The first graduate of a pony racing scheme for horseless youngsters has made her point-to-point debut.
Annabel Willis, 16, was one of the first teenagers to graduate from the Pony Racing Authority’s (PRA) youth training scheme based at Appletree Stud, Banbury.
The PRA runs fully-funded programmes for 11-14 year olds who do not own a pony and who couldn’t otherwise take part in pony racing due to financial or other circumstances.
Annabel rode in the ladies’ open at the Heythrop’s fixture on 24 January at Cocklebarrow racecourse in Gloucestershire.
“I wasn’t lucky enough to have my own pony growing up, but I never saw that as an issue, more an obstacle to overcome,” said Annabel.
“Completing the scheme meant that, as well as riding in a Pony Club pony race at Cheltenham, I learned about the different roles in racing and developed some of the skills needed for the industry.”
Annabel, a student at Moreton Morrell, rode My Minds Maid for Stratford-based trainer Francesca Nimmo and pulled-up two fences from home.
“We are delighted with the progress Annabel has made over the last 16 weeks, having had very little experience on racehorses,” said Francesca.
“Her hard work has paid off and she certainly did not look out of place on her debut on Sunday. Pony racing has obviously provided her with a fantastic grounding.”
Annabel, who learnt to ride at a riding school, combines riding out for Francesca with studying for an equine management diploma at college.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better race to have my first spin — it was the fastest seven minutes of my life,” she said.
“The best thing by far was jumping a racehorse at speed over the fences in the pack — it was the biggest thrill I have ever felt.”
Clarissa Daly, of the PRA, said that Annabel is a “fantastic role model” for young riders.
“I am delighted that our youth training scheme, through the coaching and mentoring of Julie and Patrick Scott at Appletree Stud, has given Annabel the boost she needed to start a career in racing,” she added.