The life of Bryony

Bryony Frost became just the second female jockey in Britain or Ireland to win a Grade 1 over obstacles when scoring at Kempton over Christmas on her favourite horse Black Corton, and with the support of boss Paul Nicholls she has every intention of building on her success

In December you enjoyed your first Grade 1 success aboard Black Corton in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton. How did you approach the race and what did it feel like to achieve this landmark on what must be your favourite horse?
I approached it as I always do. I go through the race to see if there’s likely to be much pace, which ones jump left or right, which to follow or try to avoid and what makes the running or drops in. I walked the course with an eye on the soft ground, as I needed to know the best line I could take.

Black Corton is my favourite horse, though I am fortunate to have had many horses that are special to me. ‘Blackie’ and I have progressed together on a route, from Worcester to a Grade 1, which is remarkable in itself. I see him as my partner, like so many horses I’ve been associated with right back to my pony days. At Kempton I was more overwhelmed for ‘Blackie’ than myself and don’t see it as my achievement – it’s our achievement.

Top team: Bryony Frost and Black Corton, winners of the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase

The trainer and owners have placed enormous faith in your abilities, with Paul Nicholls stating you are “as good as any girl that’s ever ridden”. Does that give you confidence, extra pressure or both?
The hardest part is to be able to show at home you’re good enough to ride these horses in races and then to be lucky enough for the race to go your way. I am very blasé when it comes to it all; I just try to concentrate on improving and stepping forward the whole time. But when you have your boss telling you that you are one of the best girls out there, that’s really cool. I want to try to be the best I can.

The hard work has been done before you get on the horse at the races. My pressure is nothing compared with the pressure Paul must be under at times. All the effort put in by him, his staff and the money that goes into the operation make for a massive jigsaw before the horse reaches the racecourse. I am fitting the last piece of the puzzle, trying to think out of the box and be one jump ahead. Paul always sends you out with confidence, not pressure.

In your opinion, what are your strengths and in what areas do you need to improve?

I don’t get wound up or nervous. When I go out for a race I know I need to perform but that does not make me anxious. I break the race down in my mind into stages and ride to my instructions. My nickname was ‘Bog Riding Bryony’ when I was coming up through the ranks because I ride so long. And it suits me because I put my heels into the horse and help it with its balance. That’s just the style I’ve taken, it seems to work and I don’t think I’ll change.

I find it hard talking about one’s own strengths, but I do think if you stop improving at any point in your career you might as well quit – however good you are. I analyse every race, looking closely at my hands and my heels, watching to see if I asked for a stride when it wasn’t there, or if I put my mount on the wrong lead. You have just got to be smarter and faster through life and keep connecting with people.

Your progress, from turning professional only in July to Grade 1 winner in December, has been remarkable. What has been the key to your success?
Support, as simple as that. You wouldn’t be anywhere without friends and I don’t think there is any jockey who has made it without that crucial backing. We have all been very fortunate having someone behind us. Paul and his owners have the confidence in me to put me up. I work closely with Clifford [Baker] and everyone in the yard as well as my family and my jockey coach, Mick Fitzgerald. I have massive support from people I can lean on, ask where I’ve gone wrong or what I could have done better. I would definitely have crumbled and not been on this amazing upward spiral without everyone pulling me up it.

When I was at school I was a bit of a loner. I got invited to a couple of parties and didn’t turn up because I wanted to go home and ride my ponies

As soon as you could walk you rode the family donkey, Nosey, and were hunting by the time you were four. Can you describe your affinity with the horse?
You must have faith in the horse, and the horse in you. You are going out to battle together and you have to ask him or her to push their body to the limit and they must want to do it for you. For me, I must believe in them and get to know them very fast, sometimes for the first time on the way to the start, like Milansbar, who showed me he’s an awesome chap to ride before winning last month’s Classic Chase at Warwick.

You must work out what sort of character you are on, be it a willing partner, or one that needs telling what to do. Some horses don’t take kindly to being told, like some humans they’ll stick two fingers up at you. But some have to be told because they lack confidence and are not sure where they’re going. They naturally follow the herd and you have to get into their mind and work out what clicks. On the day, I believe that I am trying to encourage the horse to be ‘somebody’ and if he or she responds by giving everything, win or lose, I feel proud and grateful.

As an outgoing 22-year-old, there must be times when you feel you are missing out on other things in life. What are they and how do you cope?
When I was at school I was a bit of a loner. I got invited to a couple of parties and didn’t turn up because I wanted to go home and ride my ponies. So they soon stopped inviting me. Call me boring, but partying is not for me. My life is my horses and I don’t consider I am missing out on anything. I would rather be winning on a horse than going out to a club. My buzz is rock climbing or taking a horse from home on to Dartmoor and enjoying the adrenaline rush, rather than socialising.

Your father Jimmy Frost, former Grand National-winning jockey and now successful trainer, spent 12 years trying to dissuade you from becoming a jump jockey like your brother, Hadden. How did you manage to overcome his advice?
By being stubborn. Dad had a daughter that when she stuck her heels in, they went down very firmly. He stopped me from dreaming and taught me to have a realistic look at the future. He made it clear it was going to take me longer, going to be harder and that I would have a bigger point to prove because I would have to break ‘the girl’ perception. People have an opinion and Dad would tell me I would have to re-write that opinion to become a fact in racing. He warned me it would take a thick skin as it might be hard to change peoples’ views. He said I must be prepared and that I might not even get there, might not be good enough. As a result, I don’t dream and I try not to focus on things I can’t control.

