Welcome to my new blog, which will document my challenge to become a ‘jockey’ in time to take part in the Pertemps Champions Willberry Charity Derby.
The day I found out I had been chosen as one of the lucky few to take part in this charity race at Epsom on 27 August, is one I won’t forget. I did laps of the kitchen, jumping for joy as I knew full-well that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. After I had managed to peel myself off the ceiling, the enormity of the challenge ahead dawned on me. I am not a jockey. I had never even got out of walk in a racing saddle before and I had zero idea of what was required in how to ride any sort of race. This sudden realisation was cemented in one clear cut statement by my father when I shared my exciting news with him:
“You? In a race? Trying to be a jockey? Going fast? Are you joking?”
Indeed, good old dad has a point. My British Eventing record is peppered with cross-country time-faults. He is no fool and obviously remembers the days when he and mum drove me to competitions, only to witness me throwing any chances I had at a winning a rosette out the window thanks to my snail-like tendencies. And so you can start to see why me riding in a Flat race on an actual racehorse begins to sound like some sort of joke.
So here’s a bit about me. I’m Gemma Redrup, 27-years-old and a journalist for Horse & Hound. I was fortunate to land my dream job back in June 2014 and have been praying ever since those that employed me won’t realise that they must have got their applications muddled, as I honestly don’t know how I got my foot in the door with a fairly average degree from the mighty fun Royal Agricultural University.
I have ridden at intermediate and CCI* level eventing, and was sure when I was a teenager that I could stand a chance at becoming the next Pippa Funnell. Sadly it dawned on me pretty quickly that I was never going to be anywhere near good enough to mix it with the big boys, so a job where I can talk about horses and interview my childhood heroes and get paid for it seems like the next best thing, and I love it.
I also enjoy the odd bit of hunting, and am fortunate that my boyfriend, Simon, who is huntsman of the Fitzwilliam, is just as keen to spend at least once a week going jumps racing or point-to-pointing as I am.
I have one horse of my own, the talented but quirky Basil, who is both the bane and love of my life. I’ve had him a couple of years now, and after some success in his five-year-old year, he hit the ‘teenage phase’. I think we’ve just about come out the other side of it, thanks to some hunting and a lot of patience! I hope to do some BE100s with him this season.
When I received the great news that I had been accepted into this race, none other than Bob Champion, of Grand National winning fame and so much more besides, got in touch with me saying he would be happy to become my mentor. I almost keeled over in shock that such a legend of the racing and wider equestrian world would want to help silly little me. But help me he has and I can already feel like I am starting to make some sort of progress towards being able to ride in a race.
I first met Bob when he offered to come and watch me ride to make an assessment and find out where we are at in terms of the very amateur rider to jockey scale. He met me at a point-to-point and racing yard owned and run by my great friends, Dale Peters and his girlfriend Nat Richardson (Bob and Dale pictured top with Mo and I).
Nat and Dale very kindly let me hunt one of their pointers, Mo (Important Moment, who can be seen in the video above at Sheriff Hutton point-to-point in January with Nat leading him up and Dale riding), over the winter and so it seemed logical for me to ride him in front of Bob while I did my best jockey impression (I felt like a fraud!).
Now, on the hunting field Mo is known as my ‘ladies hunter’, but Mo on the gallops was a whole different kettle of fish. He was electric and went along with his ears up my nose. This, paired with the fact I was riding in a racing saddle properly for the first time, made the experience terrifying and exhilarating in equal measures. All I could think of was trying to keep my hands down and the horse between me and the floor and I clung onto the top of the breastplate for dear life, as the more you pull on the reins with Mo, the higher his head carriage becomes.
Happily, Bob announced: “I think we can make something of you”, while I got my breath back from my first ‘jockey’ experience and almost fainted at this positivity from a racing hero. I run four or five times each week around five to six miles a time, but it’s clear I am nowhere near fit enough for this particular challenge. Rising trot in a racing saddle is evil — think somewhere along the lines of doing 200 squats in the gym without a break. Bob recommended swimming as the best way to get fit for the race, so I have joined my local pool. I have a very long way to go and have a whole new level of respect for the ‘real’ jockeys out there.
So I hope you will enjoy following my journey, but of course the root cause behind all of this is to raise as much as possible for two wonderful charities; the Bob Champion Cancer Trust and Hannah’s Willberry Wonder Pony. I hate to be one of those annoying people begging for donations, but even if it’s £1, it would mean the world to me and go some way to reaching my £6,000 target. You can find my fundraising page here: uk.virginmoneygiving.com/GemmaRedrup
Thank you all and wish me luck!