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Warriors on Horseback By John Carter

Release date: 12th February, 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury

List Price: £20.00
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Members of the Armed Forces may raise an eyebrow and consider a wry smile when reading the opening line of John Carter’s Warriors on Horseback, an insight into the history and lives of professional jockeys. “What,” asks Carter, “possesses someone to earn a living by placing himself or herself in mortal danger every day?”

No doubt a sizeable number of soldiers, sailors and airmen frequently ask themselves something similar, but Carter is talking about the professional jockey, the only sportsman he can think of who is prepared to “get up at the crack of dawn seven days a week to rack up more motorway miles for an annual income that Premiership footballers can earn in a week.”

Much attention has this week, rightly, focused on AP McCoy’s decision to retire from jump racing at the end of the current season. McCoy will claim his twentieth consecutive champion jockey title in April, an incredible achievement in any sport and while some of the writing reflecting upon his remarkable career has read like an obituary at times, one feature that is emphasised time and again is the Ulsterman’s incredible bravery.

John Carter would agree and probably suggest that all 450-odd professional jockeys working across both horse racing codes possess similar levels of courage as the man at the top of the jockey’s tree. Most can recount a notorious catalogue of broken bones, chipped teeth and worse, yet very few would want to do anything different.

Indeed, Carter interviews one former jockey who, when aged 28, suffered a fall which left him in an induced coma for six weeks. Thirty years later, he is still unable to ride, yet after three decades of mental anguish, Carter is astonished to learn that the man wouldn’t have lived his life any differently.

Warriors on Horseback is, therefore, an appropriate title to describe jockeys from the eighty-something Willie Snaith, to 17-year-old amateur Holie Doyle, but there are plenty of other, peripheral characters who ensure that jockeys are well prepared to face a succession of uncompromising challenges. I was particularly interested in Phil Taylor, the Master Jockey’s Valet who tours the National Hunt circuit for up to 330 days a year, a tale surely worthy of a separate tome.

The sporting version of mortal danger is actually miles away from the real thing encountered by our Armed Forces, but this minor criticism aside, you cannot fail to be impressed by the bravery and courage of the warriors about whom Mr Carter writes.


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