When I wrote my last blog, I was absolutely exhausted, overly emotional and lying awake at night worrying myself silly about the race (the Champions Willberry Charity Race at Cheltenham on 20 April 2017 — www.championswillberry.org.uk).
Now we are just a day away from the race, and mentally, I am in a very different, much more positive place. Thank goodness. I’m still totally exhausted, and definitely still more emotionally fragile than usual, but now my overwhelming feeling is that I just want to get on with it! I can’t wait to be legged up and let loose onto that beautiful turf at Cheltenham with all the other riders. I get the tingles just thinking about that moment.
So, what’s brought about such a dramatic change in my psychological state? I haven’t had sports psychology sessions, or suddenly worked out how to combat my 2am demons. Have I upped my fitness dramatically over the past two weeks? No. I’ve just found a new friend who has systematically helped me work through my fears. She has coached me in keeping my balance when jumping off, helped me to correct my position when cantering and guided me through my first bit of ‘work’.
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She has ginger hair, big brown eyes and the softest, pink nose. She’s Miss Inga Sock, a five-year-old chestnut mare (pictured top and above). She (Inga) has done more for my confidence in the past two weeks than any number of sports psychology sessions could and I’m so pleased to say that she’s going to be my partner for the race.
Inga usually only runs over a mile, so one mile five furlongs on quick ground is going to be a huge push for her, but she’s feeling fit and we’ll look after each other. All I want is for both of us to finish with smiles on our faces. She’s trained by Eve Johnson-Houghton and owned by the Ascot Colts and Fillies Club, which is a free-to-join club for kids under 17, to help get more youngsters involved with racing. A few times a year, Inga is paid a visit by around 30 children at once. While they watch her being groomed and tacked up ready for work, she stands like a rock as kids of all ages wander around her legs, stroke her nose and pat her neck. I suppose this is her ‘family pony’ mode. Then her work rider is legged up and Inga switches to ‘racehorse mode’. She might not be a world beater, but she really is a special girl and I am so looking froward to seeing her all spruced up and ready to race tomorrow.
Overall I’m feeling fit, despite nearly collapsing after my last Equiciser session with my jockey coach, Dominic Elsworth. I’m riding two lots a day and genuinely loving the experience. The more I learn about racing, the more I become hooked. I can see why people become addicted to it. I know quite a few of the 70-odd horses at Eve’s yard by sight and have come to understand their work routine and how they should feel while working. We are cantering on the grass every day now, which is so different to using the all-weather gallops, and I’m so pleased I’ve had a chance to feel what it’s like to work a horse on grass before the race.
Ali talks us through why she has "roughly
Dominic, Eve, my partner Alan and the rest of the team at Woodway Stables have all helped me to prepare for this race as best they can. I have all my kit now (including a beautiful saddle from Bliss of London!) and I have my horse.
I’m ready. Now all I need to do is ride.
See you on the other side!