The Winners 2014 Under 15 Winner

Did you ever wonder if you were born into the wrong family?

For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be a jockey. Not easy when your parents think of Badminton as a racquet sport and Kentucky as a place where you get fried chicken.

Not that Mum and Dad haven't tried to support me - after years of persuading, promising it wasn't just a phase, they booked the first of many weekly riding lessons. There's a photo of me that day, aged 11, ecstatic with joy, plodding around the school on a chubby grey pony wearing wellies and a borrowed skullcap.

I lived for Saturdays at the local stables, learning the basics; rising trot, diagonals, canter, first cross-pole... I finally persuaded my parents to let me get a horse on loan and keep it at a local yard, but it was a long way from racing. I used to watch and wonder what it was like to compete in a bunch of determined, desperate riders; jostling horses, a rainbow of silks rushing by, cheers and shouts from the expectant audience, the first horse over the line bringing joy to some and despair to others.

One wet Sunday in March, a few of us from the yard decided to take the horses to the beach. My loaned Anglo-Arab (Harbutts Centurian - AKA Bertie) and I hitched a lift with Sophie. The beach was an hour's drive away; we met Mark, Alex and Vicky there. I'm sure the horses were just as excited as I was; they whinnied and pranced about, eager to get going across the pebbles and onto the surf and sand.

We took it gently at first, giving the horses a chance to get used to the way the pebbles slipped and slid under their feet. The rain had dried up and the sun occasionally peeped from behind the clouds but the beach was still deserted. The expanse of sand stretched out for miles as we warmed the horses up with a gentle trot before cantering together, splashing up the surf and whooping.

The race was Mark's idea. He pointed along the beach. "Let's do this properly. That rock must be a mile away. It can be our finish line."

"How can we do it properly, we don't have a starting gate," Sophie replied scornfully.

"Come on Sophie, don't spoil it," said Alex. "It's a great idea. We know these horses can jump, let's see how they can race!"

So we all lined up with the horses spinning and pulling, trying to work out what we expected of them, and, at Mark's shout, we set off.

I couldn't believe the transformation in Bertie; he was straining at the bit, barging past the others. I folded into two-point position and let him go for it. His hooves thudded beneath me and I felt like screaming with sheer exhilaration.

I know I didn't have much chance of winning against Sophie's Irish Draught (Ralph) who was the fastest in the stables and a full two hands taller than Bertie. Despite that, I was going to do my best - and I felt like Bertie was reading my mind, and knew how important this was to me. Okay - we didn't have a proper start, we weren't wearing the colours, there were no cheering crowds or betting slips, but here we were - five riders all sharing the goal of getting over the line first.

Mark and Zanzibar were leading the pack and Vicky's horse Paddy (a piebald cob) was edging closer to me. Ralph was pounding ahead looking untroubled by the pace. I couldn't see Alex, so I assumed she was out of the running. Still only halfway, would Bertie have the stamina to keep it up?

Nobody told me how far a mile could feel at a gallop! My legs ached, I felt like my heart was thumping as loud as the horses' hooves on the sand - partly adrenaline and partly exertion - and my hat had started slipping over my eyes!

Paddy jerked to the side - I found out afterwards he'd spooked at a discarded umbrella - and Vicky shrieked, apparently only just managing to hang on to Paddy's neck. I heard Mark's curses as he and Zanzibar rode wide to avoid them.

I urged Bertie on, but he was starting to tire just as Ralph was pulling away - like the pros, he and Sophie had saved some energy for the final furlong.

I wish we had won. Alex came from behind. I was almost crying with exhaustion and disappointment when she beat Bertie and me into third place. But the memory of that day has stayed with me ever since. Nothing can beat the feeling of flying along in a bunch of horses, wind in your face and hooves thundering.



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