LITTLE fish are sweet. It’s a saying that dates back to the 19th century, but Lucy Normile thinks of Arthur Stephenson whenever she hears it. That feels entirely appropriate. Stephenson was a fellow horse trainer and, although he died in 1992, his life motto evidently still resonates with Normile. Little fish are sweet. Small is beautiful. Lesser gifts are always acceptable. Every win has its merits.

It is an ethos that chimes with Normile. Her Duncrievie yard isn’t one of the biggest in the country. It is not even the biggest in Perth and Kinross, situated just some seven miles north of the stables run by last year’s Grand National winning trainer, Lucinda Russell. Size, though, isn’t everything. Not when there is spirit, endeavour and willing in abundance.

All are evident on this bitterly cold December day. Duncrievie, Normile Racing’s base and also home to Lucy and her three children, lies in a remote, tranquil part of Perthshire, adjacent to the village of Glenfarg and its all-weather five-furlong gallop where later that morning a small pack of five or six horses will take the chance to stretch their legs by thundering around the bend and up the hill.

Two go back for a second run at it. From just a few feet away it is quite a spectacle to behold, the twin elements of grace and power operating in perfect tandem, the steam from the horses’ breath lingering in the frozen air.

The run-out takes place a few hours later than expected. Not that anyone is working to a particularly tight schedule. Winter’s icy grasp has taken a hold on these parts, meaning work is required first thing to grit the yard to make it safe for animal and human alike.

The local vet pays a visit to one poorly creature, while a few of the horses also need to be clipped, their shaggy winter coats shaven to stop them sweating uncomfortably. These duties are as important as training the horses for racing.

“There’s probably no such thing as a typical day as something different always comes along like we saw today,” explains Normile. “But ideally it would go as follows: you feed them, you muck them out, we’ll have breakfast and then we’ll ride them out. That’s the broad structure.”

Normile has a small but dedicated staff working with her and all pitch in to help. Some, such as Libby Brodie and Steve Freeman, have been with her for more than 15 years. Family is key, too. Her mum, Fiona Whittaker, owner of the 1978 Grand National winner, Lucius, hovers nearby at one point.

Lucy’s three children are encouraged to muck in too, and all have an interest in horses. Fifteen year-old Ben is an enthusiastic race-goer, while 12-year-old Sophie and eight-year-old Tom are both involved in pony racing.

Living this close to the horses and in such a rural setting, it would be hard to stay detached from it all.

“This has been the family home for a while, so the kids have always just been used to it,” adds Normile who grew up in Duncrievie, too. “And the guys and girls have always got on well with them and looked after them. The kids are involved and enjoy helping out.

“It’s a tough job because it’s 24/7. It could be a Sunday morning, Christmas morning or somebody’s birthday but things still have to be done. Horses don’t just need attention Monday to Friday, 9 to 5. It’s a real way of life rather than a job, especially when you live here.

“Unless you go away you never actually get a break as you might be in the house and then think, ‘actually, I’ll just go and check that’ just because you’re there and you can.”

Normile and her late husband Alan established the yard in 2000.

It is a vocation not without its financial challenges, when winners can be scarce but the demands unyielding.

“Financially it’s always been a bit of struggle,” she admits. “But you keep doing it as you always think your next big Saturday horse is just around the corner. You’re keen to see how good they can be and the promise of what lies ahead.

“Every time you have a winner you forget about the bad days; the days where your hands are so cold, and it’s raining, and you’ve got horses who have been lame or injured. All those heartaches … the winners just take that away. You forget all the bad bits on those days.”

Age and experience bring a fresh perspective. The younger Normile regularly yielded to an owner’s whim. At 47 and an old hand at this now, it is the animals who take priority. As she flits about from box to box, almost absentmindedly petting one horse and then the next, that becomes abundantly clear.

