HOGGING THE LIMELIGHT – IN A GOOD WAY
Gemma’s always had an affection for horses since a young age and her first opportunity to build her connection and love with them came while her Dad was a rugby coach at Leeds Rhinos. Some of the members of the club would come together for a drink or few after matches and one had a riding school. Gemma’s dad mentioned that she was keen on horses and would like to get riding and she was invited along. Gemma loved the place and this linked with regular outings to Wetherby and Ripon racing at weekends saw her wanting a career with horses. A competitive person as a youngster be it Netball or Cross Country running, racing seemed like the ideal path for her.
One of Gemma’s friends actually started working in racing for Micky Hammond and this saw Gemma first coming in to help out during a summer holiday off school and fell in love with the job in racing and felt it was something she wanted to pursue. Whilst at Wetherby one weekend she spotted an advert for the Northern Racing College Taster day in the racecard so went along with her Mum and Dad. Gemma remembers her Mum saying “once I had seen your face I knew you wouldn’t ever want to do anything else.”
It was 1998 and Gemma was on her way to the Northern Racing College to begin the twelve week course, something she had been dreaming about and after completing left to begin her career with Micky Hammond in October of that year.
Gemma’s only other job in racing was for Andy Crook who took over in the same yard when Micky decided to step down from training, but once setting up again Gemma continued with Micky once more.
Gemma has worked her way through the ranks within racing, starting as most do as a young person joining the industry learning her trade before progressing to more senior roles and is now after many years Micky’s Assistant trainer. Another role she really enjoyed was driving the lorry to the races and travelling around the country, this current role however sees her doing many more roles within the yard and also part of the decision making and takes on full responsibility when the boss is away. Gemma says “The good team we have though makes all this so much easier as they are a helpful and enthusiastic bunch.”
As for the awards Gemma was first nominated a couple of years ago by one of the yard’s owners in the dedication to racing category. She felt honoured to make the top ten whilst also pleased that the owners thought so much of her.
As an assistant she helps nominate the staff from the yard when deserved each year and knew who was being nominated for this year. She was then very surprised when receiving a letter to say she had been nominated without knowing and something the yard had kept quiet.
She couldn’t then believe she had made the top three and tried not to think about it too much. It was on travelling down the day before the awards when it really started to sink in and this made her think about her time in racing, what she had achieved, the people she had met. This also made her reflect on what she had achieved in life so far, as well as the things she should or could have done differently, but knowing that this had helped her along the way and grow as a person.
The final interview to decide the winner was where her reflecting the day before came to fruition and retold her experiences within the sport and to how it’s led her to where she is today, the other bonus was being one of three who had made the top three in their respective categories all from
Micky Hammonds. This meant a big following of people on the night connected with the yard including her husband Tim and her Dad as well as some close friends and other supporters of the yard.
Just before the announcing of the winner in her category Gemma was quietly confident, felt that she was as good as anyone else and was hoping her honest interview would see her through, as she says you never quite know if it is going to be you but you need that self belief and hope. And as it goes it was her, which was amazing and she felt proud in being highlighted for something she has worked at and something that is her day to day job.
The Overall award however was different, something she never expected with such a strong line up of winners already to choose from and thought at first “that can’t be right, I can’t believe it.”
So the one question I threw at her which is the same everyone has been asking is what are your plans with the money won on the night? With this and understanding in my short time chatting to her that Gemma is a very level headed person and her reply was “nothing major, probably just a new kitchen for the house.” Was a sensible reply from someone who deserved her award, loves her job, has worked her way through the ranks and was a worthy winner of the Overall award this year. Gemma is a credit to anyone coming into or currently working in the industry and we wish her well for the future.
ALYSON REWARDED FOR HER HARD WORK
This year has now seen Alyson working within the industry for a total of thirty years, joining full time in 1986 and starting off for Jimmy Fitzgerald.
First sitting on a pony at eighteen months old (whilst being held) and then loaning one from the age of four saw Alyson’s love for horses begin. Her parents who ran a youth hostel in Leeds saw her enjoyment and will to get back on each time she fell off and supported her endlessly, often going without themselves to help her showjumping career. Something herself and her parents were keen for her to achieve at as high a level as possible and saw her reach such a level that she was a reserve for the British team.
