We are used to eventing being held up as a rare sport in which men and women compete on equal terms, but last week at Cheltenham, where my husband David and I were invited by the Jockey Club, showed that competent female jockeys can no longer be viewed as a novelty.
They may be in the minority, but Rachael Blackmore, who rode a double and could become Ireland’s first female champion jockey, Lizzie Kelly, Page Fuller, Bridget Andrews and Bryony Frost were all in demand with multiple rides for leading trainers.
Bryony, who is from my home county (she’s also a surfer and a hillwalker), is so beautifully balanced and sympathetic — she seems to have modelled herself on Ruby Walsh in the way she gets horses to respond to her — but it’s her enthusiastic interviews, in her Devon burr, that always cheer me up. I defy anyone listening not to have their interest in horse sport piqued.
We don’t always capitalise on this aspect of eventing, although we have come a long way from the days when, as a woman, my former trainer, Sheila Willcox, was not eligible to ride in the Olympics despite being a triple Badminton winner. And the rather disapproving media furore in the 1990s over my competing while pregnant, and as a new mother, now seems long past, especially when you look at Jonelle Price’s spectacular 2018 Badminton win eight months after giving birth.
I’m sure a lot of people will be disappointed not to see world champions Ros Canter and Allstar B at Badminton. They would have been obvious contenders to win, but Ros has timed her pregnancy to perfection as she will be back competing in time to prepare for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
A new challenge
Preparation, planning and always looking to the big picture is so much part of the event rider’s psyche, whether your end game is the Mitsubishi Motors Cup or the Olympics, and it never goes away — the novice horse of this season might be the Badminton winner of tomorrow.
It’s still what drives me. I love going to competitions, I love the training and the trying all the time to improve, and I would like to think I will ride at Badminton again. However, due to a problem with my neck, I have to be realistic.
I am only competing two home-bred horses this spring and, although things are a little better under a new doctor, I’m having to face up to stopping competing one day.
This is a daunting prospect, but I do have another sporting challenge. I’ve long thought I might do something in sailing and I applied to be a crew member in the iconic Clipper Round The World Race, leg three — the southern ocean, South Africa to western Australia — in November.
I had to pass an interview and assessment and, although I can’t boast medical or engineering experience, factors such as being disciplined, having a proven competitive nature and natural physical fitness, as well as being mad enough not to mind climbing up the mast in a gale, all count.
I will be doing some teaching in South Africa and Australia to offset the costs and feel so grateful to have something of this magnitude to aim for.
Ref Horse & Hound; 21 March 2019