She is cycling royalty – affectionately known as “Queen Victoria” to her adoring fans – but her latest race was never going to be an easy ride.
Victoria Pendleton had done it all on the velodrome’s banked boards, winning two Olympic gold medals and nine world titles before hanging up her cleats after the 2012 London Games.
On Thursday, the Briton’s sporting career clicked back into gear again, not on the cycling track but on the turf at Newbury Racecourse as she made her first competitive outing as an amateur jockey in a charity race.
In the end, it was a creditable debut with Pendleton finishing eighth out of a field of 11 boasting several experienced riders, including New Zealand’s veteran three-day eventer Mark Todd.
Her mount, Mighty Mambo, got off to a slow start in the one-mile, five-furlong race and remained towards the rear of the field before making up some places as the finishing line neared.
But after only four months’ training – her only prior equine experience were seaside donkey rides in her youth – Pendleton was satisfied with the result and clearly itching for more saddle time.
“It was over too quickly. I wish I could do it again – it was so much fun. It’s the most incredible feeling and nothing comes close to that moment you first gallop and canter a horse,” Pendleton said, Racing Post bloodstock reported.
“It’s crazy to think how you have to rely on something else so much, and it’s a really interesting relationship. You’ve got to keep your cool to a whole new level because they know how you feel.”
Pendleton started riding in March after accepting a challenge from a UK betting company to become an amateur jockey with the ultimate aim of racing in the Foxhunter Chase at next year’s Cheltenham Festival.
Expert help has been on hand from Yogi Breisner, performance manager for the British equestrian team, as well as 20-time champion jockey AP McCoy – who dropped in to see Pendleton at her Oxfordshire training base last month.
“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,” Pendleton recently said in her training blog.
“It’s blown me away, the racing community has been outstanding and I’ve made so many new friends through it already.”
Despite an intensive training program Pendleton’s attitude has remained positive throughout, says Lawney Hill, the Oxfordshire-based trainer of her race mount Mighty Mambo.
“Victoria is a true professional,” Hill said in a statement.
“She arrives on time, every day, and always looks immaculate … She is happy riding out with anyone at the yard, saddles her own horse and washes her horse off.”
It’s an approach that helped Pendleton reach the heights on the cycling track, but only after suffering a career nadir in 2004 when a crisis of confidence almost saw her quit the sport.
With the help of sports psychologist Steve Peters whose acclaimed methods of mind management – notably the “Chimp Paradox Model” – Pendleton was soon back on track.
“I credit him with changing my life and turning my career round,” she says of Peters.
The following year Pendleton was pedaling to sprint gold at the 2005 UCI Track Cycling World Championships and a further eight world titles followed.
She is also Britain’s most successful female Olympian, with two golds (Sprint and Keirin) and a silver medal to her name.
With her first competitive horse race safely negotiated, Pendleton’s next goal is to attain her Category A Amateur License before embarking on a series of Point to Point races in the autumn.
“Although I’ve learned so much already, today has shown me that there’s plenty more hard work ahead if I am to achieve my goal of riding at the Cheltenham Fesitval next year,” she said.