At the age of 32, professional footballer Jay Tabb made a dramatic career U-turn, swapping his football boots for a racing saddle.
Having been a football-obsessed child, Jay turned professional aged 17 and went on to play for clubs such as Coventry and Reading.
“I spent 15 years playing football and I was very fortunate to do a job I loved,” says Jay. “Ultimately, it led me to the racing industry. While at Coventry, my roommate would watch the racing and that’s how I got into it. I grew up in London, so horses did not feature in my childhood at all.”
After over a decade of playing football, Jay “stopped enjoying” the game and was looking for a new direction.
“My mum passed away and it just gave me a new perspective on life. So in March last year, I applied for a 12-week course at the National Horseracing College in Doncaster, where fortunately they have no age restrictions,” he adds.
“Before I started there, I went for some riding lessons at a local riding school near where I lived at the time in Wimbledon village. I had never ridden before so it got me used to riding a horse. Riding a thoroughbred was obviously very different and it took time to get used to.
“I was lucky enough to jointly-own some racehorses while I was playing football, so had visited trainers’ yards to watch horses on the gallops, but I had to go back to basics at the racing college — simple things like putting a headcollar on and picking out feet were all new to me.”
Jay finished his course in Doncaster in June last summer and arrived at his new role for National Hunt trainer Philip Hobbs in July.
“Philip was my first choice of trainer and luckily enough I was accepted,” says Jay. “Everyone at the yard has been amazing so far and really helpful. I’ve had a few moments on the gallops, like when my tack has slipped and I’ve fallen off – if you fall off you bring cake in the morning, so I’ve been keeping the local bakery in business!”
A highlight for Jay came last week at the Cheltenham Festival (10-13 March), when he led up Oakley (pictured, above) in the Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle.
“I have always watched the Festival on television, so it was just incredible to be there leading up a horse,” he adds.
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Jay had to lose two stone before starting his course at the racing college, where they have to weigh in at 11 stone. He now has ambitions to ride in a charity race, with riding in a point-to-point the “ultimate dream”.
“If you love horses and fancy a career change, I would definitely recommend the racing industry and say, just go for it. I have absolutely loved it and it has been life-changing for me.”
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