I had never ridden in any form of organised horse race before last weekend, so to win the Up The Yard Challenge at Punchestown was unbelievable. After watching a couple of the girls at Gordon Elliott’s do so well in previous runnings, the thought of competing had crossed my mind but it was only after a previous winner, Camilla Sharples, nominated me that I decided to go for it.

While I come from a farming background, I never had any real interest in horse racing. I got into ponies and stuff through my auntie, May Gilisenan. It was basically just hunting, show jumping and cross-country.

Even in secondary school, I never worked with racehorses or had a summer job in any yard. After my Leaving Certificate, I spent two years at Kildalton College in Kilkenny.

When I moved back home, just by chance, someone sent me a message to say Gordon Elliott was looking for staff. I sent my CV in and was lucky enough that I got the job. At that time, I had lots of experience with horses but had never sat on a thoroughbred. From the very beginning, I rode out in Gordon’s and it has always been a great place to work.

Learning the ropes

When I first went in, I was working in a barn overseen by Caitriona Bolger. She was very good to me, showing me the ropes. I learned how to bandage horses, check their legs and stuff like that. After a few years, an opening came up to manage another barn and I was given the opportunity to do that.

The Goffer, the horse I rode to win the race on Sunday, was under my care at one stage but after coming back from a break, he went to a different barn.

At the moment, amongst the 29 horses in my barn are Conflated, Gevrey, Samcro, Piped Piper, Andy Dufresne, Chemical Energy and Kish Bank. I also lead up the latter pair at the races, along with Zanahiyr who I only started going racing with in the last couple of weeks.

Although not living in my barn, in his last run at Thurles, I led him up for the first time.

I enjoy watching the horses I look after run their races but like almost everyone here, Tiger Roll winning his back-to-back Grand Nationals would be my highlight since I started in Gordon’s.

The Up The Yard Challenge was something I had watched over the last few years. Caitriona (Bolger) did so well in it last year (third), while Camilla won it the previous year. I said in my head that I’d love to do it but I never really went for it.

When Camilla told me that she had nominated me for this year’s race I just thought why not just go for it. Caitriona also encouraged me to give the race a go, so I am delighted that I listened to them!

Gordon picked out seven horses for me but as the weeks went on, he had that list narrowed down to two. Myself and Jody McGarvey rode The Goffer and Samui in their last pieces of work after which Gordon gave me the choice of which one I wanted to ride. I said that I would ride The Goffer.


My instructions were to sit mid division, keeping a good hold of him. Gordon told me to wait until we turned into the straight, then go for it. The race went very quick to be honest. From the position I was in, I did get a chance to think about what I was doing. I could see the bend coming up, so I knew when to go, if you get me? To be honest, I didn’t even know that Samui, the other horse I could have ridden, was the one behind me. I was smiling before I got to the winning post. I knew that The Goffer was so far in front that we weren’t going to be caught.

As I had never ridden in any race before I had to get help from so many people! Apart from Gordon, Caitriona and Camilla who were all so good to me, I had to borrow my gear from various others.

Eliece Elliott supplied the breeches; I used Lisa O’Neill’s saddle. Carl Millar gave me a back protector, while my boots belonged to point-to-point jockey Ben Brabazon!

I am so thankful to everyone for making it such a special day. I got great support from Gordon and all the staff, while most of my family came up (from Westmeath). I’d like to also thank the owner Allan Show, for letting me use his horse for the race.

Although the temptation might be to retire with a 100% record, to be honest, I’d love to give it a go again! I really enjoyed the whole experience of the Up The Yard Challenge and it was a great day; especially how I got on. I couldn’t recommend it enough to anyone that, like me, might have been thinking about it but just never went for it before.

Emma was in conversation with John O’Riordan