This week we've caught up with someone who is not only passionate about point-to-pointing but also has a full-time job in the racing world. Fiona Needham needs little introduction; with a strong pointing breeding herself, top positions on pointing committees and producing her own runners too, it's safe to say Fiona lives and breathes the sport!
How are you involved in pointing?
I'm an owner, trainer & groom! I'm also Area PPSA Chairman, an independent member of the PPA Board and Clerk of the Course at Catterick.
What is your favourite aspect of pointing?
The informality & the camaraderie of the sport is brilliant.
How did you get into pointing?
My parents had point-to-pointers and my Dad rode in points until he was 60. I never considered not pointing; in fact my Dad used to run my stirrups up for me on my 11 hands pony to show me how I would ride as a jockey...probably the shortest I ever rode!
What is your day job?
General Manager and Clerk of the Course at Catterick Racecourse. As a small racecourse with 28 days racing throughout the year, both flat and jump, I am involved in all aspects of raceday and non-raceday events. Working with a small team in the office and on the course, each day is never the same as we deal with the preparation & renovation of the turf, fences, hurdles & ground, whilst also speaking to trainers, owners, the course inspector, vets, doctors, caterers, security & cleaners, as well as organising race planning, marketing and sales.
What's been the biggest lesson in your working life?
Never think you have everything covered!
How would you describe pointing to someone that hasn’t been before?
Amateur jump racing, in the great countryside with something for all the family. Bring a picnic...and your wellies!
What’s your pointing highlight?
Not strictly pointing but as a rider winning the Cheltenham Foxhunters. Also, this year Sine Nomine winning four consecutive point-to-points, going through the progressive stages and showing what I thought and hoped she could do was particularly special too.
Fiona & Last Option winning the Cheltenham Foxhunters in 2002
Who's a figure in racing you admire?
Rachael Blackmore achieved a lot of firsts for a female jockey but really is just a brilliant jockey and doesn’t expect any concessions!
Explain your role on the PPA Board & what the PPA continues to do for pointing.
As an independent board member and a representative for the north of the country, I am there to provide feedback and views from all participants and to hopefully provide balance on the board with those who represent constituent groups. The PPA works tirelessly for the good of pointing and in particular, lead by Peter Wright, has kept pointing going through three very turbulent years with equine flu and Covid. Some of the decisions made by the board may not always be popular and some may not always be totally successful but they are always made with the best interests of the sport at heart.
If you could change one thing in pointing, what would it be?
Climate change! The seasons seem to be altering with longer drier periods, although the winters do seem milder which is a plus.
Where’s your favourite point-to-point & why?
Witton Castle as that was where I had my first winner and it was always very lucky for me.
What’s your earliest pointing memory?
The now sadly closed Whitwell on the Hill; going with my parents when my Dad was riding. I think he fell, Mum wasn’t very pleased anyway!
What do you think lies for the future of pointing? I am always a glass half full person and I think after the challenging recent years there seems to be more enthusiasm for pointing but I appreciate it has to adapt to survive. I hope that it continues to be accessible to all ranges and although the commercial angle is increasing, we don’t want to alienate the owner riders as many of those become involved in running points in the future. With many hunts in a state of flux and a few hunts merging, it is great when point-to-points can be run by hunts as a fundraiser in the traditional sense, but it may become increasingly necessary for club meetings to fill voids to form a viable fixture list in some areas.
What's your favourite aspect of training pointers?
The pointers are my ‘stress buster’ away from the day job, and I love being hands-on with the horses, but it’s a lot more fun when they are winning!
What is your current set-up/training operation?
I train on my parents’ farm so it is very traditional with a lot of hill work and steady cantering. We are also very lucky to have access to 3,000 acres of forestry so there is plenty of variety and as we pull out at 6/6.30am in the depths of winter to get done before work it is just as well we can avoid roads. We also ride and lead a lot which saves time and the horses seem to enjoy it. I am very lucky that my evergreen Dad still rides out at 84 and enjoys it but he is a fair-weather rider now! The horses live in sheds which seems to keep them happy and saves on mucking out! The only time that we have to alter is if Dad buys too many cattle or lambing time and shed space may be required for paying guests!
If you could train any point-to-pointer in the country, who would you choose & why?
Go Go Geronimo; what a fun horse who seems to keep improving, and by a sire that I love, Midnight Legend.
Any hobbies outside of horses?
I help on the farm as well so there isn’t a lot of spare time but we are very lucky to live in a beautiful part of the country in the North York Moors National Park so walking with the dogs takes up any spare time
Thank you so much Fiona and what a fantastic season you have had! See you in the autumn!