It's been exactly a month since I announced that I'd be Switching Saddles and learning to become an amateur jockey, with the aim of riding in the Foxhunters at Cheltenham in 2016. The messages of support and overall positivity from media, the horse racing industry and wider public has been unbelievable, so thank you.
I was under no illusions that this challenge was going to be easy and being at Cheltenham last month for two days of the Festival really brought it all home, but it wouldn't be a challenge if it wasn't challenging.
Since the announcement, I've managed to quietly get on with the intensive coaching Betfair have organised for me. I've been putting in the hours day-in, day-out with my coaches and I have to say, I've loved it. It's amazing to think how early in my journey I still am, but that desire to learn more and train hard has already hit.
One of the things I realised early on is that people don't do racing because they kind of like it, they live for it. I don't think people quite understand how hard jockeys and those involved in horse racing work, and I've got to give it the same amount, if not more, if I'm to achieve my ambitious goal.
So much has changed in these last few weeks it's hard to know where to start. It's been a bit of a whirlwind so far. Yogi (Breisner) my coach has been incredible, he's an absolute legend. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to work with him and his incredible temperament and demeanour, he's always positive, enthusiastic and I'm absolutely thriving off that.
We've been building progress steadily, moving through the basics and trying to introduce new things little by little. The first step was getting comfortable in a saddle, learning what to do with my hands and the reins, how to handle a horse and how to canter.
Once I was in a position to take the next step the Betfair team and I then decided I was ready to learn to jump, as well as shortening the stirrups and trying a racing saddle.
So far I've worked with seven different horses, with each one designed for a different job. The lovely Miss Hazel, a 23 year old ex-eventing horse has been gently introducing me to jumping and Champ, a former Blenheim winner is the horse we've been using to canter and practice with the racing saddle.
On Thursday last week something clicked, I climbed on Champ in a racing saddle to start jumping. It felt amazing. When the work you've put in comes together it all seems worth it, but there's still a long way to go and I have to keep taking these small steps.
Previous experience helps massively, as each time something goes wrong or right I try to step away and think how can I improve on that, how can I do that better. It's a mind-set that I already had from my cycling days, and through years of coaching I've come to understand that learning from failure is what makes you successful.
Horse riding has become a huge part of my life already. It's all I want to do when I wake up. It's blindsided me in a way, I knew I'd love it because I love animals and I've always wanted to ride, but it's all I can think about. It's a proper challenge and I go to bed thinking about it, I wake up thinking about what I'm going to do differently in training today, it's totally taken over my world.
Lately I've even started going out hacking with my neighbour and training with a local Paralympian in my spare time which means I'm roughly riding once a day. I've even got Scott, my husband, back on a horse for the first time in a long time, and this weekend we went to watch our first point to point race. I'm getting stuck in too, you've got to. I've been cleaning bridles, saddles and oiling them up, but I've only shovelled a little bit of poop so far. I'm open to doing more of course!
One of the best things about this experience is I've met so many new people that have been so generous and so supportive along the way. It's blown me away, the racing community has been outstanding and I've made so many new friends through it already.
I'm doing something new every day and there are some big milestones coming up - Yogi and the team think that if I keep working hard I can be 'riding out' with local trainers come June and they're looking at possibly riding in a charity flat race in July as part of my development programme. It's all so exciting.
But, as Yogi keeps saying, one step at a time, and next up is a trip to the British Racing School; Betfair has organised for me to attend and discuss doing a training course with them. It will be an important step in my training as I start to ride real racehorses and I'm really excited about it.
Anyway, I'll keep you posted on here, and next time you hear from me I could well be 'riding out' already...
VP - @V_Pendleton