A WOMAN from Askwith is giving her all for a charity challenge in memory of dad.

Claire Shepherd, 60, has been training for months in preparation for her place in the Ernest Cooper Macmillan Ride of Their Lives charity race. The race itself involves months of intense jockey training before racing thoroughbred horses at York Racecourse. Claire cites her dad, who passed away in December 2019, as the reason she applied to take part. She said: “My Dad supported my love of horses; took me to competitions, built jumps, picked me up when I fell down and quietly encouraged me to ‘focus, one fence at a time’

“It’s a real honour to have been chosen to take part in the race, I hope I can play a small part in helping others receive the essential Macmillan care my dad had.

“The physical side of this challenge has been much harder than I anticipated, the training has been intense; sit ups, press ups, bikes, horse equiciser to name a few.

“It takes real strength to be able to ride a half tonne horse at 30 miles an hour, there’s no doubt about it, all of us riders have had to become as strong as jockeys to take part.”

Claire was originally selected for a place in the amateur race in December 2019, and was due to ride in June 2020 but Covid meant a 15 month delay. Claire has only recently got back in the saddle following a long break from horse riding. Having left the NHS in 2013 Claire came back to help set up the Nightingale Hospital in Manchester, living there for four months in isolation from her family and friends.

She said: “When the pandemic first struck I knew I had to play my part and put all ideas of horse racing out of my mind. I had worked in the NHS for many years and it felt really important to be useful during that time.

“In hindsight there were a lot of similarities with horse racing, it was scary, and I found I switched one high risk activity for another.

“After all the build-up for the race, I can’t wait to be at the starting line at the Knavesmire, I’ve tried on my jockey outfit, I’m definitely feeling nervous but equally excited.

“We’ve been lucky, all the riders have been so supportive, we’ve all had wobbles and self-doubts, but we support each other through it, there’s a real sense of camaraderie.”

Claire has raised over £7,000 for Macmillan through her fundraising which included hosting her own festival in August.

She said: “The festival was the jewel in my fundraising crown, I loved every minute of it, we had DJ sets, a secret cinema, a camp out. I discovered the secret to fundraising is organising things you enjoy.

“People have importantly donated their time in preparing me for the race, local horse trainers Sam England Racing in Guiseley have been incredible in helping me get to this point, as well as Sam’s mum putting up her horse for me to race, making it a real family affair.

“I have found asking people for money hard, especially over the almost two years that I’ve been building up to the race and the impact of the pandemic on people but friends and family have been so generous. As well as sponsors Whiteburn Property Developers, Leathers Accountants, Proctor Landscapes, Pharmall Animal Feed, Beavers horse shop, Loft Furniture, Tim Leigh and ServiceLoo hire. I’m humbled that we have raised that much for a charity so close to my heart.”

The 12 amateur riders taking part have collectively raised over £100,000 for Macmillan, this will support the charity’s Yorkshire Appeal, providing vital support to people living with cancer in the region.

Claire added: “When dad was ill I was completely bowled over by the care we received from Macmillan; from the second they came in, it was like something came in around us and held us.

“Macmillan had that capacity to alleviate some of our pain and grief, they are not only experts in palliative care, but in listening and understanding people.

“Dad won’t make the race but he will be riding it with me.”

The Ernest Cooper Macmillan Ride of Their Lives race, which was postponed from June 2020, will take place as part of a new race meeting at York Racecourse on Friday 24 September 2021.

The race will coincide with the Macmillan’s flagship fundraising event Coffee Morning, which sees people come together to raise funds for people living with cancer. Racing fans can support Claire and the other riders in September by donating on their JustGiving pages here: https://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/macmillan/macmillanraceday2020 and by attending the race.

For further information and to book tickets visit the York Racecourse website.