Bryony Frost column: Cheltenham, returning from serious injury & the 'complicated puzzle' of horses

Jockey Bryony Frost
Cheltenham Festival
Venue: Cheltenham Racecourse Dates: 12-15 March First race: 13:30 GMT
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, plus text commentary, racecards and reports on the BBC Sport website and app.

Bryony Frost, 23, is one of the rising stars of jump racing. She rode a winner at the Cheltenham Festival in 2017, on Pacha Du Polder, and her big hope this year is Frodon.

In her first BBC Sport column, she explains why Cheltenham is so special, her obsession with racehorses, how she dealt with serious injuries and her hopes for the week.

Cheltenham - and winning on 'the coolest dude'

The Festival is the heartbeat of racing - the Olympics for our equine athletes.

The bravery and courage within those four days is something that I really admire.

When you are there and watching it, you can see it is the best of the best taking on each other.

When I won on 'Pach' I was proud of him.

Bryony Frost with her father Jimmy
Game face on: Frost with her father Jimmy, a jockey turned trainer

I always talk about horses as he or she, as though they are like us humans.

He was always a hero, the coolest dude going, but never quite got the recognition he deserved. His owner Andy Stewart had the likes of Big Buck's (who won a record 18 consecutive races).

It was lovely to get his day in the sunshine and get his place in the winner's enclosure.

My second feeling was I'd been able to achieve what my dad (Jimmy) and brother (Hadden) did which was a massive thing.

I'd watched them as a kid when they won at the Festival. It was always something I felt was out of my reach so I'd never dreamed about it.

'Horses know you - they are fantastic'

They are the most complicated puzzles in the world to me. They are all different and have their likes and dislikes. Some jockeys get on better with some horses.

Frodon and I have been partnered with each other for two seasons and have got to know each other really well.

He's numb in his braveness. He's more competitive and braver than I am. He wants it. He knows his races and courses so well.

If he was a kid who went to school, he would definitely come out with A stars.

When he was younger, he was quite bullish and a know-it-all. This year, we have really clicked, we have just found this wave we are riding on together.

I know for a fact he will offer me 100% of himself, and I will give it right back. 'Frod' is the man. It's a privilege to be with him.

Midway through last season, I lost my 'claim' (weight allowance for less experienced riders) and I could have been taken off him but the owners and Paul kept me with him, which was a massive deal. It was a moment when I didn't really talk, I just felt thankful and relieved - then within that split second, hungry to go again with him.

Horses know you. They are fantastic.

Bryony Frost on Frodon
Frodon has won three times for Frost this season, including twice at Cheltenham

I love it because the world is very loud and we all communicate by talking, and sometimes it takes you away from watching and listening.

With horses it's all silent, but the signs between each other are louder than they are between a person. You watch the calmness in the eyes, their veins, the skin, how they are breathing.

You have to assess whether they are happy on the inside of the track or on the outside, which way they like to gallop round. Some like to get close in to a jump. You try to help them or take a longer stride if needed.

There's all these little things. You have to think out of the box, to try to make it easier for them.

You communicate by feeling them when you ride. Sometimes you put your hands down the neck or you put your arms a bit lower, so they know you are there.

It's like looking down at your car and seeing how much petrol you've got left.

You want to have that minute when they can get a good breath of air.

I rarely talk to them, but when I do, it's normally: 'You all right?' Or maybe: 'How you doing there?' You just want to get into a rhythm.

I've got horses that have had fantastic careers. I'm just part of those. In my career, my goal is to give whatever horse I ride the best possible chance of being someone.

At a young age, I used to run a bit and was quite good - but my nerves were rubbish. I couldn't handle being on my own.

Ever since I started competing - from the age of four - from ponies, to point to points, showjumping and racing, I don't see it as being about me. I am working for them.

Whatever I do, whatever walk of life, it will involve a horse. They're like my best mates.

My rules to live life by

Bryony Frost poses with a racegoer for a selfie
Frost poses with a racegoer for a selfie

I've never had goals or wanted to be anything special. I've just wanted to be with special horses.

