Victoria Pendleton: ‘Imagine if I’d felt as excited about cycling as I do about horses’

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  • The 37-year-old Olympic cyclist-turned amateur jockey Victoria Pendleton featured in The Sunday Times Magazine’s long-standing ‘A Life in the Day’ series in yesterday’s edition (7 January 2017), revealing her complicated relationship with cycling — and why horses bring out the best in her.

    Having won gold at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and at the 2012 London Games, she retired from professional cycling and instead turned her efforts to race riding, having never sat on a horse before.

    She proved the doubters wrong when she finished fifth in the St James’ Place Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham in March 2016, and now keeps two horses at livery — a chestnut mare called According To Sarah and a black gelding, Vesper.

    “I spend the morning either schooling the horses or hacking them out. I’ll get them in [from] the field, groom them, tack them up, go for a ride, come back and wash them off. It feels really naughty and indulgent — I need to get a real job — but being around the horses is heaven,” she told The Sunday Times.

    “I knew as soon as I started riding lessons in 2015 that that was it. I wish I’d started earlier, but I was kind of busy. When I jump and land well, I feel like I’ve eaten all the sweets in the sweet shop — I feel giddy-sick. But it makes me sad in some ways. Imagine if I had felt that excited about cycling?

    Continued below…

    Victoria has talked extensively in the past about the pressure of cycling at Olympic level.

    “With the Olympics, winning a medal was very much expected. I went to Beijing and London knowing that I had a very good chance of winning. It was for me to lose, almost, but Cheltenham was wide open. I had just hoped to finish on the horse,” she said.

    “It’s been a life of wearing different helmets. I worked hard at cycling, but it always felt like a stepping stone to the next thing. Back then, I dreamt of being chased, I was always running. I don’t dream so much now. When I have a couple of days away from the livery [yard], I dream about riding the horses.”

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