The Winners 2014 Under 26 Runner-up

I was young. Too young. I'd envisaged a life of pride. A life where I could cheer him on at Cheltenham, Kempton, Punchestown even. Maybe he could persuade an owner to put me up in a couple of amateur races and I could fulfil my dream of winning over the National fences. Winning the Aintree Foxhunter. Naivety. That led to the cold ring of metal around that finger on my left hand. And greed; thought I had to snap him up before the other stable lasses. How wrong I was.

A freak fall in some wretched Wincanton hurdle for conditional jockeys ended those dreams, for him at least. The horse walked away but he didn't. I realised then it wasn't love, although I think I knew all along. But with him stuck in a wheelchair the whole farce of a marriage really did unravel.

So what happened? I eventually abandoned him. Maybe it was selfish, but I just could not put up with it anymore. Yes, horses and racing had been his whole life and consequently his downfall. But they were my life too. And I needed them. They had never hurt me. He couldn't accept that.

All he did was sit there. This was a man who had lived for the buzz and the thrill, the adrenaline rush that focuses your mind at the start of the race, the jostling for position at the going up of the tape, the tactical positioning during the first few furlongs, the patient waiting, striking the front, the ecstasy when you lead the rest past the post... that was over for him, so his life was over. He was still breathing but not living. There was nothing for him. Jockeys are thrill seeking junkies. He couldn't get his buzz. So he sat there. Resentful of anyone who could still enjoy that life. Resentful of me.

I refused to sit there too, refused to wither away with him. So I lived my life. I went to work, grinded for the point to point rides I was given and waded my own path through the amateur rider ranks instead of relying upon him. He hated that. He really hated that.

He refused to read about the sport in the papers and refused to watch it on TV. He cut off all communication from our friends, anyone who had even a tenuous link to racing. He was bitter, so very bitter. I tried to rouse him, get him out of his own head but nothing I did worked. I tried to argue with him but he just ignored me. He wouldn't talk to me. I couldn't break through.

So I put him in the car on some false pretence and drove him to the yard where he used to work. The place where he'd had respect, even adoration from some, where he had been hailed as the next big thing, a future star and potential champion jockey. I'd hoped that if he smelt that horsey smell and felt their gloss, silken coats with the hard, rippling muscle below then his barriers, so strong and guarded, would finally fall and he would come to accept his fate. If this happened, then maybe we could train. His mother had offered her yard to us. Our life in racing didn't have to end. We had options but he didn't see it that way.

Maybe it was a step too far. People berated me for not preparing him, but they don't understand the position I was in and how hard it was. All they see is a man in a wheelchair and feel sorry for him, the victim, forgetting the further implications for the people closest to him. But I wanted, needed, a reaction and I definitely got one. A blazing row engulfed the yard but for the first time since the accident, two years past, passion inflamed his eyes and, for the briefest of moments, he became the man he had once been. The man that had inflamed me.

By the time we arrived home this emotion had disappeared, he had returned to the lifeless shell with no aspirations and I decided that I couldn't live with that lack of hope any longer. So, I grabbed his face and forced him to look at me, to properly look at me, while I finally said what I'd wanted to say for a long time. I snarled at him, "I am not a woman who can sit back and care for you. I can't mop you up and mollycoddle you. I need to feel desire and excitement, infatuation and delight. You hate me riding but I need that level of ecstasy, to feel the sinewy strength between my thighs and experience the exhilaration of winning, the sound of the crowds roaring me home. You felt it so surely you understand that I need it to survive?" Nothing. There was only blankness. Just complete vacancy.

My last attempt to break through failed. So, bemused and exhausted, I drove him to his mother's house and left him there. He was no longer my responsibility. Maybe if I'd truly loved him I could have stayed, but our relationship was never strong enough to survive such an upheaval. Some would say it was selfish and I'll admit that a part of me has always been that way inclined, but I never felt any guilt. I only felt relief that at last I could be free. I left and I lived my life. I rode and won and moved on. Although, I did look for him sometimes, tried to pick his face from the sea of faces, he was never there. Does he still sit there resenting that day? Probably. No one has heard from him. I hope not though. I long for him to come to terms with his injuries and to see his blazing look once again.



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