Anna McGuinness© Photo Healy Racing
I'm from Brackaville, Coalisland, Co Tyrone and I started riding ponies from a young age. I spent my holidays and weekends riding ponies and my parents were good at taking me and giving me the time to do it considering I come from a non-racing background. We had a holiday home in Donegal, so I would have spent all my summers riding ponies on the beach and that. I finished school when I was 16 and then I went and did an equine course in CAFRE, Enniskillen, for two years and they had point-to-pointers. I went there just to get a bit of a start into it. It was a Level 3 Diploma in Horse Care Management from 16 to 18. My parents were keen on me staying to do a degree, but I had other ideas - all I wanted to do was be a jockey and give it a go.
I was with James Lambe part-time from when I was 17 and whenever I was off. I then decided to go and work full-time in James Lambe's. I got the start riding out their racehorses. It was pure luck that I got in with James, I just rang him up looking for a trainer who had jumps horses nearby and I was just lucky I picked him. He has been very good to me ever since. I also ride out for Stephen McConville, i go to him before I go into James'. I start in Stephen's at 7.30am and ride out two or three lots and head over to James' after that. Stephen is in Portadown so it is only 20 minutes across the road. I also ride work in Moira, I ride work for Colin McBratney and he put me up on one in Down Royal recently. I school for another couple of local trainers, so you're always kept busy up here which is good.
We would be riding out for most of the day in James', galloping and keeping busy. In the evenings, I would do the horses up with him. He has a mechanical horse, so I would spend half an hour every evening on it practising. He's very good at teaching me and helping me to improve my riding. He's had a lot of good jockeys through his hands, so I'm definitely with the right person. If I had started out and gone anywhere else, I wouldn't be as far head at this stage. I feel like I am in a very lucky position to have someone like him considering the rides I have got as a 7lb claiming amateur against professionals over hurdles and also riding in a beginners' chase for him over two miles. That is some experience to be getting. It has been a great eye-opener in ways because I am learning about different aspects of racing, you are always learning plenty. The experience I have got so far is driving me on more to be successful.
I had my first point-to-point ride in May 2021 at Necarne during Covid-19 and there weren't many people at it. The horse (Puff My Pistons) was a great horse to ride, you could go around with your eyes closed on him! I probably went two miles on him and pulled up, but it was great to finally do it. It was definitely a good experience because I had four rides in point-to-points that season and was second on my second ride. I had my first ride for James at Leopardstown. To get your first ride at a Grade 1 track was a great experience. I loved it and when you are riding on the track it is so much different to riding in a point-to-point. You are in a proper weigh room and you feel like there is more of a crowd there.
Anna after winning on Feast at Downpatrick© Photo Healy Racing
My first track winner on Feast at 150/1 in Downpatrick (in July) was some buzz. It was unreal, it felt like a long time coming but I was delighted to finally do it, and to do it for James, it was a great day. He just got up on the line and it was brilliant. I didn't have time to look to see if he had got up! Afterwards, it is like you are floating - I can't actually put it into words, the adrenaline you get off it and you are so excited. It is what you dream of and it is what you work so hard for. You are literally living the dream and to be successful doing it is amazing. I was still a bit shocked and trying to think what to say when Racing TV came over to me. Johnny Ward did a good interview and it is nice to get interviewed after it, and you get a bit of publicity out of it too. I was able to thank James and the owners for the opportunity.
My family and friends weren't there that day. Normally they would go, but they were away. I told them I thought he would run well and they probably thought 'this one has lost the plot'! They were actually on a bus coming out of Belfast, so they were doing some roaring and shouting watching it on their phones! I used to ride work on a horse at James' that was one of Wilson Dennison's and Feast had form behind him. From riding work on that horse, and comparing them, I thought Feast had the ability to be competitive in a bumper.
I'm trying to get as many rides as I can get to keep building up my experience. For now, I just want to keep learning my trade and improve my riding and strengthen up. If I keep getting the chances and it keeps building and gets momentum, that's my aim at the minute. I'm just taking each day as it comes and I'm open to point-to-point and track rides. At the minute it is about getting the rides and hopefully that could lead to winners. I got a spare ride on Cash The Cheque for Anthony McCann in the ladies' handicap hurdle at Navan on Saturday. That will be my first ride for Anthony. Hopefully, I could get on some nice horses. I'm looking forward to this season and getting the rides during the winter. Stephen McConville would have a couple of nice horses to run this year. I'd be light enough and my long-term aim is to turn professional.
I'm very lucky to have met a lot of different people in racing along with James. I was over in England with him and I met Brian Hughes, he was very good at giving me advice. Rachael Blackmore is very good as well, she would always help you. It is great to have someone like her in the ladies weigh room with you - you are sitting beside someone who has won a Gold Cup and a Grand National. You want to use that to your advantage, so I would always ask Rachael questions about the tracks or even the ground. She would always give you advice or, when you are watching the replay after you have ridden, she would maybe say 'you could do that better'. She is very good at helping me. She is a real trailblazer for ladies and she has set the bar high for everybody else.
You have to love what you do because it is hard work. You have to be dedicated because if you want to be a jockey, you have very little time off. The stablehands that work in the yards are busy going racing too and they love what they do, you can see that in them and the buzz they get out of it. If you didn't love doing this job, you wouldn't be doing it. It is hard work, but it is rewarding. My family are a lot happier now. When I broke my collarbone and stuff like that, they were thinking was it worth it as they were looking at it from a non-racing point of view. They understand it now that I am getting going more, and they can watch me on the track and read about it.