A Diary Entry – Fergal O’Brien, Jonjo O’Neill & Debbie Matthews.

Typically I write these posts based on one yard visit or event, however on Tuesday I had the sort of day that I feel the need to write about, it just doesn’t fit into my usual format. Which left me thinking about how would be best to express to people how memorable and noteworthy this day was for me. So here it is, 6th October 2020, ‘A Diary Entry’.

A 4:30AM alarm set to have some time to make myself somewhat presentable and drive down to Fergal O’Brien racing for my second visit to them, because essentially, I just wanted to ride out again. I arrived at Ravenswell for 7am to ride two lots before heading across to the incredible Jackdaws Castle.

Cool Destination – Good people vs. Good People.

Cool Destination is a seriously smart little chestnut gelding, by the Stallion; Dubai Destination who is probably best known for his flat racing progeny, including Top Trip and Farraaj. So it was really interesting for me to see this horse run so well over fences for a seriously close finish in a fantastic race against The McNeill Family’s The Butcher Said for Olly Murphy.

For me writing these blogs has added a whole new dimension to watching racing. More and more I find myself rooting for the people involved in the sport because of the kindness they have shown and the friendships that are building. So for me, it really doesn’t get more tense than watching a Mcneill/Olly Murphy horse battle it out against a Fergal/Paddy Brennan horse.

Ravenswell – First Lot – Katie and Cool Destination.

Proper Ticket – Well this is a nice coincidence.

My second ride at Fergal’s was Proper Ticket, Poppy as she is known on the yard, is a seriously tough mare, who clearly has her own ideas and opinions on the world. This fierce attitude has been shining through on the track so far this year, with her battling for two firsts and a second place in her last three starts.

Now for a nice coincidence, which helps me tie my day together in a way that works well for people reading; Proper Ticket is by the stallion Gold Well, most well known for being the sire of Holywell, who was trained out of Jackdaws Castle, by Jonjo O’Neill.

World Mental Health Day.

After riding out I headed to the owners room to meet the real reason for me being down in the Cotswolds, Debbie Matthews.
For those that don’t know Debbie, she started the #GoRacingGreen movement, which aims to support people with mental health or life challenges, through horses and horse racing. Her goal is to make horse racing meetings more accessible to those that struggle with the typical race day environment and atmosphere, but that still want to see these magnificent athletes in action.

Debbie is currently working on a few things for World Mental Health Day, which included a trip to Jonjo O’Neill’s, Jackdaws Castle to speak to some of the team, about the ways in which horses and racing have helped them. She very kindly invited me along to support her in this and I can’t thank her enough this and for letting me pick her brains about what it is that she does.

Jackdaws Castle – A National Hunt Dynasty.

After a cup of tea and some of Debbie’s gorgeous lemon drizzle cake, we headed over to Jackdaws Castle. Now, this is part of the day that I’ll try not to say too much about, because I am going back there to ride out and feel like the place deserves it’s own blog post.
It is inescapable that Jackdaws is shrouded in racing history, As soon as you walk through the gated archway on to the yard you are faced with walls of plaques featuring winners from major races, grade ones and Cheltenham Festivals. Debbie and I were given the tour of the yard by their media guru Tom and jockey Richie McLernon.

Debbie Matthews #GoRacingGreen at Jackdaws Castle

It is undoubtable that Richie is a real asset to Jackdaws, as a great jockey and seemingly, an even better member of the team. He guided us around the yard with so much knowledge about the horses, incredible rapport with everyone on the team and effortless charisma. It’s people such as Richie that inevitably improve the moral and mental health of a working team.

Jackdaws Castle Group Photo.

We were so fortunate that Jonjo then took us out to the gallops and let us ride in his car upside the horses as they worked. This is the first yard that I have seen this done at and it surely gives the trainer a unique view on how the horses are working along all sections of the gallop.

Riding in the car upside the horses working at Jackdaws Castle.

After our tour Tom and Richie introduced us to Syndey, a member of the team who until attending the Northern Racing College, had never sat on a horse and has now been working at Jonjo’s for just over a year. She spoke to us about her struggles with her mental health and autism and how working with horses and the horse racing community has helped her. I have to say, I found Sydney completely inspiring and Debbie will be posting the video chat with Sydney on her Twitter account.

I’m really looking forward to revisiting Jonjo’s to ride out and to write full length yard visit blog post. The place is truly spectacular, steeped in history and has an incredibly relaxed atmosphere for a yard with such prestige.


The time then came to head back to Nottingham and to my own horses, and on my drive back I thought a lot about how to round up this post and how I could do my bit for World Mental Health day. I’ve never truly struggled with my mental health and have been fortunate in that when I have struggled, it’s been because of temporary circumstances that I have then overcome.

Sadly this is not the case for so many people, who live with mental struggle every day of their lives. It’s people such as myself that can be a real force for good and for helping those with mental illness and so I’d like to wrap up with a few things that we can all do to help those around us:

  • Express your concern – if you think someone may be struggling, reach out, let them know you are worried and give them a chance to come forward
  • Offer your time to listen – people with mental health struggles may feel like a burden and may not want to take up your time, let them know that it is ok and that you have time.
  • Ask them open questions – open questions will help people to open up
  • Be patient and don’t force it – sometimes you can’t help someone if they’re not ready, don’t force them, be patient and wait for them to be ready.
  • Offer help – people with mental health struggles can often struggle with getting things done because their mind and body may want to slow down. Offer help, things like going to appointments with them and going shopping with them can all help ease the load
  • Reassurance – Often the best thing you can do for someone is reassure them, that they’re not alone, that they have someone to listen and that they have someone that cares
  • Act how you usually would – don’t isolate or alienate people by treating them differently to how you normally would.
  • Look after yourself – It’s hard to be there for someone if you’re not there for yourself too and hearing that someone you care about is struggling, can often be upsetting. Take care of yourself so that you can continue to support yourself and feel like you can support others.
  • Above all – Be Kind. You never know the full extent of what people are going through in their lives. It’s very easy to portray an idyllic life image on-line but this very often isn’t the case. So don’t be quick to judge or critisise.

Thank you as ever for taking the time to read my pieces.
If you’d like to contribute to helping me continue to create this content, donations can be made through my ‘About’ page. Also, Feel free to follow me on my social media channels:

Katie x

4 thoughts on “A Diary Entry – Fergal O’Brien, Jonjo O’Neill & Debbie Matthews.

  1. Superb blog post Katie, a very interesting read of what was clearly a very enjoyable day for you. Some very useful tips at the end to coincide with World Mental Health Day which reminds us all that we can play a part in helping others around us. Maybe you will visit Condicote Stables where 3 of my shared ownership horses live under the care of TeamKeighley.


    1. Thank you Gordon, I would love to visit Condicote. I’m currently very aware that Covid restrictions may be getting tighter so we shall see what that means for the visits I currently have booked in 🤞glad you’re enjoying the posts, thank you for your support x


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