Photo  by Florian Christoph / CC BY 2.0 

For our readers and listeners who are not fully in the loop when it comes to English soccer and its stars, the recent news of one of its biggest names making the leap and becoming a jockey may have passed you by. It is a remarkable story however, and if nothing else, highlights just how rare this phenomenon is. Why is that we wondered, so we decided to have a look into it.

Riding, in all of its huge variety of forms, is one of the world’s greatest and most popular pastimes. There are numerous examples of people in the public eye who fall in love with riding. Sir Paul McCartney and Julia Roberts are prime examples who had the desire – and let us not forget, the financial ability – to take that to the next level and buy a ranch. For those, and the many, many others it is simply a way of bonding with such beautiful creatures, seeing the great outdoors, keeping fit and having fun. Michael Owen, the former Liverpool, Real Madrid, Manchester United and England striker took it to next level.

Owen, like many English sportsmen, fell in love with racing while still playing. He bought his own stables and his horses have enjoyed success, including a win at Royal Ascot in 2011 and in the 2015 Dubai Gold Cup. Last year however, Owen climbed into the saddle for his first race, coming a very creditable second on four year old Calder Prince at Ascot.

Owen is unusual when it comes to sportsmen, in that he stands at just five foot eight, and there we have one of the main reasons, his crossover is so rare. There are not many sportspeople whose physique and stature are suitable for both disciplines.

Photo  by   johnthescone / CC BY 2.0 

Victoria Pendleton is another example of a succesful athlete who has made the move into equestrianism. Pendleton, a British cyclist is an Olympic and world record holder as well as a double Olympic gold medallist and 9-time world champion. She retired from two wheels to take up riding of the equine variety and has achieved success, even winning at Wincanton. In 2016, she finished in a creditable 5th place at Cheltenham in the Foxhunter Chase, something she described as “probably the greatest achievement of my life”.

For many athletes and sportsmen and women riding is a way of staying fit, getting their minds focused, or getting away from the pressures of competing at a world level. That is exactly the case with women’s poker superstar, TV presenter and model Liv Boeree. Liv began riding at 3 years old, and it is something that is still a large part of her life, even if professionally it is the green baize, not grass, where she has earned her fame and fortune.

It is not just the required physical stature that makes the transition into riding professionally a tricky one. Being a jockey is one of the most physically demanding jobs there is, something that is made even harder by the need to maintain weight. It isn’t simply the case of piling muscle on, jockeys have to be supremely fit and strong with incredibly good cardio vascular systems. There is also the mental side of the sport, and the dangers should not be underestimated, meaning becoming a jockey is a full-time pursuit, not something you can do part-time, or on a whim.

The popularity of equestrian pursuits is a testament to its wide-ranging appeal. People from the world over from multi-millionaire movie and music stars, to some of the most successful sports men and women on the planet, have found their niche when it comes to riding horses. And as we all know, when it comes to looking for adventure or a companion, riding a horse will always give you what you’re looking for!