In just over a year, Dean Heslop, 17, has progressed from never having held a horse to having his first race-ride. Living in North Yorkshire, he went to school in Thirsk, where he had a “rough time”.
“My school got me a job at Linda Ramsden’s yard to keep me out of trouble,” explains Dean, who is one of a number of young people from an unhorsey background starting a career in racing.
He joined a group of people who had dreams of winning the Grand National ever since National Velvet became their favourite film. For Dean, the ambition was as great — and part of it was achieved within a year.
Job security is the most obvious appeal. Racing schools can guarantee work for graduating students, but Dean found that his experiences at the Northern Racing College in Doncaster, where Linda sent him to complete an NVQ, fostered an enthusiasm beyond this.
It was the excitement at races that made Dean “put his head down and keep learning”.
“Even if you don’t get the chance to ride, just going to the races is an amazing experience,” he says. “I couldn’t ride and hadn’t done much with horses, which didn’t bother the college.”
Dean enthuses about the support offered by the college. He found the course itself straightforward, but lacked confidence in handling the horses, initially describing every day as a bad day.
“I was always falling off, which was frustrating, but it’s all learning — it might not be the easiest but it’s the best way,” he says.
Linda realised that more riding experience was essential, so she put Dean in contact with Andrew Balding, who had him riding yearlings every day. This made an enormous difference to Dean’s prospects, for which he is eternally grateful.
“Andrew’s done a great job. He knew I wasn’t confident but could see that I had ability. Making me do it got me over the nerves,” says Dean, who made his racecourse debut on 22 November at Lingfield, riding Averami.
So is racing for you? Dean, who is now passionate about racing, would only recommend what he has done if you’re dedicated.
“It’s hard work for everyone, but if you really want it that makes things a little easier. You’ve got to be committed.”
Join Horse & Hound’s NAGS
Membership of the National Association of Grooms and Students (NAGS) is free to all bona fide grooms and students. NAGS is sponsored by training provider KEITS, which offers Modern Apprenticeships, for those aged 16-25, as well as work-based training in equine, animal care and agricultural businesses.
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If you are interested in becoming a member, write to: NAGS, Room 2018, Kings Reach Tower, Stamford Street, London SE1 9LS (tel: 020 7261 6993), e-mail: email@example.com, or click here to download an application form in PDF format.
And remember, the club is open to all students, not just those studying for an equine qualification.