Helen O'Sullivan, Emma and show director Sophie Motley
Blog 10. January 2015. It's the first week of the New Year and WillFredd Theatre and I have hit the ground running. What a great way to start the year, I'm back at Halfords, with Toffee, the first pony that I rode over a year (and 13 riding lessons) ago. This time, he's wearing a racing saddle. He looks fantastic if a little incongruous, being a skewbald pony and not a racehorse.
Kilian, who is collaborating with us on Jockey is filming my first proper lesson on the racing saddle in preparation for our preview showing of Jockey at the end of the week in VISUAL. I climb onto Toffee and it feels like I've come full circle.
The saddle feels small, but I get my balance twice in half an hour, which feels like a victory. At the end of the lesson I've trotted a full circle around the arena in my racing position. Not bad considering the driving rain, the microphone attached to my jacket and the umbrella covering the camera in the middle of the arena! It feels easier riding short like this than longer in the general- purpose saddle. My muscles feel better built for it somehow. This week we've filmed a couple of things; we've just come from a trip around the gallops with Michael O' Callaghan, where I meet Gina, the first female jockey that I have come across in my research. She's won races but found the weight difficult. She speaks my language, I would never go back to the days where I was trying to maintain a weight of 7 stone 4 pounds, constantly scolding myself that I could never make the 7 stone even. I'm interested to hear the female perspective on racing but she's busy working. Gina is a similar build to me and is about to emigrate to Australia to ride there. She looks amazing on a horse, I can tell she's strong. She's riding a yearling, which spooks and tries to get rid of her and eventually succeeds, twice. I am struck by how well Gina falls; graceful, dance- like, she just gives into it. Not unlike the times when I have fallen out of a dance lift with a partner. You don't panic, there's no point fighting gravity. The softer your body is the lesser the impact.
By the end of the week the plan is to do a showing of our work on Jockey so far. Our audience will consist of some of the racing people that we have met over the last 18 months. We've been in the theatre working on material, collating sound, video and lighting, for this 20 minute showing. It feels great to be back in a theatre, the black box that I love and know so well, a space where I feel at home. For the first time, we are working with Jack and Kilian, sound and video designers. I'm slightly nervous about the showing which is unusual for me but it's due to the worrying thought of how am I going to get through it with the pain I've been feeling in my lower back; I've never known pain like it and it's getting worse. It's so bad that I have to literally lie flat in rehearsals. Having spoken to the director, Sophie we are going to pull back completely on the choreography side of things. So frustrating but there is nothing that I can do. Just to keep me upright and see me through the week I have three sessions on my back; two with human and horse physio Liz Kent and one with Philip Trueman, an Amatsu Practicioner in Athy. At the beginning of this journey I met with Liz, and little did I think I'd need her to treat me. She strapped me up, which has eased the pain slightly. Philip also treats jockeys. He can go into a yard and guess which horses have back problems by looking at the way the jockeys ride. He explains that often it's the rider that is out of alignment and not the horse. It's lovely to see the familiar faces of people that have been a part of this project from the very beginning. It keeps my mind off the pain momentarily. Caroline Hutchinson and Helen O'Sullivan are at the showing. It feels great to share what I've learnt with them, and get their feedback. Helen says to me afterwards that she is going to set me up with some lessons from a jockey who is training to be one of Ireland's first Jockey's Racing Coach, Warren O'Connor, I'm thrilled to hear this.
I still don't quite know how I managed to get myself through the pain during the performance - adrenaline is a powerful thing. The prognosis on my back pain is not what I wanted to hear. An MRI scan has confirmed that the excruciating pain I was feeling is a slipped disc. I won't be able to ride a horse for at least two months, work or dance. That means no income and big medical fees. This is the tough side of what I do, and it has ended many careers. Injury is a very real possibility for jockeys and dancers. I hope my name isn't going to be next on that list.
Will I be able to reach my goal and ride a racehorse before the performance in May? Find out next week.
Book tickets for the opening performances of Jockey at VISUAL in Carlow on 15th and 16th May Tel: 059 917 2400. Don't forget to mention 'Irish Racing' to get a discount!