Emma and Toffee under the watchful eye of Louise Halford
©Healy Racing Photos
Leading professional dancer Emma O' Kane and WillFredd Theatre are preparing for a show named JOCKEY, which will come to theatres nationwide in May 2015. Emma has been learning to ride for the project, as well as researching her grandfather Phillip de Burgh O' Brien, a bloodstock agent and racing journalist who died before she was born. BLOG POST 2 - Rising Trot
My formative training as a dancer was in Ballet - I studied for 3 years at a prestigious academy in post- perestroika Russia. Upon graduating, I went on to work professionally in an Opera and Ballet company in Nizhny Novgorod which is a twelve - hour train journey from Moscow, situated on the river Volga and the birthplace of Maxim Gorky [Noel Meade trained the horse of the same name to win at Galway last summer].
I am fascinated by the similarities between Jockeys and Dancers, my years spent studying as a ballet dancer bear a striking resemblance to racing and its competitors. The training could be deemed as worlds apart but in fact there are many likenesses; the pure grit that is needed to survive, the constant eye on the prize and always striving to be the best. Physically it's no different; the common need to keep the weight down or in jockey terms 'wasting'. Racing and dancing are both incredibly physical. Perfecting balance and stamina whilst using the same muscle groups but honed differently to perform at your best. And of course the adrenaline, what it feels like to perform, ride a race in front of an audience or spectators. There is a definite link. Clearly, the only way to test this theory is for me to learn to ride a racehorse and become a jockey myself!
September 2013. I'm standing in TRI Equestrian on the Curragh getting kitted out in riding gear. Looking the part is half the battle, right? I'm buying my riding hat, boots, chaps, and racing whip. I'll be a pro in no time! Long boots don't fit over my muscular dancing calves - I go for some beautiful dark brown leather numbers.
We drive to Helen O' Sullivan's house for lunch. Helen regales us with her own stories of racing and setting up RACE. She is so passionate about jockeys; she speaks of them all as though they are her children. She even demonstrates good riding skills on her hobby horse! She brings us to her neighbour, Louise Halford. Driving in the gates of Halford's is an impressive sight to behold. There are two yards full of racehorses and stunning gallops on the way to Louise's riding school. The place is a hive of activity. There is a buzz of excitement about the yards. I imagine that I am about to climb on board one of these sleek, beautiful thoroughbreds. And then we round the corner and I am introduced to Toffee.
Toffee is a skewbald pony. He is waiting in an immaculate stable wearing a saddle and bridle. To me he is also beautiful, a real gent. And, I notice, not too tall, so if I do fall it won't be far to the ground.
My racing journey begins. I'm astride Toffee and I'm on my to understanding the passion that my grandfather Philip had for these incredible creatures. "Heel down, heel down!" Louise keeps saying. "I am putting my heel down" I think to myself. It's just semantics, a riding 'heel down' and a dancing 'heel down' are different things but before long I'm getting the hang of it. I feel the years of fine- tuning balance and posture serving me well in my first riding lesson. I'm upright, well balanced and feel steady. Of course Toffee is attributing to that, he's minding me. I knew he was a gent! I'm introduced to the rising trot, it's rhythm is something I understand inherently. End of lesson and I'm doing the rising-trot around the gallops all by myself. I mouth "I'm a natural" to the director Sophie with a broad, gleeful smile on my face.
Next week - reach for the Radox my muscles are killing me!
Riding the simulator at RACE and Phillip - friend of horses.