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|| News Item: Posted 2010-10-03

Living His Dream
Sports Shooter member working as a jockey in England

By Jamey Price

For those that are not familiar, Steeplechasing is one of the oldest organized sports in the world
Photo by Jamey Price

Photo by Jamey Price

Two horses clear an open ditch "chase" fence at Sedgefield on September 28. Chase races are different than hurdle races in that the fences stand much taller and much wider. This fence is over 6 feet wide and stands about 5 feet tall on the take off side,
and its roots can be traced to competitive fox hunting in England and Ireland starting hundreds of years ago. In plain terms, Steeplechasing is thoroughbred horse racing that runs on turf race courses at distances over 2 miles with numerous fences that stand 52-inches tall or more and are run at speeds well over 30 miles per hour. It is a sport that is extremely dangerous and requires immense concentration, athleticism, skill, and bravery and maybe a little stupidity from both horse and jockey.

I have been an amateur steeplechase jockey for the past five years and have 34 rides and nine wins to my name. For whatever reason, Steeplechasing is a sport that has never gained any sort of popularity in the States, despite the fact that two of our founding fathers, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both rode as amateur riders in organized races in Virginia. I Bet you didn't know that!

This lack of support and understanding of the sport at home, and the overwhelming love and admiration that the Brits have for horse racing in general is part of why I have chosen to move to England for five months.

The back-story to this change of scenery is a little more complex. In March of this year, I lost two things very close to my heart. Everyone experiences pain and loss in life. It's one of those inevitable things we all deal with, and each of us must do it in our own time and our own ways.

In many aspects, my pain and loss was the best thing that has ever happened to me because it gave me a clean slate to start a new life, a life to live how I want to live it without anyone or anything holding me back.

There I was at the age of 23, holding my college degree from a prestigious liberal arts school in my hands, mostly free of debt, personal commitments and without a stable job or a concrete direction to head in and opportunity I couldn't pass up. Using the contacts I have made over the years as a jockey, I gathered the resources and help that I needed for a move to England for the winter and bought my plane ticket over for late July, and a return ticket for the week before Christmas.
Photo by Jamey Price

Photo by Jamey Price

A rider takes her horse up the moor in Middleham. The all weather gallop training facility has several hundred horses gallop up it every morning The exposed gallop sits on the side of the large hill making weather unpredictable at best.

When most people think of England their thoughts go to London, Buckingham Palace, the Thames River, the Royal family, quaint British accents and tea with scones. No doubt, that is England, but not the England I know and love. In my decision to move to England and not some other foreign land, was the chance to work in the racing industry abroad and hopefully get a chance or two to ride over fences in a race.

I ended up in a tiny farming town called Scorton, in North Yorkshire, about 5.5 hours north of London. Scorton is smaller than most of the smallest of rural communities in middle America. There's a town square with a large green area for playing the world's most boring sport, cricket, a post office, two pubs and a gas station, and that's it. Even to my rural North Carolina standards, this is one small town. It's so rural that I've had the honor of being the first American quite a few people have ever met in person. Usually the first question I get when asked after "where are you from" is "WHY THE HELL ARE YOU IN NORTH YORKSHIRE?!?"

After getting my living situation sorted out, I went about transportation and work. I found a deal on a 2003 British racing green Citroen. It's ugly, has as much power as your average home blender, and often decides to have various electronics short out at inconvenient times; Like the windows no longer rolling up in the middle of a sudden rain storm on the way home from work, which unfortunately has happened more than once. And believe it or not, the lowest quote to have the car insured cost me 140% more than I bought it for. It's a piece of crap, but when it does work, it gets me from A to B and that's all I can ask.

Finally having a car, and the over priced insurance to drive it, allowed me to land myself a job as a rider in a local racing barn, aka a 'yard' in the nearby town of Middleham with a jumps trainer who has over 1000 wins to his training career and currently has 35 thoroughbreds of various ages, talents and dispositions in training.

