde and her sentimental stable favourite The Dominator (14 wins + $214k in stakes). The rising 10yo has had a recent hoof injury but the trainer thinks there might still be a win to be had in the right company. He won his first race as a 3yo way back in 2017 !

Two others are at the trialling stage.

Williamson has trained 33 winners in total since starting out in 2006.

Williamson is also breeding from the seven-win Belmont Fire who is due to foal to Always B Miki anytime now and then is being served by Art Major. She has already left the smart Belmont Major who won six races here before going over to America and breaking the 1:50 barrier. Go Pres (from Go Pat) will be served by Royal Aspirations

“We will also try to get an embryo off Una Bromac if we can.”

The dam of Galway Girl, Winterfell and Escapee was in the news as recently as Labour Day Monday when Isolate (Father Patrick - Escapee) set a NZ record in the Group 3 Hambletonian Classic.

Also courtesy of ET (Embryo Transfer), Una Bromac will be represented by a What The Hill colt in the next round of yearling sales early next year. Williamson continues to commute to South Canterbury once a week to vet scan for a local thoroughbred stud (standing John Snow) as her departure left a ‘hole that hasn’t been filled’.

She will also find the time to prepare 9/10 yearlings (three last year) for the next yearling sales, all having been bred ‘on farm.

An old shearing shed has been converted to house the ‘babies’ and experienced preparer/vendor Michelle Baird has joined the Belmont Park team and will assist with this work alongside the three she is preparing for herself.

Donna Williamson remains passionate about harness racing.

“Those still in the game are very committed and I have great respect for the trainers who are endeavouring to keep costs down as much as they can for their owners' sake.

"Without the owners and their horses, where would we be?

"With all that is going on around here, you need great staff and I couldn’t do it without Craig and the rest of the team,” she reflected.

Needless to say, the daily routine at Belmont Park starts early in the morning these days - very early!


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