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Camilla Henderson Headshot

A Sport Psychologist's Insight Into the Horse Racing Industry

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As most of us will know, there are plenty of negative comments and judgements currently flying around Britain on the subject of horse racing. I've felt particularly frustrated on several occasions knowing that the majority of these comments have come from those who have never come face to face with a thoroughbred, been to the races or seen a racehorse in its environment at home. I was born into a racing family so I eat, breathe and sleep horses, I didn't have much of a choice! However my passion for the sport has grown immensely over the past few years, especially since riding as an amateur.

I've always wanted to persuade my friends to come racing with me, to dress up and generally experience the atmospheric 'buzz' that horse racing provides -- especially at Cheltenham! My ambition here grew further; I felt like I had something to give back to racing, for all these amazing memories. I started trying to capture the younger audiences' interest in racing, I wanted to show them and share with them the fun I've experienced. Most of my girl friends have attended the bigger more known race meetings, Royal Ascot, Cheltenham festival, the Aintree Grand National and the Investec Derby, etc. The fashion, the food, the bubbly, the millinery were the peaks, having a flutter and watching the horses up close in the flesh was the cherry on top! Females, and now more frequently males, have started having fun experimenting with latest fashions and millinery. High street brands and top designers have often used horse racing as themes of inspiration for summer and winter looks.

This racing and fashion interest then led me into my work with Jockey TV, an online racing media center with a strong essence of fashion and millinery. For those who are Talk Sport (radio) regulars, you may have heard me on the show last week (October 2) talking about what we're looking to cover within the JTV format. The aim and purpose was to raise the profiles of all equestrian athletes; jockeys, trainers, show jumpers and event riders. The man behind this very exciting venture who shares such passion and enthusiasm for the sport is Geoff Lines. His objective was to give the general public an insight into the equestrian world, one way of doing this was to provide behind the scenes clips. Footage will include jockeys/eventers' training, athlete lifestyles, training of the racehorse, competition environments, race day operations and a touch of fashion. I will be carrying out some interviews on and off the track with the riders, whilst also modeling the couture hats sent over from Izziana Image Millinery Australia. So a diverse and hopefully a slightly addictive format, something not too sincere, open to all audiences.

Writing this blog, I thought it might be a good idea to perhaps introduce myself and give you a light insight into my own equine background. My first experience meeting a four-legged furry creature was probably when I was two years old; my mother sat me on a very old and rather fat Shetland pony. I would walk aimlessly around the yard watching the graceful yet terrifying racehorses. I did a few hunter trials and quickly got stuck into three-day eventing, as did my two elder sisters. One lost interest when school started and the other took up polo. So I stuck with the eventing for a while; my mother was a great supporter and a huge help. She was a keen equestrian, competed at Badminton & Burghley horse trials on various occasions; her father was a jockey (second in the National) and then went onto train National Hunt race horses. My mother, her twin sister and her brother were all jockeys to their father. My mother then became the first lady to ride under rules against the professional males, and she managed to win that race, making history.

I went on to study psychology at Bristol University, so the eventing took a back seat whilst the studies and the partying took their priorities. I soon came back at weekends to watch my father's horses run at Cheltenham and Newbury, etc., where then my passion for racing grew. I started point to pointing (amateur national hunt jump racing) and soon got my Category A Amateur license at the British Racing school in Newmarket. I had a few rides on the flat as well as over jumps under rules, these of which have been my most memorable experiences. Recently I went back to the British Racing School for a full week of lectures, seminars and training to get my category B license, making me illegible to ride in a wider range of amateur races, including riding in races against the professionals. I will continue to race ride this coming winter.

After completing a Sport & Exercise Psychology Masters at Loughborough University last year, I have now started my training to become a chartered sport psychologist. I have to complete 900 hours under the British Psychology Society within a three-year time slot. This includes analysing and writing up each consultancy hour that I participate in, various course work assignments, case studies, and oh yes... another dissertation! I initially started consulting a few jockeys and event riders, sports I feel I understand -- I felt this was a good place for me to start. I am building my confidence now with the help of my supervisor, building up work within other sports, such as rugby and tennis.

My main goal once I am a chartered sport psychologist is to work for the Injured Jockeys Fund, to be a sport psychologist available to the jockeys. Every jump jockey at some point in his or her career will experience the psychological effects of reoccurring falls and injuries. They will have to attend rehab, physio and sport massage sessions, something that Oaksey House (Injured Jockeys Fund) in Lambourn provides. Jockeys will have to race ride when they are physically at their worst. After sweating and wasting they are quickly dehydrated and malnourished, thus leaving them feeling weak before mounting their horses which they have to hold for the majority of the race and then push out and ride a finish. A three=mile steeple chase race takes roughly six minutes; an average race horse, which they control, weighs up to 1000 pounds. Therefore jockeys need the strength to hold these horses and the fitness to push these horses; at the same time keeping their weight down.

My aim is to one day work alongside the brilliant IJF team headed by Brough Scott, to provide performance related psychology help to these courageous yet mad athletes. I'd like to aid them in terms of reaching their peak performance, support them during their rehabilitation programmes and help them get back on after severe injuries. The use of different mental skills and strategies under specific models and techniques can be used to help these athletes face their fears, anxieties or any niggling issues which will then allow them to perform at their best.

Please visit www.jockeytv.net to read and watch more insight into the life of the equestrian athlete.

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