My name is Rachel Sharpe, I am 16 years old and live near Penrith in Cumbria. I have ridden since I was very young and have been a member of the Cumberland Farmers Hunt South Pony Club since I was on the lead rein on Cherry Pie who was a real monkey – I used to fall off her a lot and perhaps that is where I began to learn to stick on! I have had some brilliant ponies since, Frankie who at 12.2hh took me onto all the Junior Pony Club Teams and then Duke who I brought on from a youngster to competing British Eventing.
But for years though I pestered my parents to let me have a go at Pony Racing, Mum was not so easy to convince and she works for the Injured Jockeys Fund and sees what can happen when jockeys fall off! Dad was easier to win over as he was a Jockey himself and still works in racing now as a Stipendiary Steward. Eventually they gave in and along came Miss Tiny.
Miss Tiny belonged to Barry and Sue Murtagh and had been ridden by Lorcan and Connor – they were very kind and said we could have Miss Tiny for the season so I could have my first go at Pony Racing. Miss Tiny is a brilliant pony to ride, she is really sensible and doesn’t pull, but she completely the opposite in the stable! I had a great season with her and had five rides, the best being a third at Overton, she ran really well and wasn’t beaten very far, it was my first experience of getting quite close and after that I became determined to win! Tiny has been ridden by Jessica Swan this season and has helped her to win a most improved rider award.
Having really now got the racing bug the hunt was on for a new pony! A friend told me about Mr Marshall (Paddy), he had run really well in Ireland for Daniel McMenamin, so me, my mum and a friend Rosie Thompson went off to have a look at him over in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland. Anyway we all loved him and he arrived here in Cumbria in January this year!
So preparations for our first race began. We don’t have any gallops at home, so to get Paddy fit we did lots of roadwork, we also have had lots of help from James Callow who lives near by, he is very kind and lets us use his facilities and has lots of helpful advice. Diane Sayer also trains nearby and she is really kind letting us use her gallop. It does mean a lot of hard work keeping him fit, especially as I was doing my GCSE’s at the same time.
Paddy’s first race was at Overton again on 21st March. I do get quite nervous before the race but once I get on Paddy the nerves disappear. Paddy is quite strong and likes to be in front, so we jumped off in front and stayed there, he won by about 20 lengths, my first winner! Since then he went on to win another race at Tranwell and my first ever Charles Owen race at Kelso.
This week Paddy and I were due to run at Carlisle. Preparations had gone really well and we knew Paddy was feeling great. My grandad had travelled up from Wales to come and watch and Carlisle is nearby so quite a few of my friends came along as well. Mum and I were up early to get Paddy ready, I do the grooming and mum does the plaiting (she is very fussy about her plaits and wont let anyone else do them!) I always clean my tack the night before and all my gear is loaded up – I am quite messy and forgetful so we have a checklist for every bit of equipment that we need and the last thing we do is check everything off on the list to make sure nothing is missing.
We arrived at Carlisle and we all met up with Tim Reed who is a Jockeys Coach, he walked the course with us and gave us help and advice about lots of things like the start. I then went back to the trailer and got changed into my gear and got ready to weigh out. The normal weight to carry is 9st but because Paddy has won a race we have to carry a penalty of 5lbs, it means I have to use a weight cloth with a little bit of lead. My saddle is quite special because it belongs to an ex-jockey called Scott Taylor who was badly injured in a fall, he wanted me to use it and made me promise to ride a winner with it!
Once everyone is weighed out all the ponies are tacked up and walk around the pre-parade ring! Eventually we are on board and head off down to the start and this is when I start to get more focused. The 138cm race set off first and we then went down to the 6f start, we all had our girths checked and circled around waiting for the starter to get up on the rostrum, then off!
Paddy and I set off in about 3rd/4th, I didn’t get quite the start that I wanted but Paddy was soon in his stride and was up there near the lead. All of a sudden though, and quite soon after the start I felt as if my stirrups weren’t quite level – I had a quick look down and I could see that everything had slipped over to the left a bit – I tried to push a bit of weight down into my right stirrup, but by then it was too late. Paddy was still running on so well and I was concentrating on just keeping my balance! But things just got worse and the saddle by now had slipped right round and I couldn’t keep my right leg on the right side, I am not quite sure how I managed it but by leaning over Paddy’s back I was able to stick on, I was determined to stay on until I was past the line which I did and finished third! Being on the Pony Club Games Team must have taught me something! I did then fall off and thankfully didn’t hurt myself too much. Paddy carried on and galloped a full circuit, he came up the straight with his ears pricked and I think he thought he had won! I was embarrassed with the publicity afterwards and I hope it hasn’t taken away from the fact that Connor rode a lovely winner!
Anyway, hopefully the next race will be a bit less eventful!