Jane Hedley is currently Clerk of the Course at Nottingham and Warwick Racecourse having gone through the Jockey Club’s trainee Clerk of the Course Scheme. She has a wide variety of experience having worked in various roles across the industry. Here she tells us more about how her career has evolved to date.
How did your career start off?
I grew up in the Scottish Borders on a farm where I was lucky enough to ride from a young age so came up through pony club and progressed to hunting and point to pointing. Therefore, I always had an interest in racing but I actually studied Agriculture at University. Initially, I wanted to be a vet but possibly spent too much time riding out and not enough studying! Therefore, a degree in Agriculture seemed a good alternative which I completed at Edinburgh University.
And what was your route in racing and how did your career progress?
I kept up my interest in racing through point to pointing and riding out in my spare time through University and then took a summer working for Kevin Prendergast in Ireland which was a really steep learning curve! I then went onto to work for various different trainers including Henrietta Knight, John Hills and Alan King who pushed me forward and I gained some really invaluable skills working in their yards. I was keen at this point to move into an assistant trainer role but nothing was really available at that time so I had a period working for a recruitment agency who were quite unique in that they recruited staff for training yards. This didn’t really take off at this time so sadly that role ended. I found myself without work and set about writing to numerous employers in the industry. I was amazingly fortunate to be taken on by Lisa Hancock (Now Chief Executive of the IJF) who then was Managing Director of Newmarket Racecourses. I very much enjoyed my time at Newmarket and Lisa was kind enough to give me a good reference for my next role in Marketing and Nominations at Shadwell. This was a really lovely role and was great for my CV going forwards, but still in my mid-twenties at this stage, I was really missing being “hands on”, and also missed my northern roots. So when the role of assistant trainer to Richard Guest, who was based near Durham at the time, came up, it was something I couldn’t not try.
I will admit that I found the management of people in this role difficult as looking back I just hadn’t really developed those skills. I had a period of disillusionment after this role not really knowing what I wanted to do. However, after a winter back home in Scotland (temping for the local NHS!) I was willing to give racing one last chance when the position of yard manager came up at Johnston Racing. This turned out to be the most influential role in my career to date in terms of responsibilities, working to targets, skills development, people management and learning how the business was run. I was in this position for six years and without that experience, I wouldn’t be where I am today. However, latterly I realised that I didn’t want to stay riding out and in a yard position forever and was actively looking for jobs for some time before the trainee Clerk of the Course opportunity came up, leading me on to where I am today.
What transferable skills would you say have been relevant to your different roles in the industry?
All of them! Seriously I would say that working in a racing yard prepares you for most jobs in life, never mind in the racing industry. You learn punctuality, working in a team, communication, working to time pressure, attention to detail, work ethic, multitasking and resilience to name just a few, not to mention all the horse-related skills which are very relevant to my role now. However, one thing I would advise people to do if they can is spend some time working in an office just learning basic communication and IT skills. I found this very alien when I first had to work in an office having spent most of my time in yards.
What other advice would you give to young people looking to make a career in racing?
For me the best piece of advice I can give is education. Be that getting a degree or just completing your education to the highest level you can. You can always ride out and work part time in the industry while you finish school, college or university and then get a full time job in a yard or wherever you want to be after. In fact, riding out is the perfect way to earn money and dovetails very well with college and university courses. Also take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way to develop your skills and build contacts, even if it means volunteering or working for free. For instance, while at Johnston Racing I volunteered for the TBA and ended up becoming Chairman of the then “Next Generation Committee” (now re-branded “The Thoroughbred Club”). Through this, I made connections which are still invaluable today. I also applied for the Alex Scott Memorial Scholarship which I was lucky enough to win, meaning I spent some time working in Dubai. It was during this time that I spotted the Trainee Clerk of the Course role advertised by Jockey Club Racecourses. Buoyed by the confidence of having won the scholarship (and perhaps the Dubai sunshine!) I applied for this role, and once again I owe huge thanks to the individual who recognised a rough diamond and gave me a chance, in this case, Kirkland Tellwright.
So the moral of this slightly long story is always look out for other development opportunities while you are in your current role and make the most of them. This additional effort makes your CV stand out when it comes to interviews. Otherwise, I think you have to be prepared to start at the bottom in whatever role you wish to move into. Swanning in at management level may seem the more attractive option, but you are far more likely to win the respect of those around you if you have walked in their shoes. Finally, I think it’s really important to be flexible in regards to location. If you are really serious about your career, you have to be prepared to move to where the opportunities are. Leaving behind family, friends and familiar surroundings is probably the very hardest choice, and it’s a very personal one. All I can promise you is that it gets easier with practice. I know, I’ve had plenty!