Victoria Pendleton: ‘You don’t get on a horse and jump a fence for a publicity stunt’
It is still dark at 7.15 on a December morning as Victoria Pendleton opens the boot of her car and drapes a saddle over her left shoulder while her right hand scoops up the boots and racing helmet which define her changed life. Pendleton is full of fizz and warmth as she heads to the stables to start work at Alan and Lawney Hill’s racing yard in Oxfordshire. The double Olympic gold medal winner, and nine-times world champion sprint cyclist, chats happily as she brushes and tacks up a horse in preparation for the first of two work sessions. We are a long way from the gleaming velodromes where we have met so often in the past. In such a tranquil setting we also feel removed from the bone-breaking dangers of jump racing.
It is only later, as other horses move across the yard, that there is a sudden quickening of the senses. Pendleton climbs on to a rippling racehorse. The sound of hooves gathering pace beneath a grey winter sky brings home that this is very real.
Nine months ago the 35-year-old Pendleton had never even sat on a horse – apart from when, as she says, “I was put on a pony as a kid at some birthday party when you’re all led around”. Last weekend she rode in her first steeplechase race on a point-to-point course near Exeter. This Sunday she will take part in her second point-to-point – having had only four rides on the Flat in the summer where she finished second in her first race under rules and then fell a few months later at Newbury. Her aim is to improve so quickly that she will qualify for the Foxhunters’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March.