“Most days now I pinch myself …” eye-catching novice rider Liam Harrison tells us more about his background and aspirations!
photo courtesy & copyright Phil Britt
Off the mark on his first attempt between the flags at Larkhill, Liam Harrison doubled his tally at Barbury International. Along with Will Humphrey and George Chatterton, Liam looks set to be a leading player in this season’s PPORA Road To Stratford Novice Rider Contests.
In the second of the new season’s “In their own words” features, Liam talks about how it all started, this good fortune in attracting the support of Neil Mulholland, Andrew Doyle, Noel Fehily, and Sally and Robert Alner, and his aims for the coming season
… what’s the “day job”?
“I’m full time with Neil Mulholland, I try to get to a few other places to ride out when I can, and I also try to school for Sally and Robert Alner. I started riding out for Neil in the school holidays when I was 12 – we’d used his gallops and I rang up and asked if I could come up an spend a morning. I didn’t expect to ride, I would have been happy just mucking out, but I ended up doing 3 lots, and I loved it. I think I spent most of the holidays there.
Most days now I pinch myself! Growing up horses were my passion, and I just find it unbelievable that I’ve moved on from school and am starting to make a bit a living from it.
Neil’s been really supportive and given me great opportunities, schooling and some race rides – it was through his assistant Andrew Doyle that I was introduced to Robert and Sally Alner . I don’t think I’d have had such a great start to Pointing if I hadn’t been riding for them and I owe Andrew big thanks for that.
They are incredible people to ride for Sally has a great record of helping novice riders over the years, people like Daryl Jacob and Lorcan Williams . They are both unbelievably supportive, and Sally always says just to ring and ask if I need help. I haven’t known them for long but they already feel like family, and and I feel massively honoured to have their backing.”
… who or what ignited your passion for racing?
“I’m not from a racing background but we always used to watch it on a Saturday. We went Pointing one day and saw the pony racing – that caught my interest. Coincidentally that day we met an old friend who had a riding school, they gave me some lessons and then we bought a pony. We had no land of our own, we kept our ponies on a livery yard and boxed up to work them before or after school – that’s how I met Neil Mulholland. It’s not the most obvious route that a lot of people have – but it’s worked anyway.
Pony Racing was a great, I rode several winners but more important than that was progressing to riding in the pony races on race days at courses. That gives a real understanding of racing and how it all works, the etiquette, the clerk of the scales, stewards, walking the track, it helps you understand professionalism – they really teach you a lot. Training your pony helps develop horsemanship too, that’s another important benefit of it.”
… and which riders do you most admire?
“Noel Fehily, who rides a lot for Neil, and Ruby Walsh, they are both such natural riders they let it happen. Noel rides a lot for Neil and has been a big help to me especially with schooling and jumping.”
… tell us about your first Point to Point ride … and your first winner between the flags!
“My first ride was at Larkhill (December 2nd), I’d had six rides and a winner under Rules, (in an amateur riders’ hurdle race at Stratford in August riding Magical Thomas for his boss Neil Mulholland), but they were over hurdles and on the Flat. It was massively different riding over fences and I felt I learnt a lot that day.
It was a great help I had a willing partner in Tom Barton – he taught me a lot. He’d never won first time out before, so there was a bit of a question mark over that, but Sally had him spot on for the day.
When we jumped 3 or 4 out and I got hold of him again I knew there was plenty more to give, he swung into the straight and jumped the last really well. To win that race was an unbelievable feeling – you’d go a long way to repeat a feeling like that!”
… what did you learn that day
“Riding over three miles was different to what I’d done before, and it was my first time jumping a fence at racing pace. Although I’d done lots of schooling its very different doing it in a race and it taught me a lot about coming down to a fence. I had my second ride over fences at Wincanton and I felt completely different going out to ride in that race.”
… and a bit of advice you’d share with someone having their first race ride
“Ride a hole longer than you really want to – I was warned about that quite a lot. Don’t worry about looking stylish, get a nice completion and get your confidence up. Of course you want to look tidy, but you are better off to get your foot in the iron and get round than looking stylish but rolling off the top!”
… how did you celebrate?
“Fairly quietly – I try to stay level there’s more bad days than good days in racing You’ve got to enjoy the good days but so if you get too carried away the bad days seem worse and there can be plenty of those in racing so I try to stay level headed. After Larkhill we went home had a nice dinner and watched the replay – we probably burnt that out!!”
… and then you had a follow up at Barbury International
“Yes, my second ride, Truly Spoken, was in a Mares and Fillies Maiden there. There were several of the top riders in the race, people like Will Biddick and Martin McIntyre, it came as a real shock to win, but it was a nice touch that’s she’s owned by Robert Alner and that he was there to watch on the day.
I was incredibly lucky for my first two to win – that probably wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been riding for Sally.”
… looking ahead over the season what are your plans?
“I haven’t really set my targets on number of winners or championships, for me it’s really all about continuing to improve, keep learning, and to ride a couple of nice races along the way.
Pointing will be my main focus it’s great place to learn and make your mistakes. Anything under Rules will be a bonus. and I’ll take the opportunities as best I can – but Pointing is the main thing for now.
I’ll also keep working closely with my jockey coach Rodi Greene – we do lot on the simulator, and all with Aodhagan Conlan, a sports psychologist. Working with them is about developing not just as a jockey but also as a horsemen and a person.”
… and the longer term plan?
“After a couple of years as an amateur I’d love to turn conditional – it would be great to be able to make a living out of race riding.”