When Mandy McConechy goes point-to-pointing this season, it will mark a first — the first time she has been to even watch a point-to-point, let alone ride in one.
The 24-year-old event rider from Alloway, Ayrshire, will go boldly where she has never gone before with the help of a home-bred seven-year-old mare with a sprint pedigree, who was sent home from a flat racing yard without running and gleaned steeplechasing experience during a two-day event.
“I’ve kind of thrown myself in at the deep end,” says Mandy. “I haven’t a clue about anything. I went out hunting one day, said I was thinking about point-to-pointing and everybody said ‘do it!’.
“I’ve never even seen one. I’ve heard about them. I know what height the jumps are, I know how far I have to go and I know roughly how fast I have to go.
“I’m listening to what everyone says. My friends don’t know much about it and say I’ll be fine, but when occasionally I mention it to someone who knows what they’re talking about they say, ‘Oh my God, you’re crazy’.”
Mandy has been adjusting to a racing saddle and adopting a racing seat by riding out for flat trainer Linda Perratt. Training for her mount, Creag Tara, borrows rather more from eventing.
“Stamina and speed-wise, we’ve been using the beach,” says Mandy. “I’ve been using my heart-rate monitor and my GPS time and distance monitor, so I know I’m doing three miles, what speed I’m doing it in, and that I can speed up as she gets fitter. She’s staying the three miles, which is good.
“I’ve been trying to train her to back off at the jumps and take flyers, as opposed to me telling her where to go, like we would eventing. I hope to take her round the track at Linda’s and see what she does and maybe get to do some of her jumps.
“But I’m not rushing into that because I’ve done a steeplechase on her at the Burgie two-day event. It’s just getting everything else together.”
Mandy was a relatively late starter, not being bitten by the horse bug until 15, when her grandfather gave her two Norwegian Fjord ponies. From there, Mandy pursued Pony Club activities and moved into eventing.
“I’ve done up to advanced level on a couple of horses, but now I’ve just got younger horses,” she says. “I’m hoping to find an advanced horse somewhere, but I can’t afford one. But if Tara turns out to be any good at point-to-pointing, I’ll sell her and buy another eventer because I’m not turning into a point-to-pointer. I’m only doing this because I have a horse.”
Mandy is eyeing the Jed Forest fixture at Kelso on 2 February as the possible launching pad.
“I’ve been told I’ll know 200yd into the race whether I’ll like it or not,” she says. “If I like it I’ll keep doing it, and if I don’t, I won’t. But I can’t see me not liking it because I’m one of these people who likes a challenge. I don’t do something just to do it. I do it to do well. I’ll either be falling off or be placed.”
Mandy has already cleared one hurdle all owners must negotiate; she has secured a set of colours.
“I bought them on eBay, along with a racing saddle,” she says proudly. “They’re blue with an orange stripe than runs from the shoulder to the hip. A sash, is it? I’m still learning all the terms.
“It’s like going hunting for the first time and not calling them dogs or not calling the jackets red!”