There’s nothing quite like watching back some of the great races of yesteryear and celebrating our sport’s history. But racing’s future should be just as important to us all – without it we won’t have a sport to enjoy in the years to come. That’s why The Jockey Club’ South West Region created its Junior Jumpers initiative, designed to give young people the chance to get close to the action, learn about horses and meet some of the people who help put the horseracing show on the road.
Now Junior Jumpers has teamed up with St James City Farm & Riding School, an inner city farm in Gloucester helping youngsters learn more about the countryside and animals. As part of the charity partnership a new racing pony called Zara will live at St James City Farm and represent our Junior Jumpers in future pony races, with members able to follow her progress, watch her race and even visit her in her stables.
Here Jockey Club Racecourses sponsored rider, Bryony Frost, explains how pony racing helped kick-start her own Grade One-winning jump racing career: “When I was really young I had a donkey called Nosey. My brother, Hadden, was already pony racing and I thought to myself ‘I’m definitely doing that’. I started when I was nine, ended up pony racing lots and had 30-odd winners.
“Pony racing was a huge leg-up for me. Not so much from a tactical race-riding perspective because pony racing is generally flat out from start to finish – that’s the aim of the game. But where it really taught me to be sharp and where I messed up quite a few times was at the start. The start is so vital in racing. You can win or lose before the race is even properly under way. Pony racing really got me very sharp at the start. I trained my ponies deliberately to stand completely still on the line. And if I ‘clicked’ them once that was it, they were gone like lightning! “I didn’t do turning round. The starters used to hate me when I started point to- pointing. They’d be asking me to take a turn but I would point-blank refuse and stand on the line! I’d be like ‘no I’m fine, I can just stand here’. And they would stand like rocks until you leant forward slightly and ‘clicked’ them once and then they were gone like a jack-in-a-box! It also taught me to ride undulations on tracks and to ride bends.
These ponies don’t hang about! “Pony racing is one of those things that can open young people’s eyes to something that they might want to get into. It’s giving them that opportunity to go and suss it all out and to see if they’re going to get the bug for racing. “I was incredibly lucky to have my whole family involved in racing. I was proud as punch as a kid to say my dad had won the Grand National and Hadden to have won at The Festival. But I think the world of people who have decided to take a slightly different route from their family and their careers to have a go at something different. Pony racing allows strong-willed people, no matter what age they are, to see if horses and racing is for them. And that doesn’t matter whether it’s a career or a way of life or just as a hobby at that age. It’s just about getting people interested.”