THE BLOG

Race Day at the Cheltenham Festival

18/03/2016 14:12 GMT | Updated 19/03/2017 09:12 GMT
Alan Crowhurst via Getty Images

If you'd told me more than 12 months ago that I'd be on the brink of lining up in one of the biggest amateur races at the largest jump racing festival in the world, I would have thought you were crazy. But that was before Betfair approached me to Switch Saddles, and I subsequently dedicated a year of my life to an incredibly tough challenge.

I have to admit that this challenge came at the perfect time, a time when I was looking for something to help me move on from my past career and something that would really challenge me as an athlete.

I couldn't have wished for a more enjoyable year, I've completely fallen in love with horse racing, but it has been a tough journey. There have been a lot of physical and emotional ups and downs but I have come to expect that as I am learning something from scratch and I have set myself the goal of achieving something many people thought was impossible.

There really is nothing quite like riding a race horse. I feel blessed to be having this experience. It is hard not to sit here and look forward to the race, I'm extremely excited to have the opportunity to ride a horse as good as Pacha Du Polder and can't thank Andy Stewart and his family enough for giving me this opportunity. I had another sit on Pacha on Friday in a schooling session at Paul Nicholls' yard and he was great, he was as keen as ever and seemed in great form.

I haven't had a chance to get to Cheltenham so far this week, but recalling my first experience of the festival last year I clearly remember that you could actually feel the thunder of the hooves as the horses pounded past the grandstand, I remember feeling incredibly excited by it all at that moment. The prestige that the festival holds was also abundantly clear and riding in the Foxhunters will be a moment I remember for a very long time.

Hopefully Pacha and I enjoy a good race, but whatever the outcome I already feel like I have won because the expert team have decided that I am competent enough to ride at in the Foxhunters at Cheltenham.

The great thing about horse racing is I don't feel that level of expectation I used to with cycling. I have worked long and hard with my team of experts to prepare for today, but there are so many things that can happen in a race that you have to go in to it with an open mind and that for me takes the pressure off. This has been an amazing 12 months; I've been given the opportunity to ride over 65 different race horses, I've forged some great friendships and found a love for horses that will stay with me forever - it makes the early mornings and dedication worthwhile.

I plan to continue riding out with Lawney and Alan Hill at Woodway Farm and compete in point to points long past the end of this challenge. In fact, if my path had crossed with horses any earlier, I could have led a very different life.

I would finally like to say a massive thank you to the magnificent support team that Betfair have put in place for me, Alan and Lawney Hill, Yogi Breisner and Paul Nicholls, without whom none of this would have been possible. Their knowledge, guidance and support as both coaches and friends throughout the challenge has been invaluable.