Primary school teacher ‘makes a dream reality’ by learning to ride racehorses at 49

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  • A primary school teacher is realising his passion for racing and childhood dream of learning to ride after contacting Britain’s winning-most Flat trainer Mark Johnston on a whim.

    Paresh Patel, who had never ridden a horse before August 2020, emailed Mark last year during the Qatar Goodwood Festival expressing his interest in riding and exploring a career change into racing.

    The 49-year-old grew up next to Cheltenham racecourse, which is where his love for the sport was born, but opted to go into teaching rather than pursue his love of racing as a career.

    Paresh heard back from Mark immediately, who was keen to support him in learning to ride racehorses. He has been making the weekly six-hour round trip to Middleham for lessons whenever possible, with pauses owing to lockdowns, over the last year, and is now riding out alongside work riders on morning exercise.

    “I hope that my story will encourage people who may feel they’re unable to take part in racing to take the first step in getting involved in the sport and make a dream a reality,” said Paresh.

    “I have always had a passion for wanting to ride racehorses and last year, I realised that it is never too late to start. When the Johnston Racing Team invited me to learn with them, I grabbed the opportunity.”

    He added: “I feel part of the team at Mark and Deirdre’s and it is great to be part of the group caring for and riding such special animals. I hope to continue riding at Johnston Racing and support the team the best that I can.

    “I would like my community to have a better understanding of racing and the opportunities that are available for all, and hope through my story I can help inform people of this.”

    The year six teacher undertook a two-week course at the National Racing College during the school summer holidays and hopes one day to take out his amateur licence.

    “When I first heard from Paresh it rang some alarm bells with me. Immediately it struck me that he was going to risk his career as a primary school teacher to take a mid-life change of direction into racing. I wrote to him and encouraged him not to rush to burn his bridges and to come to us to learn to ride,” said Mark.

    “Progress has been slower than we would have hoped for Paresh, due to Covid restrictions, which have been particularly stringent at times due to him being a teacher in his other life, but he can now ride out with the string. He has made a huge effort to learn to ride but clearly enjoys every minute of it.”

    He added that he hopes Paresh’s story will serve as inspiration to others, including those in under-represented communities in British racing, who may not have realised that learning to ride and working in the sport was an option.

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