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The Northern Racing College in Doncaster puts jockeys of tomorrow through their paces. Jo Haywood reports<br/>Photographs by Joan Russell
Most college principals have to assess potential students grades, but Dawn Goodfellows role involves checking out the size of their shoulders and feet.
This might sound vaguely fetishist, but its actually very practical as the students she is recruiting are hoping to graduate as jockeys.
The only factor that could stop someone coming here is if they weigh over 10.5 stone, said Dawn, chief executive of the Northern Racing College. Its heartbreaking when a 16-year-old boy turns up and you can see by his feet and his shoulders that hes soon going to sprout to well over the weight limit. Thats when we have to employ some careful counselling and steer them in another direction.
An apprentice (flat) jockey usually weighs between seven and eight stone, while a conditional (jump) jockey can be slightly heavier at between nine and ten stone. Both have to be extremely fit, healthy and tough to withstand the rigorous daily assaults on their body.
Which is where the colleges 12-week residential course comes in. It takes unfit teenagers, many of whom have not had to look after themselves before, and whips them into shape both mentally and physically. It also gives them responsibility if they dont feed the horses they dont get fed and the opportunity to ride out every day.
And heres a surprising fact for you: about a third of the students training as jockeys have never sat on a horse before joining the college. Thats like sitting a non-driver in a Formula 1 car and sending them off at 130mph round the track at Silverstone.
All the horses are carefully graded so they dont outface the riders, said Dawn. We dont send them out onto the gallops until were confident that they can cope.
This is a physically demanding course. You have to be extremely fit to ride a racehorse. None of the students are fit when they arrive.
They hobble round the place for a week or two nursing sore muscles where they didnt even know they had muscles, but they soon develop the necessary strength and stamina.
And, unlike most college courses, students from the racing school spend an inordinate amount of time in A&E. On the day of our visit, four trainees are in casualty and another is recovering from being kicked in the face (by a horse, not a tutor).
Injuries are inevitable, said Dawn. There are loads of accidents. Some students surprise you though. Some who you think are going to collapse if they break a nail turn out to be the toughest of the lot.
Among the many successful students who have made it through the course (not necessarily in one piece) are Leeds-born National Hunt jockey Dominic Elsworth and Hayley Turner, the first woman to ride 100 winners in a calendar year.
Dawn, who took over as chief executive in January 2008, is not a former jockey herself, but she is a lifelong racing enthusiast. She previously worked for the Duke of Devonshires educational trust, setting up and running development programmes on his estates, primarily Chatsworth in Derbyshire and Bolton Abbey in North Yorkshire, and, before that, as chief executive of the Countryside Foundation for Education, a charity that educates young people about rural life.
I come from a very horsy background and have ridden all my life, she explained. This job has brought together my two great passions education and horses.
What I really love about this place is the eclectic group of students we deal with. I feel very privileged that I get to see them developing and learning new skills every day.
This is the workforce of the future racing industry, she added.
Eclectic is a strikingly apposite description of the students. They are, shall we say, a mixed bunch. But this is not a fact that Dawn and her staff shy away from.
For some, we are their only hope of staying on the straight and narrow, she said. Most actually flourish under our strict, boarding school-style regime. Most are quite challenging when they arrive because of their chaotic backgrounds. But within a couple of weeks they blossom.
We look after them properly 24 hours a day, theyre busy and the isolated location of the college means theres little chance of them finding trouble.
Only a small percentage of the students go on to become jockeys, but most leave with a job in the industry, usually as stable staff.
They still get to ride every day and work in a tremendously exciting global industry, said Dawn.
We can take a 16-year-old who has never been on a horse before and has no qualifications and give them a career that takes them all over the world.
The form of the college
The Northern Racing College (also known as The Northern Centre of Excellence for the Racing Industry) is in the grounds of Rossington Hall just off the A638 (Great North Road), seven miles south of Doncaster.
It opened in 1984 with the aim of providing high quality training, including NVQs and practical experience in trainers yards, for young people who want to work in the racing industry.
About 100 students complete its 12-week residential NVQ Level 1 Foundation Course each year.
They work every day on the floodlit outdoor mnage, two racehorse simulators, the all-weather gallops and in the colleges 60m by 40m indoor riding school, which has a sand and rubber surface, sodium lighting and two viewing galleries.
The college has a purpose-built accommodation block with study rooms, recreational space and live coverage of every race world-wide.
Plans to develop the facilities further over the next five years have been approved and will include improved kitchen and dining areas and a new residential block.
The college holds taster days on the last Friday of every month (except December) for potential students and their families. There is also an open day for the general public on September 12th with exhibitions, demonstrations and stalls.
For further information, phone the Northern Racing College on
01302 861000 or visit www.northernracingcollege.co.uk
The form of the industry
The UK racing industry is continuing to enjoy a period of growth with more than 17,000 horses in training and more than 650 licensed racehorse trainers yards.
Horseracing is the nations second most popular spectator sport with a large television audience and more than five million people visiting British racecourses each year.
More than 100,000 people with a wide variety of skills earn their living in the industry in this country.
The thoroughbred breeding industry employs more than 3,300 people and produces 5,000 foals a year.
Bookmakers and caterers apart, most businesses in the field are small but, taken together, the industry is among the six largest in the country.