Tech-savvy octogenarian finds niche

Rachel Sloan, seen here with her trusty iPad and a magazine article on Balblair Farm, thinks she is probably the only person in the country monitoring the birth of dressage horses from almost 18,000 km away.

Anyone believing technology to be incompatible with ‘people of a certain age’ need only visit Leamington’s Rachel Sloan for a re-set.

The newly-minted octogenarian – she turned 80 on April 30 –  can’t get enough of technology. It challenges and delights her, connects her to a world made less accessible through age, and gives her a reason to get up every day.

Technology is also key to the crucial role Rachel plays for a high-end dressage breeding farm deep in the Scottish Highlands.  Caledonia Dressage Horses on Balblair Farm is owned by her nephew and his wife, Peter and Reay Campbell; it’s a mare-only stud that has established itself internationally for producing quality horses, combining some of the best mares in the world with Europe’s top stallions.

Somewhere in the midst of all that collective international knowhow sits Rachel, described on Caledonia’s website as a “a godsend, a secret and surprising foaling alarm, and an invaluable part of our team”. That’s because for the past four to five years, she’s been akin to a “night watchman” for the Campbells, monitoring their expectant mares via as many as 16 cameras linked to her iPad and phoning them when they need to get down to the stables. The 12-hour difference between Scotland and New Zealand makes it the perfect symbiotic relationship – Rachel watches while the Campbells get some shut-eye.

“This is technology at its best, and I love it,” she said.  “There’s never a dull moment. We’ve had 10 foals so far this year. I feel so connected to it all, it’s as though I’m right there.”

Rachel was born and raised on farmland adjacent to Balblair Farm. Her connection with animals continued after she and her late husband Bill migrated to New Zealand, where he worked as a veterinarian and she clocked up some time on the reception desk.  Having ridden horses as a child, and later ridden dressage competitively, she has a deep intuition for horses and is the perfect person to pick up signs that a mare is about to foal.

The camera link means she is also able to spot trouble in other areas or alert Peter and Reay when the horses are unsettled.

A mother to two, grandmother to four and great-grandmother to two – with a third due any minute now – Rachel sees technology as a fabulous tool to lighten her days.

“My family think I’m mad. But I find a lot of joy in it, and anyway, it keeps me out of their hair. I do all my banking and pay my bills on the iPad, and I feel very connected with the world in a way I couldn’t be otherwise.

“Besides,” she added, “it’s an awful lot of fun.”

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