By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)
The British Racing School at Newmarket is one of just two colleges specialising in horse racing in the country, the other being the Northern Racing College in Doncaster. Established in 1983, it teaches young people a wide range of skills to help them to be successful in the horse racing industry. Over the years, the likes of Paul Hanagan, Jason Weaver, Jason Watson, Oisin Murphy, Luke Morris, Tom Marquand and many others have passed through its doors and gone on to be very successful jockeys.
Sophy Scott only graduated from the British Racing School just over a year and a half ago and she is already Assistant Yard Manager at Mark Johnston Racing. Last week, she won the David Nicholson Newcomer Award at the Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards. She spoke of the school and its contribution to her career in her acceptance speech, “When I arrived at the British Racing School, it felt normal and like I was at home. When you enjoy the work this much, it’s not really a job – being around horses is just great.”
I was lucky enough to be invited to the British Racing School to find out how the BRS helps so many young people forge a career in the racing world.
Like most colleges, there are a few initial requirements for potential applicants. Ideally, you have to weigh 10st7lbs when you start your course but it doesn’t really matter if you are a few pounds heavier as long as you are physically fit. Fitness is a huge part of working in racing. Work riders sometimes have to ride out more than four horses a day, requiring a great deal of strength and stamina. The interview process actually contains a fitness test, which is compromised of the Bleep Test, plank, squat and elastic band extensions. (For more information on these tests, head to the BRS YouTube channel.) Also, there is an English and Maths diagnostic test, which doesn’t affect whether the applicant earns a place there or not, to establish what level they are at. If a student hasn’t achieved a Grade C or above in Maths and English in their GCSEs, it is compulsory for them to do extra lessons of those subjects at the racing school. Lessons of this type are usually related to practical uses like weights for feeding and writing about/analysing races.
The Foundation Course at the BRS is designed for 16-22 year olds who are interested in a career in racing. After the course, the BRS will endeavour to find the successful student a full time position at a racing yard where they can continue their training. There are three variations of course on offer to possible students – a four week course for people who have previously worked on racing yards and want to gain their Foundation Qualification; a nine week course for people with basic horse experience who then learn how to ride racehorses for the first time and a fourteen week course for people with zero riding experience beforehand.
The British Racing School is like most other colleges in that the tuition is free and, in this case, accommodation and food fees are the only part that needs to be paid for. The costs are as follows-
• 9 or 14 week course- £562.50 + £100 refundable bond.
• 4 week course- £250 + £100 refundable bond
Applicants from families with an income of less than £35,000 a year are eligible a bursary. This reduces the cost of the residential fees by up to 80%, meaning that, a 14 week course would cost just over £100.
Because of this bursary scheme, The British Racing School is accessible to young people of all backgrounds. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never even seen a racehorse up close before you apply as long as you have an interest in the sport!
Two of the students kindly spoke to me about life at the BRS. Sixteen year old Aidan Redpath came to the BRS so he could make the first step to becoming a jockey and, from the looks of him in the saddle on the gallops, he has a big future ahead of him, so remember the name! Aidan had previous experience on racing yards before attending the BRS, “I started riding out back home in Scotland, just a small jump yard with sixteen horses, then I started to go down to Mark Johnston’s since I was fourteen and I’ve been riding out there since then.”
Aidan also had pony racing experience before moving on to riding racehorses. The BRS offers a pony racing course for younger riders. They run the ‘Pony Racing Academy’ which is a twelve week, completely free, course for young people aged 13-15 years, who want to take part in pony racing but can’t for various reasons, such as if they don’t have their own pony. The students receive tuition by the jockey coaches on the school’s ponies (who are lovely) and on race horse simulators.
You don’t just have to want to be a jockey to attend the BRS. I also spoke to Tim Went, who had no experience riding racehorses before the BRS and he has learnt lots of new skills, “You learn everything from yard work, so mucking out and doing up the yard, and you learn about grooming the horses as well and then how to ride them well.” Tim aspires to become a good work rider and eventually a travelling head lad. The BRS offers many courses, not just horse related ones, including book-keeping, accountancy and secretarial courses.
The typical day for the students would start at 6am, making it as much like a real yard as possible. They would feed the horses and muck out before going out to ride the first lot. Students are taught how to do the yard work and they organise the yard themselves. All the horses at the BRS are ex-racers of various abilities. They have some really good racehorses there like Goldream, a very speedy group winner and winner of the Prix de l’Abbaye, Kingsgate Native, multiple group one winner, and Our Vic, grade one winning chaser.
After breakfast, they ride out on the second lot at 9:30am. The facilities are incredible at the yard, which is why I think that they were extremely deserving of their outstanding OFSTED Rating! For the first few weeks of a fourteen week course, the students start in the indoor school and then progress to the outdoor one as they learn the basics. When considered ready, which changes from course to course, they move on to the round gallop and normally, by about week ten, they would ride out on the straight gallop.
The BRS does something that I think is brilliant: all the riders wear earpieces on the gallops, which the coaches can talk to them through. This benefits the students because they can work on the things they’re doing wrong at that time instead of in a classroom afterwards. Riding racehorses down the gallops for the first time can be scary so the earpiece communication can act as a comfort blanket and be able to prevent the riders panicking, which could lead to unnecessary injuries and falls.
A big part of a young people’s education at the BRS is learning the knowledge-based part of racing. They have lectures to enhance knowledge of horse racing, how to look after horses and the perception of racing in the wider world. A fun part of the course is when students take part in regular Best Turned Out competitions. They also learn life skills such as how to handle money and cook for when they’re living away from home. Also, something I think is beneficial is that they receive lectures about gambling awareness and the dangers of alcoholism.
So, my advice to anyone interested in attending the racing school would be – GO FOR IT! The staff were all so friendly and the facilities are absolutely excellent. Trust me, have a go because, with the BRS, the possibilities are endless!
For extra information, please visit the BRS website- http://www.brs.org.uk
I would like to thank all the staff and students at the British Racing School for being so friendly and hospitable. I had a brilliant day and loved seeing the school and meeting the horses.