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Bryony Frost: ‘When you connect with your horse it’s a magic place to be’

The Guardian logo The Guardian 11/01/2020 Greg Wood and Chris Cook
(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images) © Getty (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

If there is a gene for positivity, Bryony Frost has it twice. “It’s a long way off if you look at the top of the mountain sometimes,” she said this week, on the road home from Catterick after finishing fourth and then last on her only rides. “It can be daunting; hence why I never set any goals. But, if you make every step a forward one, going uphill and improving in some way or another in life, then you’re doing just fine and wherever you end up is where you end up. But try not to think about where you do end up. Just keep climbing; that’s what I live by.”

It is a philosophy that has served Frost well in the five years since riding her first winner, in a lowly hunter chase at Musselburgh in February 2015, but some of the forward steps, inevitably, are more significant than others.

(Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images) © Getty (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

Victory in the Foxhunters’ Chase at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival prompted the switch from amateur to professional status. Within a year she had her first Grade One winner, at Kempton on Boxing Day, and in March 2019 her second, as Frodon’s heroic success in the Ryanair Chase made Frost the first female rider to win a Grade One at the Cheltenham Festival. She ended last season as the champion conditional, having ridden out her claim with her 75th winner in November 2018.

The going has been a little tougher in recent months, as it so often is for the best conditionals in their first season without a claim. A 20% strike-rate in the first three months of 2019 dropped to 12% for the remainder of the year, and a shoulder injury forced her to miss the whole of the Grand National meeting at Aintree.

But her zest for the jump jockey’s life remains undimmed and never more so than when a reunion with Frodon is in her immediate future. It is rare to find a horse and rider with such a visible connection and, while their first two outings this season have yet to yield a victory, the Grade Two Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton on Saturday offers an ideal platform to rediscover their winning habit with a return to Cheltenham now only two months away.

a person riding a horse: Bryony Frost celebrates victory on Frodon in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian © Provided by The Guardian Bryony Frost celebrates victory on Frodon in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

“As a jockey our job is to better our horses’ careers,” Frost says. “Every time you go out, you have to think, what can I do better, how can I make it smoother, where can I find his rhythm, does he like his own space or to be in the crowd with the hustle and bustle?

“It’s all about learning their map, and which is the best road to take to get you there as quick as possible. But when you start to develop a connection with your horse and learn his character and the way he likes to do things, and then you click, it’s a magic place to be when you’re out on that track.

“But the races you win will probably be the ones with the least problems. It’s races when you finish third or fourth or mid-div that are hard to ride, because you’re always racking your head and thinking, where could I have found him half a length and could I have cut the corner a bit more there.

“When you win a race, you’re thinking, ‘Well, that was smooth, how cool was that?’, because everything’s gone right, and Cheltenham was like riding a wave. We cruised along, found a rhythm and never came out of it.”

(Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images) © Getty (Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Friday was a rare afternoon off for Frost after trips to Exeter, Wincanton, Chepstow, Lingfield, Plumpton and then Catterick in the first few days of 2020. Rare, and not entirely welcome for a rider who lives for the heat of competition, although the inevitable injuries that are part of every jump jockey’s life have helped to adjust her outlook.

“It’s taught me patience and to focus,” she says. “You dedicate your life to racing and your horses and analysing races for your horse so you can have the best chance possible. When you take that out of your life, you’re twiddling your thumbs and a bit lost and not sure quite where to go.

“You have to dedicate your head to getting your body back, because that’s your career. It taught me how to try to swap my dedication on to myself. I took myself out of my own head and saw my body as my career, and took my emotion away from it all.”

(Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images) © Getty (Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Even in the little spare time she has, Frost keeps climbing.

“I do a bit of bouldering,” she says. “That’s good for your body and also, you’re only ever thinking about the next move. You can’t think about anything else, just climbing your wall.

“But it’s not easy to switch off completely, because it’s what makes your heart beat and what you live for. When you get a hurdle or a fence right, it’s a mega-moment. You just don’t get moments like that in day-to-day life. I wouldn’t want to get up in the morning if I didn’t have a horse involved in my day.”

Related: The best sporting pictures form 2019 [Read Sport]

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