I have a few metaphors I live by.

The main one is this: if you look up at the top of the mountain, it is a very long way up; if you end up in the middle of the mountain, you've done good; if you get to the summit, you've done great.

I believe in giving time to everyone because I'll get time off someone later on.

You are a sponge in life. You have to watch and learn off everybody.

The time you believe you are good, you can't improve any more and you start going backwards. I have to be better. It's a fast-lived life where you always feel you are against the clock. I have lived that since the moment I turned up.

Cheltenham rides this week - Frodon: 'He's my guy'

In Paul Nicholls' yard, Harry Cobden is the number one jockey, so he rides all the horses. If there is a second ride in the race, it is down to who Paul and the owner want, so I won't know until the final declarations.

When you get your opportunity, you have to make the most of it and that's the way of life. Hopefully I get to pick up a couple more for the yard.

Already I will ride Brandon Castle, who has won his past three, in the opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle. He's a bit of a speed merchant who likes to dictate from the front.

When you have a chance to have a horse that can run at Cheltenham, you take it - and you can pretty much have a certain bet he'll be the first one over the first hurdle. I think I'll win the Mars Bar for that.

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Wet and windy start to the Cheltenham Festival

The roar at the start will be awesome and I get to ride that little guy. It's quite cool to look at the bookings and think: 'OK, I've got one.'

I know I will be riding Frodon. He's my guy, my biggest chance of the week. If the ground is soft, we will be leaning more towards the Ryanair Chase.

The race is more within our reach than the Gold Cup would be, with the possibility of soft ground, and you've got to let your head rule your heart.

He likes to get in his own comfort zone and rhythm, and wouldn't be scared of a fast-run race.

I'll ride Lil Rockerfeller in the Stayers' Hurdle on the Thursday. You just try to keep your routine and treat it like every other race you ride in.

You've done your homework, tried to think outside the box. You just focus on you and your horse. You don't really think of the stage until you have done it.

Recovering from serious injury

Bryony had three months out after a serious fall last year.

It was my first of the year. I was really rolling, and I had to stop. It's the first time I've properly stopped.

I had a saddle slip at Newton Abbot and came off. The horse behind's hind leg stood on my sternum.

I had a cracked sternum, rebroke the T7 which I broke in a previous fall, fractured my T8. And what else did it turn out I had? A lacerated pancreas, liver aneurysm and internal damage.

I walked off and in my head I was thinking: 'Great, I'll be back on Saturday.' That was my naivety. When I went in for a second scan, it showed the aneurysm.

Every time the doctors came to see me, the news got a little bit worse.

You can push yourself on, but they said if I pushed it too far, it would burst the aneurysm and you won't be here.

For the first month, I couldn't put my heart rate above 140. I'm obsessively dedicated to my horses and I had nothing to dedicate to.

I stayed in close contact with my yard, watched all my horses run and watched some go past the post first without me. That was difficult.

I drove up to the moor and sat on the tor and lost my life for a month.

Then I went to Oaksey House in Lambourn, which is supported by the Injured Jockeys' Fund, and that was my rehabilitation. I said to them that I want to be in here until I am ready to ride.

Black Corton's owners flew me and my brother - fellow jockey Hadden, who is now based in the United States - to Barbados. We were unbelievably close in childhood and it was our last chance to catch up before carrying on. I always try to see a positive from a negative.

My head was moving faster than my body but I came out 110% ready to go. I was stronger, I was built up and I was ready to take on a hard season.

Away from racing

I'm all right at surfing. I don't get to do it much, but will go if I get a weekend off.

You get out there and just catch a bit of stillness. It's a cool place to be.

I do the odd bit of rock climbing and mountain bike riding, but on my days off I still ride horses and take one across the moor.

Bryony Frost was speaking to BBC Sport's Frank Keogh

Bryony Frost rides The Knot Is Tied at Sandown Park Racecourse
Festival prep: Riding The Knot Is Tied at Sandown Park Racecourse at the weekend

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