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Emma O'Kane

Emma O'Kane

Throw A Saddle On Fasty

© Photo Healy Racing

JOCKEY BLOG POST 9. It's December 2014. I've had 11 riding lessons in the past 14 months, which averages out at one every 5 weeks or so. Not many considering this project involves me learning to ride.

2014 was an incredibly busy year for me as a freelance dancer. If the work is going you grab it because next year may not be so busy, that's the reality of a dancer's life. I'm sure there are plenty of chats to be had with freelance jockeys who could say the same. I had to curtail the lessons for fear of injury as I had some pretty major gigs that I was contracted for; Missing with CoisCeim Dance Theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival was one. It involved performing for the entirety of the festival, which is a month, with very few days off. As a performer it really tests your mettle. Mentally and physically I started my prep months before. The Edinburgh Fringe attracts people from all over and is one of the major international festivals. I don't think one can literally compare it in race terms but it holds the same magnitude as Aintree, perhaps. It's also an incredibly exhilarating experience and being part of the Culture Ireland Showcase is a proud moment to fly the flag for Ireland.

So I'm back on home turf and with no performances looming we have arranged a photo-shoot in Crotanstown Stud for Jockey, which will premiere on 15th and 16th May in VISUAL, Carlow (quote IRISH RACING when booking tickets and receive a discount). Michael O' Callaghan has kindly agreed to let us come and take some photos in his yard. We arrive and the kettle is on, perfect timing for a quick chat with Michael and the rest of the jockeys that are riding-out. Michael asks me about my riding lessons, and how I'm getting on? I tell him that I'm feeling confident at my trotting, not quite there cantering yet. There's a new apprentice, Gearoid, who is on his placement from RACE. He looks like he's been working hard. I have all my gear in the car, ready to stand and look like a Jockey beside a horse. Michael looks at me, turns to his partner Siobhain and says to her "throw a saddle on Fasty". Then says, "come on Emma. We'll put you up on a real horse." I'm taking my lead from Michael; if he is entrusting me with one of his prized racehorses well then I guess it's ok? I look at Sophie and Sarah Jane, who are all bright eyed and thrilled. To be honest I'm not ready for this but maybe now's the time just to do it. It's like one of those moments as a performer when it's time to take the next step, battling against doubt you decide to embrace the moment and take the risk. Nine times out of ten it pays off and the one time it doesn't you just brush yourself off and try again. As Irish writer Samuel Beckett, who was born this day, 13th April 1906, wisely said "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." Imbued with Beckettian wisdom I put on my breeches, body protector, and blue silks which Sarah Jane has hired from the Costume department at the Abbey Theatre. I wonder what production they were used for? I don't ever remember hearing of a real racehorse treading the boards of the Abbey.

I hear hooves outside the door, and Siobhain is standing with a beautiful bay horse. "This is Fastidious. He won at Dundalk last week." I remember meeting Fastidious back in July. He looks kind, and I'm told they all fight over who will ride him out in the mornings, as he's such a gent. He's been out already this morning and is slightly perplexed as to why he's got another saddle on. Without saying another word, Siobhain legs me up onto the horse. I've no time to feel fear. I just feel my legs looking for the stirrups (which, thankfully, are quite long) and the lack of saddle underneath me is strange. I've never sat on a racing saddle before. It feels as narrow as Fastidious does. But I feel quite safe. I ride up to the arena and walk Fastidious around in a circle. Being on a racehorse is incredible it's not possible to gauge the power of these beautiful creatures by looking at them, I'm only sitting on Fastidious and I can feel the difference of going from a Fiat to a Ferrari! Siobhain reassures me that she only started riding racehorses recently, and they are completely different to other horses. He feels like pure muscle underneath me. I understand the need and love for jockeys to race, trainers to train and owners to own these elite performers. Suddenly I'm trotting around, I feel safe, he feels alert, and I'm not worrying about my riding. Siobhain tells me to think calmly and Fasty responds as soon as I set my mind. This feels amazing!

We go back down into the yard and Michael puts the stirrups up to racing length and leads me around at a walk. The balance is totally different and I've a sneaking suspicion this is going to kill my hips, as I didn't warm up beforehand because I thought I'd just be standing beside the horse. How much harder is it to go at full gallop? It proves to be quite a lot harder, as ten minutes later I have my first fall, off a barrel! We had a good laugh about that and a few photos were taken which I don't think will be used for the poster. It seems balance is the key to everything.

I've ridden a real racehorse. I feel so much closer to Phillip's dreams. This has truly changed my perspective on the whole project. Maybe I can ride in a race before Jockey in May 2015?

Tickets are now on sale for all performances of Jockey. Use Promo Code: IRISH RACING to get a discount on ticket prices for the two shows in Visual, Carlow.

VISUAL, Carlow (May 15th & 16th)

Tel: 059 917 2400

Dublin Dance Festival

Samuel Beckett Theatre (May 20th 21st & 22nd)

Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray (May 28th)

Web: dublindancefestival.ie

Riverbank Arts Centre, Newbridge, Kildare (June 6th 2015)

Tel: 045 448 327

Next week… A work-in-progress showing in Carlow, and my first chance to show the racing professionals my home turf.