On leaving school it was a choice of buying and selling horses to make a living or having known Pat and Mary Rowan through pony club she got a job at Jimmy Fitzgerald’s helping out on Saturdays and from there got the bug and wanted to join the industry. “I was very wet behind the ears and thought I knew everything about horses and was a right cocky so and so. I soon had to learn to control a racehorse and stay on.”
Alyson looks back on how lucky she was to start at Jimmy Fitzgerald’s and learn how to do the job the right way, “no half measures it had to be done right there.” And it was here that she got her licence and first ride on a little filly that wouldn’t go anywhere for anyone else apart from herself. She was rewarded with the ride on her at Redcar. “I finished fifteenth and had never been so fast in my life.”
She then joined Peter Easterby’s and learned more and started to get more rides before joining Viv Aconley as Assistant and having more of an input learning more again. Alyson then decided to move South to Lambourn and joined Mark Pitman where she did a lot of schooling now riding jumpers and had a few rides pointing down that way riding a couple of winners.
Alyson says that she has always been competitive. “I have always wanted to be the best in everything I do and also want everything around me to be the best also, people, horses etc.” She then moved back north to work with John Quinn before joining her current yard at Richard Fahey’s of which she is now a key cog in that operation.
Alyson has always done bits of travelling for various trainers she has worked for but never to the level and standard she does now, “travelling horses around the world has been excellent.” But even back home Alyson mentions that it isn’t just days taking winners that are good but also seeing horses that have had many problems make the track is just as rewarding.
One trip that stands out for Alyson was when she took Barefoot Lady to Woodbine, Canada for a Grade 2 on her own with all the responsibility on her shoulders when a mix up over the weight the mare was supposed to carry meant the booked jockey couldn’t make the weight. Alyson whilst leading the filly around ten minutes before saddling was then informed of the situation and as the person in charge arranged another jockey, not of the stature of the supposed rider but someone she had met earlier in the week. She was then frantically trying to get hold of her boss the other side of the world to sort the situation with minutes to spare and he went with her call, the filly won and the rest is history.
Last year she also made the trip to Keeneland for the Breeders Cup with her horse Birchwood, a horse she has looked after since he joined the yard, another trip she thoroughly enjoyed and a race where only beaten two heads finishing third she was proud of his performance.
Alyson has also had many rides as an amateur not just in this country but around the world very successfully as well, winning the big Lady Amateur race at York as a highlight.
Her nomination however was a shock as whilst popping into the office to book some time off she was then told she had been nominated along with two others from the yard and had made the top ten.
Speaking about being nominated for the awards and her work in racing Alyson said “It is a vocational life and the highs are very high and you do get your bad days but the sport and industry is a community and that’s what I like about it.” As well as “There are many people we all know in racing that work hard and are also well deserved of these awards but often don’t get nominated.”
After completing her two phone interviews it was then just a matter of waiting and Alyson came home one day after riding out to find a brown envelope with the BHA stamp on it waiting. “It was quite amazing to find that I had made the top three and actually had to sit down to take it in.”
Alyson also travelled down the day before and having a wander round London was amazed by the hustle and bustle of the city and thought it was a different world but much prefers the country life.
On the day of the awards Alyson found the interview part quite daunting and couldn’t really relax until after. “We were then shipped off to Parliament which was very surreal, doing the tourist type stuff, then we were inside the Houses of Parliament, I loved it.”
Alyson felt the night was electric but still feels it was a bit of a blur and all went so quickly as she was in a bit of a daze. When the winner in her category was announced she says “I nearly fell off my chair, I was amazed and it felt like the world had stopped for a few seconds.” And goes on to say how she felt it was such a strong category and was friends with both Chris and Becky who each deserved it as much as her.
To then receive the award from Sir Anthony McCoy just topped her night and she is still trying to let the whole thing sink in. The future and her winning prize money is to all be invested in something, what that will be Alyson is not quite sure yet, but again something sensible. Another who is well deserved of an award, she is another credit to our industry, works hard and is as passionate about the game as anyone.