Southsea mum to compete in first professional race as flat jockey at Qatar Goodwood Festival
A jockey in the making, Fiona Litchfield is no stranger to the thrill of throwing herself into sports that scare her.
It’s anxiety that fuels her to compete in challenges which help her conquer her fears.
That’s the driving force behind a decision last year to try her hand at horse racing, training relentlessly while balancing a full-time career in the Metropolitan Police, despite having never done anything like it before.
In July, the 37-year-old adrenaline junkie will be competing in her first professional race, The Magnolia Cup at the Qatar Goodwood Festival. It will see 12 inspirational women race down Goodwood’s home straight in aid of The Prince’s Trust. None is a professional.
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Donations will support the ‘Brilliant Breakfast’ which brings together friends, family and colleagues over breakfast, to support young women on The Prince’s Trust programmes across the UK.
Living at Southsea, Fiona has been training for less than two years to be able to compete, while balancing an intense job and sessions with racehorse trainer Simon Dow at Epsom wherever possible.
But there are no perils that will stop her from fulfilling her ambition to ‘smash’ her fitness while proving that women from all walks of life can succeed in their field given the right amount of resilience and determination.
In 2021, after having her son Hugo, Fiona wanted to try something new and lose weight in the process. From that point on she ha s not let anything stop her and now she is going for broke.
‘I was meant to be in it last year,’ she explains.
‘I was coming back from Mauritius and one of the other competitors got injured.
‘I needed something to set my mind to because I’d not long had my little boy.
‘I thought it would be a great way of losing weight. I managed to smash the fitness but unfortunately I didn't get enough time in the saddle.’
After failing to qualify the first time round, Fiona received a call at Christmas asking if she wanted a second chance.
For the avid sportswoman, who’s no stranger to motorcycling and motorboats - this was a no-brainer.
‘I don't want to be on my death bed and say “I trained to be a jockey,” she says.
‘I want to say I ra ced and ultimately, I want to win after all this heartache and agony.
‘I'm in it to win it. This is where I am.’ When she was younger, Fiona studied a fashion design course at college but soon discovered it wasn’t for her.
It didn’t take long for her to long for her love of sport to bounce back into her life.
Instead, she applied for the army where she landed herself a role in the military police, one of the ‘best things’ Fiona says she’s ever done.
She’s now working in cyber security as a crime expert and operations manager with the Met police.
‘It changed my life. It made be a better, more confident person,’ she explains.
‘I was a bit of a wallflower before I joined the army.
‘It makes you more independent and go out and grab things in life.
‘I’m not privileged. I’ve grafted all my life for everything.’
Talking about her vigorous tr aining regime as a jockey, Fiona says:
‘On Thursdays and Friday s I get up at the crack of dawn, jump on my bike, get on a train to Epsom, cycle two miles, do my jockey training, then cycle back, jump on to a train to London and Waterloo and do a day’s work.
‘I am having to really try. It’s not something that’s just been given to me.
‘[My trainer], Simon, understands how much time and effort it takes and how much I really want it.’
The race Fiona is competing in this year encourages people from ordinary walks of life to get i n the saddle to help change the perceptions of wome n in sport.
The Magnolia Cup is a five- furlong flat race – equivalent to just over 1, 000 metres, and this race is its most diverse yet.
But it’s not been an easy ride to get here due to the unpredictably that naturally comes with being in charge of a racehorse.
‘On a motorbike you’ve got a kill switch. On a motorboat you’ve got a kill cord. On a car you’ve got a brake .
‘ On a race horse you are holding on for dear life sometimes,’ says Fiona.
‘I’ve nearly been broken so many times - emotionally and mentally. I’ve got very good friends and family who have kept me going.
‘It has been very difficult. I started training at Christmas and that means getting up and doing an hour’s exercise before you even start the day,’ she says.
‘It’s all about core strength. It sounds random, but I’ve had to train to do a four-minute plank to build that core strength.’
However, despite the sometimes gruelling sessions, Fiona will stop at nothing to train and be a role model for her son at the same time.
Even through the discomfort of a prolapsed disc, a back injury she endured during her army career which has weakened her back ‘forever’, she’s determined not to let that beat her enjoying the thrill of the horse’s power.
‘Up until the last month you’re racin g anything and everything.
‘You can’t explain the feeling of being on a horse.
‘It’s such a buzz. They’re so beautiful. Real horsepower is a lot more beautiful than engine horse power. They’re such lovely animals and they love to race.’
‘It is pretty terrifying. I've always loved the feeling of a thrill, of being close to fear, but this comes as close as it gets - racing a horse at Goodwood - but I am determined to win - and raise lots of money for the [Prince’s Trust] charity.’
Fiona , who is also currently an army reservist, enjoyed racing slalom skiing and was a bit of a petrol head thanks to her love of motorbikes during her army career.
She also takes part in charity runs, motorboat racing and lived in Mauritius for two years during most of the pandemic, where she set up a charity to rescue abandoned dogs on the island and find them new homes overseas.
So the Magnolia Cup is another big endeavour to add to her list of achievements.
The Qatar Goodwood Festival, known as ‘Glorious Goodwood’, is a five-day festival packed full of racing action and one of the highlights of the British flat racing season.
The race Fiona will take on sees leading women from business, sport, fashion and media take the rei ns –and though she’s trained consistently over the l ast seven months says she can ‘never be prepared’ for when the day comes.
‘So many things can happen on the day like the weather, a flagged start or your horse could spook,’ she says.
‘[To be a jockey] it’s about madness. Definitely madness. All the jockeys have got such character because it’s not an easy job.
‘I think people think you just get on a horse and it goes but the fitness they have to maintain, one to be so light and two to build the core strength, I would say they need determination – a never-say die attitude.’
Fiona has also signed up to the E1 series, an all-electric motorboat championship racing on water in cities around the world to drive positive change in protecting coastal areas.
She’s hoping to be accepted to participate for next year.’
To donate to Fiona’s fundraiser supporting the Prince's Trust go to www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Fiona-Litchfield