“The horses’ welfare is completely paramount,” she underlines. “When we were younger we were a bit ­naïve and owners would maybe take advantage of that. They’d want their horse to run in a certain race and we’d say, ‘well, it’s not really ideal’. And then they would mention that it’s granny’s 150th birthday and the whole family will be there, and you would go against your better judgment and go along with it.

“Now we just tell them the horses come first. And if they don’t like it there are enough people who will train for them everywhere else. Maybe that’s not always the smartest ­answer from a business point of view but I don’t want to come in here and see horses that are injured because we ran them on the wrong ground

or they weren’t ready.

“That doesn’t do anyone any good. And if an owner is going to take his horses away he’s going to do that ­regardless. But we tell everyone: the horses come first.”

That attitude is part of the appeal for Craig McKenna. The managing partner of Crowd Racing, a syndicate management organisation, ­McKenna has been based in Larbert for several years now but his Geordie roots betray him as he turns up at Duncrievie without a coat despite the sub-zero temperatures. They make them hardy in the north-east.

He has known Normile for a while and is impressed with how she and her staff treat the horses, plus the fact the yard is small enough for each animal to get daily attention from the trainer. He stops by one stable box to take a photo and some video footage of a recent arrival to update its owners on its progress.

McKenna’s latest project is The Tartan Crowd. Its aim is to find enough backers to be able to buy two horses with a view to them competing in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr and the Queen’s Cup at Musselburgh in 2020. As well as following each horse’s progress in races across the country, owners also enjoy other perks such as stable visits, a share of any prize money, social events, as well as access to behind-the-scenes facilities at every racecourse. He wants Normile to train both horses.

“It will be the biggest budget that we’ve given to a trainer in Scotland,” he reveals. “Lucy works with a ­couple of blood stock agents who have a very good eye, reputation and background. They’ll go out and identify the horses.

“We’ll give them a budget based on an average of what it’s taken to buy a Scottish National winner and the Queen’s Cup at Musselburgh, then add an extra 30 per cent on top of that. As long as we can get enough people ­involved in the syndicate then we can go out and get these horses and start their training.

“For the Scottish National we’ll look for a five-year-old that is already in training so we know what kind of ability it’s got. The one for Musselburgh can be a little bit younger.

“The aim is to go for the 2020 Scottish Grand National. Next year is probably too soon, although if we could find one ready to go for that one then brilliant. But it’s more about 2020 and being a part of the journey from now until then.”

McKenna rates that journey as being just as important as the destination.

“It’s not all about winning races,” he admits. “The feedback we get from owners is how much they enjoy the social side of it. You can’t guarantee how a horse is going to run. They’re animals and they have off days. So you can’t control that.

“But what you can do is give people a good experience around it. It still amazes me how many people want to go out at seven in the morning and stand on a hill in the freezing cold and watch horses run up and down. People absolutely adore that. That’s what keeps them involved. They get a bond with the horses.”

Normile is relishing the opportunity. “Having a runner in the Scottish National would be like an amateur football team reaching the Scottish Cup final,” she adds. “You have to set yourself that challenge of trying to get there. You’re always striving for more winners, improving the horses that you’ve got and the quality of races you could be winning with them.

“Who owns the horses doesn’t make a huge difference to us, ­whether it’s a single owner or a syndicate. But sometimes the smaller people are actually more understanding and enthusiastic than the people who have lots of horses.

“We’ve got a guy who has been ridiculously loyal to us over the years and had horses that wouldn’t be considered the greatest lights in anyone’s book. But he’s so keen and enthusiastic and if they come home in one piece he thinks that’s great.

“And if they get into the winner’s enclosure – even at the bottom end – he’s absolutely over the moon.

“Arthur Stephenson used to say, ‘Little fish are sweet’ because people often tell you a horse will never win a race but you give it a go anyway. And when they do well you get a lot of personal satisfaction from that.

“It’s a tough job but that’s what keeps you going.”

Lucy Normile is the trainer of the Crowd Racing Tartan Crowd which offers a range of racehorse ownership options and social events for people in Scotland. To find out more see: