Life lessons: Four-time champion jockey Richard Johnson *H&H Plus*

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  • Richard grew up on a farm, enjoying jumping and hunting during his childhood. Having been second to AP McCoy on 16 occasions in the champion jockey title race, he was crowned champion for the first time in 2016 and followed up with a further three titles.

    When I left school aged 16, I went to work for the late David Nicholson. He was a trainer with old-fashioned values and it was his way or the highway. I learnt many important lessons during my time there; not only discipline when it came to how the horses were looked after, but also with how you were around people – always to be on time and be polite.

    Anyone wanting to be a jockey needs to be prepared to work hard and be patient. I was at the bottom of the ladder when I arrived at David’s and it took me two years to get my first ride for him. There are no shortcuts; trainers will give you the opportunity once they feel you are ready.

    “A great, strong chaser”

    I have been very fortunate to ride so many great horses and there is no better feeling than riding a top-class chaser, such as the Colin Tizzard-trained Native River, on whom I won the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup. He gallops at speed, jumps with great fluency and maintains his rhythm throughout – not many horses can do all of that in a race. Captain Chris, who was trained by Philip Hobbs, is one horse I will never forget because he, sadly, never got to fulfil his true potential. He was a great, strong chaser, who had so much ability and found it all very easy. I won the 2011 Arkle Trophy on him at Cheltenham. However, because of niggling injuries, we didn’t get to see the best of him and he never got the recognition he deserved.

    I have one superstition, which is that I always say hello to magpies. I grew up with my mother doing it and she always told me that magpies were actually lucky, so I guess it’s just been passed on to me and is something I will probably pass on to my children. I have found myself saying it during a race too, if I happen to see a magpie.

    Growing up during my teenage years, I looked up to Richard Dunwoody, who was champion jockey at the time. He was strong in the saddle and always stylish – he was the jockey I wanted to be and I was fortunate to be able to ride against him in later years.

    The person I used to go to for advice was AP McCoy. My riding career benefited hugely when he retired and I was able to become champion jockey. But before that, we used to sit next to each other in the weighing room and we were on the same wavelength. I found it easy to chat to him – I felt I could always talk to him if I was frustrated following a race.

    Keeping it simple

    Every six to 12 months, I go for a schooling session with Yogi Breisner. He has a great way of simplifying things and that is very important in racing – as a jockey, you can easily overcomplicate riding a horse. Even at the top of your game, it’s important to continue learning.

    As I’ve got older, I’ve come to realise how important fitness is and how much it can help you recover from, and prevent, injury. I make sure I do a core-strength routine for about 20 to 30 minutes in the weighing room at the races. I have been doing that for a few years now and feel a huge difference – the fitter you are, the better you can take falls.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 16 April 2020