Over the stable door: Obsession reined in to enjoy what is important

Jo Foster sorting out the tack at her stables at Menston near Leeds.
Jo Foster sorting out the tack at her stables at Menston near Leeds.
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The new year started with a bang for lady jockeys. On New Year’s Day, four lady riders totted up five winners between them. Lizzie Kelly from Devon won two big races at Cheltenham whilst Bridget Andrews, Lucy Gardner and Megan Carberry rode winners at Catterick, Exeter and Musselburgh respectably.

Twenty-three-year-old Lizzie was the first woman to ride a Grade One winner. She is incredibly strong in a finish. When still a student studying at Winchester university she outrode AP McCoy and Richard Johnson in a driving finish at Cheltenham. On Sunday she outrode Daryl Jacob to steer a 16-1 shot to victory and win a Grade Two hurdle.

Gifted, sassy and determined, she has never been afraid to speak her mind. She’s won over £500,000 in prize money but is resigned when it comes to the future of female jockeys.

“Trainers just don’t use girls,” she said. “It’s never going to change... it’s part of their make-up.”

Her mother admits it’s tough too: “Some of our owners won’t use Elizabeth because she’s a girl. They don’t want to think girls could get hurt. It’s chauvinism.”

It would be hopeful to think New Year’s Day might go some way towards shifting the sport’s ingrained sexism, but it looks unlikely.

Many people seem keen to close the book on 2016. Some of my friends have good reason after losing loved ones.

At the yard, 2016 saw some positive results with a steady stream of winners and placings from our small string. It was especially fulfilling when those results were least expected. A particularly proud moment came from the superb Chase The Wind at Wetherby, who put up a fabulous display to trounce classy opposition and hand his owner with his first winner over jumps. I couldn’t believe the talented but reluctant Pinerolo, who made poor Henry Brooke work harder than ever to land a chase in the mud at Southwell, nor the sharp little recruit Noble Call who romped up first time out at Bangor, to the gifted, cheeky Feast of Fire who stole a race at Cartmel, winning by a nose for country sports mad owner Mrs Verity. Mrs V used to keep us Pony Club children in tight check when we ventured onto the hunting field aboard our uncontrollable ponies. She was the well-respected yet slightly terrifying Master of the Bramham Moor Hunt for many years and is the type of understanding owner who makes training a pleasure.

My personal ‘annus mirabilis’ started with an adventurous family skiing trip - a birthday wish for my partner Tris and son Felix who were experiencing the sport for the first time. Beginners without fear, or brakes. It was hilarious to witness.

In May, we visited Royal Windsor to share in the celebrations for the Queen’s 90th birthday and in late summer I hired a house near Bordeaux with close friends and we threw ourselves into French life.

For much of my adult life I’ve thrown myself into a racing career I loved; desperate to sate my passion to ride winners. My work became an obsession. Only in the last few years have I slowed down. Seeing friends lose their loved ones reminds me how time spent with family and friends is time to be cherished - once I worked too hard to appreciate that.