As a rising star in the National Hunt ranks, what is the most important lesson you have learnt from your father – about life, and about racing?
I’ll speak to Dad four or five times a day. He has visited the high and low points in racing and is very much the current that keeps me moving forward when I am sitting in my little boat trying to paddle along. The theme of Dad’s advice has always been to keep your head down and work hard. Dedicate yourself if you want to achieve something and I do think that’s in my nature. I used to live and breathe my ponies as a kid; I would break them in and watching them progress was everything to me. We are very much an ‘animal’ family and that’s been ingrained in me. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Rhythm is more important than strength when it comes to winning races. If a horse isn’t keeping its rhythm, isn’t jumping, hasn’t got its stride and its breathing is out of time with no oxygen to the body, then it cannot win

When you were 15 you started weight training. How important is strength in the saddle in order to compete successfully in a male-dominated sport?
I started weight training because I had a bad fall at home, damaging the membrane around my kidney, spent two months in hospital and lost quite a lot of weight, which gave me a chance to shake off my puppy fat. I needed to get my strength back and build myself up as I was going pointing. But, for me, rhythm is more important than strength when it comes to winning races. If a horse isn’t keeping its rhythm, isn’t jumping, hasn’t got its stride and its breathing is out of time with no oxygen to the body, then physically it cannot win. Strength alone wouldn’t overcome that. There’s a lot in the technique of keeping the rhythm and helping a horse with its jumping.

Hadden and I used to practise for hours on a makeshift equicizer called ‘Woody’ in the attic and Dad would come up and tell us where we could improve. Of course, personal fitness is huge, enabling you to keep the weight down in your heels, keep your calves into the horse and maintain the stride all the time through the drive.

You met Megan Nicholls point-to-pointing where you rode over 55 winners and that friendship led you to Megan’s father Paul’s stables, where you now work. How have you found working and riding for a championship yard?
It’s all about opportunities and Meg gave me the chance to ride her pointers, while Paul and Dad are close friends going back a long way. So I was no stranger coming to Ditcheat and I can only describe the yard as a very well- oiled machine. The staff’s dedication is timeless. To be working with people who are always a step ahead is incredible. I am trying to be a sponge and absorb the smallest details. Every win is just as important, be it a Grade 1 or a handicap at Exeter. The same amount of effort and time will have gone into both winners.

Bryony Frost is sure to get a strong book of rides at the Cheltenham Festival with the support of trainer Paul Nicholls

The moment female jockeys start to do well – Josephine Gordon, Lizzie Kelly and Hollie Doyle, to mention three – the media latches on to them. Do you see it as part of your job to speak up for women jockeys?
I am where I am because of the horses, not because I am a girl. I like to give everyone the time of day because people are giving me the time of day. I’ll help young kids, girls or boys, when they come for a bit of advice, as they do at the races. I feel strongly that if girls are to progress in the sport they have to do it largely off their own back. I take the view it doesn’t matter what you’ve got between your legs, you’ll still bring out the best in your horse. And if what I do encourages people to have more faith in girls, then that’s awesome.

Does the media do a good job for racing?
From the inside, our world of racing looks massive, but from the outside, comparing it with football, cricket, rugby or tennis, it is small. We need the help of ITV and any other television broadcasters to bring the public closer to racing, to help them understand and show them what an amazing partnership we have with the horse. Many of the camera shots of the horses in action and enjoying life behind the scenes in the stables are amazing.

Yes, the media and press generally do a very good job. They always react responsibly when we lose a horse or a jockey has a bad fall. From a personal point of view I have found the media very supportive. Sometimes I wonder if we should have more summer meetings staged with fun days, consisting of fairs, dog shows and the like, which would appeal to families and attract a wider public.

How do you deal with criticism?
Not very well and my thick skin has become thicker. In reality I feel as if the public have taken to me, for whatever reason. But I haven’t seen anything bad written or spoken about me and I am always trying to avoid making mistakes. I keep my head out of social media – I don’t do Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and never have. Of course it depends where the criticism comes from. If Paul tells me I didn’t do a very good job and must do better that would be very positive and a point I’d have to correct.

Have you experienced a lot of teasing – or, indeed, sexism – in the weighing room?
I am very boyish, having grown up with two older brothers. My girlie side is zero and the lads in the weighing room accept me and we chat about the racing and general matters. There aren’t any sexist comments, nothing inappropriate. I guess I come across as ‘laddish’ and that’s how they see me.

Away from racing you enjoy rock climbing on Dartmoor and surfing off the Devon coast. Is it the risk and danger that appeals to you?
I am a bit feral. I like the outdoors and I don’t do cities; they scare the hell out of me with all the cars and rushing. Climbing is very good for me because I am a thinker and always trying to concentrate on the next step forward. The Dartmoor rocks provide the opportunity for me to fathom my next move and switch off from the outside world. It is also good for your fitness and when you meet other climbers you can chat about completely random subjects. When I can, I like to surf at Bantham on the Devon coast, where there are sandbanks and a three foot swell, which I enjoy riding.

What would you like to achieve in 2018?
The metaphor I live by is, ‘If you look at the top of the mountain it can be daunting and if you don’t get to the top you feel you’ve failed’. So I believe in taking a step at a time as long as I’m going upwards. I don’t set myself goals because if I didn’t meet them I’d be failing. I just want to keep progressing.

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