Summer Pony Racing Camp 2019 – Report by Finley Sheppard

On 19th April 2019 I raced my first ever race at the Cheltenham Pony Club race day. I was delighted to be awarded a prize of a bursary for a one week camp at the British Racing School in Newmarket.  I had trained for hours every day to get my pony Cara and I ready for Cheltenham.  We had never raced before and even though she was not a typical racing pony, we both did our very best and had the most amazing day ever.   I was so excited.

The camp was scheduled for 13th to 17th of August at the British Racing School.  Everything was ready to go but sadly my new horse Prinny (Cara had gone on to a new Pony Club home) came up lame a few days before the camp was due to begin, I thought that I would be unable to attend the camp, but, my family and I decided that I should attend the camp anyway and just take part in the unmounted activities and help out others with their horses.  Despite not taking my four legged partner in crime, I was very excited about camp and was packed early ready for the trip.
Our journey to Newmarket started early because we lived so far away.  However, even with a breakfast pitstop at McDonalds (yum!) the four hour journey went pretty quickly.   We spent time getting to know the rest of the group and parents left after we were briefed on the course timetable.  We settled ourselves into our lovely rooms and the ponies were settled into stables.  After a slap up lunch (more food!) I found out that the team had found me a horse to ride and I was over the moon that I could take part in the whole camp.  I found my horse and she was beautiful. Her name was Defining Moment, she had run 17 times won lots of those and had only recently retired in October.  She didn’t have a stable name so I decided to name her Mo-Mo.   She was a proper racehorse!
During the ride we went in the arena, warmed up and then cantered around in pairs. She was lovely and very responsive and super quick. Later we went to the simulator room for the first time got to try them out, they were so cool!  We had feedback on our position to improve our way of going ready for the real thing next day.
Bright and early at 7 o’clock, we were up and at it – mucked out and then headed to breakfast, followed by a mini bus trip to Newmarket.  Visiting different sites we were able to watch some horses go up the gallops at Warren Hill.  On our return to the Racing School we did our fall training which covered practicing rolling and being prepared for what to do if you fall off.
Later we went for our second ride of the week, this time we trotted up and back down the straight canter. In pairs, we tackled the round canter.  I went on my own as there was 11 in the group. I went round for my turn picked up a hack canter, but as we came to the gate Defining Moment began to pick up speed and suddenly we were going at top speed and it didn’t look like we were stopping. After the initial shock of not being able to stop, I soon loved the speed.  We went round twice at full gallop (accidentally) but then managed to come back to a hack for the final circuit. It was pouring with rain for the whole ride and we got soaked through.  It didn’t matter though as we had an amazing time.  Straight after that we were in a hurry as we had to get to the simulator room in time for our session with Ted Durcan.  Ted is an amazing jockey who has recently retired.   The session was extremely fun because we got to have lots of time on the simulators and it was also very informative as Ted was constantly telling us how we could improve. After this, we headed into the stables to do evening stables and making our ponies comfortable. Then we all settled down for the night, having our supper of squash and cookies. The evenings were lots of fun because we had a great group of boys and girls.
On the third day of camp we woke up (some of us with more difficulty than others) and then gathered in the common room. We went down and did morning stables and got changed ready to go to The Rowley Mile and William Haggas’ Yard. We all jumped into the mini bus and then headed off to the Newmarket racecourse. When we arrived we met the tour guide and he took us to the first building. We walked up 5 flights of stairs! to get to the floor with all of the private boxes. The guide then led us into the Royal box. It was amazing, it was positioned exactly opposite the finishing post. Next he took us into Sheik Mohammed’s Box. After that, he led us down to the Weighing Room and then through all of the gardens and looked at all of the statues of the great racers of the past. We then had group photo and headed off to William Haggas’. When we arrived and parked up we were met by one of William Haggas’ Head Girls. She then took us through to the first block of stables. After this she took us through a small alleyway to the horse walkers and the treadmill. She explained to us how the treadmill works and how they decide what horses go on and how fast. She then led us through to the third stable yard.
We learned prep for best turned out and plaiting. We learned about pads, weight cloths, correct tack and how to put it on.  I learned that it has to be an even number of plaits including the forelock and also tricks of the trade for getting even size plaits.  After that it was simulator training with Ted Durcan. He gave me great feedback about my position and said he was surprised that I’d only ridden in one race. In the evening, although not strictly allowed at racing school, the boys in our group decided that we would like to order a bunch of burgers in for supper.  We hatched a plan where we ordered and Ed’s Dad Tim Vaughan who was staying overnight, helped us to smuggle it in, virtually unseen apart from the lady on reception who tutted a bit but very kindly turned a blind eye.  We had a fun last evening together.
Our last day dawned and we were up early as usual to get the horses ready for best turned out and for the arrival of our parents.  My horse ‘Defining Moment’ looked lovely and was well up for it. I didn’t win best turned out but that was no worries – I know what to do better next time.  We went off up the gallops either individually or as pairs and Mum and Dad got to come alongside to see what I had learned.  It was my best outing of the week – under control and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Mum took some video and put together a compilation of my time at Racing School.

I want to thank Pony Club Area 9 for the brilliant opportunity that they have given me.  Also, Jackie and Lucy and the team at the BRS were brilliant too.  It was the best week of the holidays and I have made some nice friends which I still keep in touch with on Instagram.  It’s inspired me to want to do more and I went to watch 3 of the guys race at Chepstow on Bank Holiday Monday.  I am looking for a pony to race and when I find the right one, I am looking forward to getting more involved and improving my skills even more. Hopefully, I’ll be back at Cheltenham next year!
Needless to say, as soon as the dates for next year’s Racing Camp are released, I’m hoping that I can do it all over again.

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