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Interview with Charlotte Budd

Charlotte BuddFirst run in 1877, The Grand National is one of the most well-known horse races in the world. In 1977, a 21-year-old named Charlotte Budd became the first woman in 100 years to ride in the Grand National, on her beloved horse,

Barony Fort. Charlotte now runs a successful catering business – and still adores horses. She talks to First Women UK about what it is to be a female – and a First –  in the changing world of horse racing, amazed that, ‘anyone would want to know anything  about me 41 years later…’

Racing is still quite a hard profession to break into

In 1977, women’s sport was way, way behind in other spheres compared to racing. There was no women’s football, and women’s cricket had only just started. It was only on horses that men and women competed on equal terms.

Back then, most of the jockeys who knew me were ok, and the ones who disliked amateurs or women just avoided me. They were never hostile to my face – unlike some of the trainers and media. That was difficult for me as a 20-year-old, straight out of boarding school. I was always polite, which I probably shouldn’t have been! Julian Wilson, the lead journalist for the BBC was very outspokenly nasty about me, and I received a lovely letter from the BBC secretaries saying that because of that, they were refusing to type for him!

There was always somebody unexpectedly jumping to my defence, including Fred Winter – the most famous jockey and trainer of all time. I remember he once said that, ’any professional who was concerned about one girl on her hunter shouldn’t call themselves a professional.’ I also received supportive telegrams from Bruce Hobbs, the youngest jockey to win the National on the smallest horse and Captain Ryan Price, another leading trainer, wishing me well for the race.

Nowadays, woman are generally well accepted in the racing world. They now have their own changing room – I used to have to get changed in the first aid room! Although there still aren’t enough of them, more trainers are happy to put women up on their horses. Bryony Frost has single-handedly raised the bar for the women. Her riding is absolutely superb, but prior to that there were the two Irish girls, Katie Walsh and Nina Carberry who ride just as well as the blokes. Rachael Blackmore is now a leading Champion Jockey in Irish National Hunt racing. That said, there are lots of very talented riders who never seem to get the big break they need.

Racing has changed a lot in 40 years – especially the injuries

As a young pony club tetrathlete I was very fit and single-minded. Every evening after the day’s work I would go for a run, then to circuit training at the gym and then swim. If you had a fall, you just had to get yourself as fit as you could as quickly as you could and then pretend to the doctor that you were fit enough to ride again.

Now, there are three jockey rehab centres where all jockeys – not just the professionals – can get excellent attention. They all have to pass the doctor at the British Horseracing Authority before racing again. They are all encouraged to have private health insurance to help with the cost of getting the best treatments. And they are encouraged get better as quickly as possible – in order to keep earning.

When I raced in The Grand National, I suppose I was young and quite inexperienced… although at the time I didn’t really think about it

I had been point-to-pointing for about three years and riding and eventing from a young age. I was in the Foxhunters [a steeplechase, run over the Grand National fences]  the year before the National, and was far more nervous in that.

I wasn’t sure whether Barony [her horse] would know that the fences would be different and that he would have to clear right over them rather than brushing through the top of them. Luckily, he just somehow seemed to know.

My inspirations?

I once spent a glorious summer riding out for Henry Cecil [British flat racing horse trainer] – everyone loved him! I always admired Jenny Pitman [the first woman to train a Grand National winner], but was always rather scared of her. She had quite a reputation. I’m sorry we never got to meet until quite recently and we both got on really well. Outside of racing, I admire all my very bright hard-working children.

Life is forever throwing out Googlies

…The current [Corona Virus] crisis being just one. I am so lucky to have the horses and dogs to look after, which maintains a certain degree of normality. I am also lucky to live out in the country. I can’t begin to imagine how awful it must be for people living in tower blocks with children. I love my work in catering which has continued to expand and requires a certain endurance and steadfastness – but I still only do it so that I can go on having the point-to-pointers!

I have always loved horses

I’m certainly not a horse whisperer, but I love getting to know them (well, most of them) and all their funny little foibles. I was brought up on a farm with horses and ponies and just never wanted to do anything else. In those days of course, there wasn’t much else to do. All my friends rode and had ponies, and life really just evolved round all things horse. From my parents point of view it was great because horses need constant attention. So I would be up and off at the crack of dawn trying to catch my pony, then spending endless hours looking after it.  Nowadays, there are so many different things that children can do. All my children love sports and play rugby or cricket or participate in triathlons, and although they can all ride none of them wanted to carry on with it.

I’m not very good at being a mentor

Racing, as I have already said, is quite difficult to break into and the young lads are always trying to impress you when we are schooling the horses over the fences up at Philip Hobbs [racing stables]. I’ve given two boys their first winner and that gives me as much pleasure as anything. But I’m not a good mentor really because I’m not good at telling them where they’ve gone wrong! If they’ve ridden a bad race, they don’t want to see you anyway, and I’m definitely not going to bawl them out at a meeting, so I’m hopeless on that score!

…But I am really good at dealing with difficult people.

You’d be amazed at what I have to deal with when catering. The most important thing is to listen very carefully and hear people out completely. It’s only then that you explain why what you are proposing is better! I have learnt that it’s not actually what you do as a caterer but your capacity for responding quickly and on the hoof. I try and have a complete run through of the occasion with the client beforehand and then put it down on paper to send to them, so that we both know exactly what is going to happen when. You also have to be flexible and not worry about timings too much. Weddings in particular have a nasty habit of running late.  Always be ready on time – but don’t worry if things overun. Sometimes the beef just has to go in and out of the oven several times!

A great team means no sleepless nights

I don’t really get nervous nowadays. I used to get very anxious before a big occasion and lose sleep, but I’m used to the pressure now. It makes a massive difference having great help. Anita, my right-hand woman, is absolutely fantastic. I couldn’t manage without her and she has a lot of equally dependable friends who come to the rescue at short notice. Stress is reduced by spreading the load and being able to delegate, and we all get on well, so when we meet up at weddings through the summer we are genuinely pleased to see each other. And have a G&T together afterwards! As for me, I tend not to have emotional worries of my own. Only about the children. And the dogs. The horses are always doing stupid things, so I no longer worry about them at all…

Find out more about Charlotte at: http://www.charlottebuddcatering.co.uk

Interview by Deborah Willimott


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