Pupils from Merrist Wood College listening intently in the company of champion jockey Richard Johnson

Riders’ Programme a hit with Merrist Wood College

On March 9th a group of students from Merrist Wood College enjoyed an eventful day at Sandown Racecourse when they attended one of Racing to School’s Riders’ Programme events. Merrist Wood, situated three miles from Guildford, is a 400-acre, multi-award winning College specialising in land-based industries, and all those that went along to Sandown were studying Equine Management.

The Riders’ Programme is all about getting young people to the heart of the action: whether that’s listening to the typical day of a valet, quizzing the jockeys on their way of life or learning about the key integrity and ground-related roles around the racecourses. The day is non-stop with opportunities for a real insight into the many cogs that help a raceday run smoothly. The staff and officials at Sandown were all prepared to engage with the group and even new Stipendiary Steward and recently retired jockey Steve Drowne got involved with the weighing scales exercise – a routine he no longer needs to go through in his new day job!

Listening to the feedback from students and tutors is vital in measuring the impact of this Programme. Below is a short interview with one of the participants and two of the tutors who attended alongside the charity’s Chief Executive, John Blake.

Student Amber Clifford-Brown, captured the mood of the group who though that the day was something really special, especially the behind-the-scenes access. She said: “Seeing how everything runs has been really good because you don’t get to see that.” Talking about how the day has helped her with considering a career, she added: “I don’t know if I am brave enough to be a jockey but the other roles in the industry look really cool.”

Students standing next to the sculpture of Eclipse at Sandown

Both of the course tutors who attended thought it was a great learning experience, with both admitting they didn’t know one end of a racecard from another before the day!

The event at Sandown is one of 60 Riders’ Programme events planned for this year, all of which are aimed at encouraging young people who already ride and/or have an interest in another equine discipline to consider racing and thoroughbred breeding as a possible career route or leisure activity. The programme is delivered through generous support from The Racing Foundation.