From journalist to jockey: looking like a pillock

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  • Hi everyone,

    My training for the Pertemps Champions Willberry Derby at Epsom in August has started in earnest.

    Bob Champion, my mentor for this very daunting challenge, gave me a call and suggested I should have a go on an Equicizer in Newmarket. Handily, Newmarket is only about 45 minutes from home, so I drove down there one Saturday morning and met up with Bob.

    He took me to Palace House, the National Heritage Centre for Horseracing, and here we met up with the wonderful Frank Conlon and the Equicizer.

    Frank is a real salt of the Earth kind of man. He was Henry Cecil’s head lad for 14 years and is an equine tour guide for Palace House. I got the impression that what Frank doesn’t know about Newmarket, probably isn’t worth knowing.

    I hopped onto the Equicizer and suddenly found myself feeling increasingly nervous. As I said in my previous blog, I am clueless when it comes to knowing how to be a ‘jockey’, and the thought of sitting in a racing saddle with my stirrups seemingly round my ears while being watched by Bob and Frank, made me feel totally embarrassed. That coupled with the fact two youngsters, probably around 10 years younger than me, who work for Flat trainer Luca Cumani were there watching as I interrupted their Equisizer session, just made things worse.

    Then it dawned on me. Nobody cares. Nobody cares if I look like a pillock to start with — that’s the whole point. I’m not trying to be a professional jockey and everyone there very much knew I was a work in progress. So I told myself to stop being so bl**dy stupid and just got on with it.

    To start with, the Equicizer was in ‘halt’. Frank asked me to get into my racing position — bridged reins, hands up the ‘horse’s’ neck and bum in the air.

    Bob and Frank immediately told me to lower the front of my body down towards the horse more — I was too upright in my position and definitely looked like an amateur event rider doing a jockey impression. There was an instant change and I gave myself a good talking to and vowed to never have my body too upright again (I don’t like making the same mistake twice — it makes life annoying for those trying to help you!).

    We got into a ‘gallop’ and all was fine until, ouch. I soon realised I had dressed wrong. We all know jeans with no chaps makes for a painful time while riding, so why didn’t I think this through before I came to have a go on the Equisizer. I didn’t admit the pinching pain I was experiencing on the inside of my legs to anyone, but I now have the scabs to prove it! Lesson learnt…

    I could manage a two to three minutes at a time on the Equicizer. I wasn’t doing anything other than holding myself in place. Now the fastest ever time the Epsom Derby has been run in was 2 minutes 31.33 seconds by Workforce in 2010. It goes without saying that our race won’t be run in anywhere near that sort of time, but I evidently have some work to do fitness-wise. And we haven’t even started training in how to ride a finish…

    I did about four on and off sessions on the Equicizer, and while I was resting from one, Bob got onto the machine and had a go. I hope I can still do that when I’m 69!

    Continued below…

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    So my fitness work continues, including completing a 10 mile run in gale force blizzards last week in a little over one hour 20 minutes (I can’t say it was a nice experience!) and with the Cheltenham Festival now sadly over and done with, I will be resuming training with Bob.

    After launching my blog, I have received some wonderful donations — thank you to each and every one of you. If you haven’t donated but are feeling particularly generous, please do feel free to donate to my page, which is raising money for both The Bob Champion Cancer Trust and Hannah’s Willberry Wonder Pony, two fantastic and worthy causes.

    Gemma x

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