Every morning, I drive to work around 6am where I will then tack up the first horse to ride, get a leg up and walk around the barn for a few minutes while the other lads get thrown on and we all get our directions for the morning's gallop from the trainer. We then walk our horses out of the yard and up the road straight through the middle of town. We walk past the Black Swan, White Swan and Black Bull pubs and past the 14th century castle that was used under King Richard III's reign.
Photo by Jamey Price

Photo by Jamey Price

A bookmaker takes last minute bets at Catterick Bridge Race Course in North Yorkshire. This small track hosts several meetings over the course of the summer and winter months but the ever shorter days make the later races on the card run almost in total d

Middleham isn't a big community by any US standards, but it's big enough to have traffic problems with trucks and tractors and various assortments of vehicles rolling by us as we walk the horses toward the gallop. By some miracle we usually make it through the traffic without being tossed off onto the road, and continue to jog up toward the Moor, a large hill with a 7-furlong all-weather gallop going straight up to the top. We gallop the horses one time up the hill at a fairly brisk pace of around 25 or 30 mph, then pull them up and walk them all the way back home.

The RAF fighters flying in and out of a nearby base sometimes make life interesting for us by doing low level passes with full afterburners giving the horses just another excuse to toss us in the mud. Despite the multitude of reasons the horses have to act up and try to kill me, I love working in Middleham. The views from the top of the gallop are fabulous. The lads in the yard are truly wonderful people and I love every single one of them.

Though I can't always understand what they're saying through their variety of English, Irish and Scottish accents, we have some great laughs about anything and everything. Working with fun people makes it enjoyable to get up at such an early hour of the morning, go to work in any weather condition and still have a good time and a good laugh. Life is far to short not to enjoy every single second you have, especially when you're doing what you love and they pay you for doing it.

My afternoons are usually spent at the local races working with some of the track photographers as an assistant or on my own shooting images, just because I can. Within an hour's drive of Scorton are probably 8 to 10 race tracks and there is usually 3 to 5 race meetings running on any one day in the country. The Brits are very serious about their racing.

Because I have a unique first person vantage point on life in horse racing and being a jockey and know better than most what it's like to live, breathe, eat, sleep, win and lose in horse racing, I enjoy capturing the finer details about the races that others miss, or just don't appreciate, or never knew was there in the first place. More often than not, one of my friends will have a horse running in the day's races and if it does well, it's just another excuse for us to hit the local pub when we get back for celebratory lager and of course more laughing. Not a bad life.

Do I miss home? Absolutely! There are days when I would kill for a Bojangles chicken biscuit and free refills of a soft drink, but there are also those days when I'm sitting on a really nice horse galloping to the top of the moor with the wind in my face and the horse is just pulling my arms off, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Photo by Jamey Price

Photo by Jamey Price

Legendary flat jockey Frankie Dettori has a laugh in the paddock before a race during the York Ebor Racing Festival in late August. Dettori has well over 2600 race wins to his career.

I love England. Good fish and chips from the races are the best thing since sliced bread. Proper pubbing is so much more fun than bar hopping and standing next to an English steeplechase fence as the horses gallop over it at speed will make your hair stand on end. I've met my childhood jump jockey hero A. P. McCoy and had one of the greatest flat riders in the history of horse racing, Frankie Dettori, come up and have a laugh with me about a horse we had both ridden and had run off with us. Even when it's cold and pouring rain outside and the sun is nowhere to be seen, I wouldn't change anything about where I am and what I'm doing.

I have some exciting plans for the rest of the fall. I fulfilled a lifelong dream of attending the Italian Formula One Grand Prix at Monza this past weekend to cheer on Ferrari with the 'tifosi' and now officially have my British Jockeys license after attending jockey school in Newmarket on Tuesday.

I've been asked to be an assistant photographer at Aintree race course in November where horses will jump brush fences that stand over 8 feet tall on the landing side and I've got plans to attend the British World Rally Championship in Wales in early November. This, plus a variety of other things that I may end up doing just to do because I'm over here.

As for future plans? Who knows really. I really honestly do love it in England. And as much as I love horse racing, have always aspired to be the next Darren Heath, or Lorenzo Bellanca shooting Formula One around the globe. If given the chance to chase that dream, I would move permanently in a second. I have a few months to enjoy, network, freelance, ride and see what doors I can get my foot in but until then I wake up in the morning loving the job I have, the friends I've met and the things I've seen. It's so cheesy, but it's the honest truth.

Jamey Price's work can be viewed on his member page:

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