Grill the Graduate – Lizzie Kelly – Professional Jockey

Not many recent graduates (in fact NONE as far as I’m aware), can say that they’ve held down a series of part-time jobs, completed a degree, had an active social life AND successfully trained to become a professional female jockey of all things by the tender age of 21. No one, that is, apart from the tenacious and trailblazing Lizzie Kelly. Fresh from her impressive win on Aubusson in the Fixed Brush Handicap Hurdle at Haydock, I spoke to Lizzie about graduate life, competing with ‘the lads’ and what’s next on the cards in the world of racing.

Which university did you go to and how did you find the overall student experience?
I went to the University of Winchester. I enjoyed it as I could participate in as much or as little as I wanted, which for me was a big benefit! Horses have always been a massive part of my life and I was able to continue that passion at uni. That was really important for my career and has ultimately enabled me to become a professional jockey upon leaving.

Do you embrace your recent graduate status or do you pine for your student days?
I am lucky enough to have my dream job, but of course there are things I miss about university. Mainly my friends and the freedom that we had to do whatever we wanted the majority of the time. Being a student was great and it definitely gave me time to do things like head off to Ireland which I did in the amazingly long summer holidays.

Can you explain what it means to be a professional jockey and how you got into the role?
I’ve been dreaming about being a jockey since I was a kid, it’s a huge deal for me. I’m only at the beginning stages now, and I’ve got a very long way to go before I am where I want to be. It feels like a big achievement, especially as it’s not very common for a female to be a jockey. It’s all come about as a result of my parents training racehorses, but I did have various career options, and I always thought I would work in racing but from the angle of marketing or racecourse events.  At the moment, however, riding racehorses is where my heart lies and I will pursue this for the foreseeable future.

How rare actually is it be a professional female jockey?
It’s very rare! There are about 6 of us. I don’t see myself as any different from the lads, but of course there are differences. The most difficult part for me is being in the ladies changing room as it is almost always empty! It can get boring and on bigger days can have an awful atmosphere. However, because I am a girl, I do seem to get a lot of media attention which will hopefully help me out a bit!

Tell me all about your latest win (oh and WELL DONE by the way!)
Thank you! I’m not sure what to say really. I was able to get a lift up to Haydock with a couple of friends, Conor O’Farrell and Tom Bellamy, as we were all riding in the same race. On the way up I marked the card, which basically means that I looked through the horses’ previous positioning and looked at any that I thought were going to be running well. Aubusson is probably the easiest horse to deal with that I’ve come across, so riding him is a relaxing affair. Of course though, this race was the Fixed Brush Handicap Hurdle, so the pressure was on. This is the biggest race I have won so far in my career. It was a great day and actually the first winner I’ve properly celebrated! It is a better feeling than anything else I’ve achieved in my entire life. It’s the pinnacle of everything I’ve worked for for the last four years!

I know you’re keeping an eye out for sponsorship, what are you looking for in a sponsor?
Yes I am! It’s not a vital part of my career right now though so I’m able to take my time over it. Ideally I will find a sponsor with a fashion or media element as I can see that being a good option for me later on. I’m massively interested in fashion, especially at the National Hunt meetings. There is definitely a gap in the market that I feel I could fill. In fact, I have just begun to blog at caughttheeyefashion.wordpress.com (link here), so hopefully potential sponsors will see that I’m serious about fashion!

You are known for your wild and boisterous nature, would you say that is an accurate observation?
Yes, I would say that that is pretty much correct… Life has been a little wild, but perhaps that’s because I’ve taken every opportunity I’ve come across, even if it’s terrifying! I’m glad I’m boisterous and wild, because I don’t think I’d be where I am today without that side to me.

If you had to invent a cocktail that encapsulated you, what would you name it and what would be in it?
Ooh I’d call it ‘The Rascal’. It would be full of Archers and grapefruit, with maybe a splash of something a bit stronger to give it a bit of a kick!

What, in your opinion, are the hardest and best things about being a recent graduate?
The best feeling is probably the satisfaction. I finished my degree to a good standard and I have it forever! That’s a great thing to know. For me, there isn’t really a downside or a worst thing. I’m in a job that I love, and I know it won’t last forever, but I already have a back-up thanks to my degree. It’s all pluses from where I’m standing!

If you could go back to any point in history for one day, where and when would you go?
Any place, any time; that is such a hard question! Perhaps because there are so many options I’d have to travel on Concorde! But really I think I would like to be there when man first landed on the moon. It must have been truly incredible at the time as it was such an enormous step forward for the world in terms of exploration as well as technology.

What advice would you give to any job hunting graduates out there?
My advice would be to broaden your horizons. It’s very easy to think you have to follow a path that you’ve set for yourself. Always take the opportunities that present themselves and more importantly create your own. Change creates opportunities so never be afraid to do something that you didn’t expect!

What is your idea of heaven?
Heaven for me is a place where your hard work pays off, your bank balance is never in the red and olive oil has no calories!

And finally, kiss, marry or kill – Taylor Swift, Jeremy Paxman and John Cleese.
Oh I’d definitely kiss Taylor Swift (who wouldn’t?!), marry John Cleese (so I could demand THAT German soldier walk all the time), and kill Jeremy Paxman…

Thank you Lizzie for your time and for sharing your experiences and musings.  I hope that you find a suitable sponsor who combines your love for both horses and fashion, and that you continue to –  (for want of a better phrase) – completely kick-ass in the world of professional racing!  I look forward to reading your blog updates on your site Caught The Eye Fashion soon, though it seems I might now have some serious blog competition… the race is on Kelly…

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