LONDON (Reuters) - British jump jockey Bryony Frost is gearing up for what could be the most exciting week of her career at this week’s Cheltenham Festival but the 23-year-old is well aware that she is always potentially one fall away from ending it - or worse.
Frost already has a CV littered with injuries, including one horrific experience in July where she fractured multiple bones in her back. Yet like her bone-smashed family before her, she treats such setbacks as a mere occupational hazard.
“I take falls, shake it off and get on with it,” Frost told Reuters. “I’ve grown up watching my brother and dad take hits. I know how to get over it and move on. If your body’s not broken, your next horse could be your next winner, it’s just your mentality.”
Her mentality is admired by one of the sport’s most successful National Hunt trainers, Paul Nicholls, who employs Frost as a full-time stable jockey and lets her use some of his best horses.
Frost’s brother Hadden was a successful jump jockey before turning to show-jumping whilst her father is Jimmy Frost, a former jockey who won the Grand National in 1981. Now a trainer, he still plays a big part in his daughter’s life.
“Dad’s my rock. I would be lost without him,” she says.
“Dad let me ride my first racehorse at nine and gave me a mobile phone at four so I could go out riding on my own. It only had his number on it.”
Racing is overwhelmingly high risk, with an average of one fall in every 16 rides. Frost shows no fear, despite the fact both her brother and her father broke their backs racing and her cousin Sarah Gaisford was paralysed in a fall.
Frost herself has sustained multiple injuries, including one when a fall damaged her kidneys so badly that, after a brush with death, she underwent 12 operations and two months in hospital.
“Then I had a fall last summer and sustained a lacerated pancreas and liver, an aneurism, a cracked sternum and I fractured T8 and T7 (bones) in my back,” she says unperturbed.
Frost spent five weeks in Oaksey House, a rehab centre owned by the Injured Jockeys Fund. “I owe my career to those guys,” she adds. “They rebuilt my body and channelled my mind. You can feel so lost when you’re injured because your body is not keeping up with your mind.
“People have said to me ‘is it worth it?’ But horses and racing is my reason for living, I spend every waking hour thinking about it. There is nothing like it, that partnership you can have with a horse.
“They can’t talk but you connect with them by observing and feeling, through their body and breathing. They are all completely different and the quicker you work them out and become their friend, the more they are going to do with you.”
Frodon, the horse she won three out of four races with this season, may give Frost her first experience of The Gold Cup - the race they all want to win. The line-up will officially be announced on the day of the race next Friday.
“Frodon is the warrior you want to go to war with,” she says.
“It will be a massive moment for me to partner him. He gives me everything just as I give my everything to him.”
After recent good form for Nicholls and trainer Neil King, Frost is likely to have a handful of rides at The Festival but refuses to discuss her chances.
“I don’t set goals or say, I’m going to beat this person or win that race,” she says.
“It’s The Festival and such a rare thing to win. If you look at the top of the mountain, it’s a long way up but if you take it step by step then you will keep going up. If you only make it half way, well you’ve still done well and if you get to the top, only then you can take in the view.”
Great British Racing are showcasing extraordinary women in racing for International Women’s Day at The Cheltenham Festival from 12-15 March. For more information visit gbraci.ng/IWD
Reporting by Ellie Kelly, editing by Christian Radnedge