Harrogate man tackles grief by sheep breeding

A prize-winning sheep breeder near Harrogate who took it up as a hobby in tribute to his late wife says he won't let ill health stand in his way.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 13th August 2018, 5:49 pm
Updated Monday, 13th August 2018, 5:58 pm
Paying tribute to his late wife - Businessman and sheep breeder Stephen Hipps.
Paying tribute to his late wife - Businessman and sheep breeder Stephen Hipps.

A successful businessman by profession, Stephen Hipps, 72, breeds prize-winning Ryeland sheep, one of the UK’s oldest breeds, at his farm near Harrogate.

Stephen’s hobby has special significance for him as he and his late wife Margaret started breeding Ryelands in 1981.Founded on winning bloodlines, admirers of the breed include the Prince of Wales.

After Margaret died in 2007, Stephen decided to continue her work, partly to carry on her legacy and partly as a way of coping with his grief.

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Stephen, who has two stepchildren and nine grandchildren, said: “Margaret was extremely knowledgeable about the breed and showed for many years. I used to watch her which is how I learned. “After her death, I decided to have a go on my own and it soon turned into something I feel passionate about.

More accustomed to running his business Dalesauna at St James Business Park in Knaresborough, Stephen soon gained a reputation as a top breeder.Home-bred successes include winning the Breed Champion at the Great Yorkshire Show in 2016 with his shearling ram, Valentino. He has also won the Ryeland Wool on the Hoof Championship three times and overall Supreme Wool on the Hoof.

Stephen said: “Margaret would have been proud of this accolade as it was one of only a few my wife didn’t manage to achieve before she passed away. It’s a fitting tribute to her.”

Taking semi-retirement has ensured his success continues.He became president of the Ryeland Flock Book Society in 2015 and is also a well-respected judge of the Ryeland breed.

But a physical condition threatened to end the hobby that turned into a passion.He said: “Looking after the sheep, which can weigh 15 stones, is very physically demanding.“Preparing the sheep for shows, involves a lot of bending and stretching, twisting and turning. You have to be physically fit.”

Having had spinal discectomy surgery 30 years ago, Stephen has suffered from debilitating pain for many years.This chronic condition has worsened in recent years with the onset of arthritis.But the help of a pain management injection treatment at Spire Leeds Hospital has meant he will now be able to carry on.

A once-a-year steroid injection means that he can be pain free and also regain the mobility required for the physically challenging work needed to prepare his flock for local shows.

Stephen said the hospital treatment had transformed his life.“I wouldn’t be able to keep on breeding sheep without the pain management injections.“I’m indebted to Dr Karen Simpson at Spire. Without the treatment I don’t think it would have been possible to carry on.“The relief is immediate and there are no side effects. I feel one hundred percent better straight away and can go home the same day.”

Dr Simpson said that injections can be used for both diagnosing and treating back pain.She said: “While there are several different types of injections, the premise is generally the same. A local anaesthetic and a long-acting steroid are injected into a muscle, nerve or joint near or in the spine. "If this results in immediate pain relief, the targeted area is likely to be the cause of the patient’s pain. When used for therapeutic purposes, the injections can be repeated up to two or three times a year to provide ongoing pain relief."

Had the new treatment not worked, Stephen would have faced a life of surgery. Instead he aims to carry on winning prizes with his rare sheep breeds.

Stephen said: “This hobby has been really therapeutic for me and the sheep provide a connection with a wonderful past that I had with my wife. I plan to continue sheep breeding for as long as I’m able.”

And should the situation change in future, one of his grandchildren, Aimee, 12, is already showing an interest in sheep, too.

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