From endurance to racing to showing: one rider’s unusual career

  • A riding club competitor who was looking for “a fresh challenge” has gone from endurance to race-riding to showing during her time in the saddle.

    Dentist Jane Willett, 46, had a background riding Arabs in endurance and dressage but was inspired to push herself towards a new discipline by the story of Hannah Francis, the determined founder of Hannah’s Willbery Wonder Pony Charity.

    “I wanted to do something really meaningful and be tested beyond belief and I decided I desperately wanted to ride in the Newmarket Town Plate, which is the longest flat race in Europe,” she said. “It involved nine months of training to pass the charity rider test but it turned out to be the most amazing experience of my life. I’ve also ended up with little racehorse who is the best thing I’ve ever owned.”

    The exacting test assesses both horsemanship and fitness, with potential race-riders having to prove they can hold a four-minute plank, as well as a perform a gruelling series of press-ups, leg-raises and squats.

    They were also filmed riding racehorses at walk, trot and canter in jockey position, before being sent out on the track where they were ordered to maintain set distances to check their control.

    “The riding test was comprehensive, while parts of the fitness test were sheer evil!” said Jane, who runs a dental practice.

    “To train I got up at 5.45am most days to ride out first lot before going to the gym and then getting into work an hour later than usual.”

    The Clywyd Riding Club member was able to hone her skills on the racetrack thanks to input from trainer Mick Mullineux , who later sold her the hurdler Deadline Day.

    She undertook the challenge with her friend Gemma Mathers, who partnered a horse called Sturdy Dawn in the plate — and has also now taken on several ex-racehorses.

    “Mick was amazing, he supported and encouraged me and Gemma, even though we had no prior knowledge of racing or riding a racehorse, and showed that over the course of a year we could become quite effective,” she said.

    “You use muscles you’ve never used in your life and initially you feel quite unbalanced — if the horse spooks you think you won’t stay on —but then you begin to improve and you can use your weight more effectively.”

    After leading for a portion of the 3m6f race, Jane and Deadline finished in seventh place, raising £680 for Willberry Wonder Pony —which funds bone cancer research and grants horsey wishes — in the process.

    “I’d love to do the plate again next year,” she said. “I’ve never challenged myself so much in life and want to learn more!”

    Jane and Deadline have since gone on to compete in showing and dressage and hope to start their eventing career as well as fitting in some charity races.

    “He seems to have coped with everything amazingly well,” she added. “He was racing fit and four weeks later, having never been to any form of show in his life, he went to the big agricultural show at Flint and Denbigh to compete in the RoR class and he put his best foot forward to finish reserve.

    “Since then he’s been team chasing and on farm rides and we’re just sorting out our music for dressage to music — I’ve done everything with him. He’s just fantastic.”

    For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday.

    You may like...