Bridget Andrews couldn’t care less about changing alongside men – it’s riding winners that counts, writes Alice Reeves-Turner.
The Cheltenham Festival-winning jockey soared to success on board Mohaayed in the Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle two years ago, forming part of a wave of female riders that now includes the decorated likes of Bryony Frost and Rachael Blackmore.
But despite the increased acceptance of women in racing there remain some lingering remnants of a bygone era, with women still being required to use the male changing rooms to be weighed.
But the vivacious Andrews, who has now racked up over 60 race victories in an impressive career, believes that sharing facilities is just part and parcel of being placed on a level playing field.
“It annoys some of the girls that we have smaller changing rooms, but I don’t really care, to be honest,” the 27-year-old said.
“It doesn’t bother me at all but as long as we’ve got enough room to get changed, a shower and everything else I don’t really see an issue with it.
“You get changed, and then you spend most of your time in the boy’s room anyway – I think that makes me feel like I’m one of them and that I’m not a girl, and I am on the same level as them.
“All of us that ride are more than comfortable going in there with them – I know when you first start it’s not a particularly nice thing to do, walk in a male changing room with a load of naked men.
“But you soon get used to it and all the boys are really good now, they really accept us, the odd one will have a laugh and joke with you and probably be a bit crude but we’re pretty used to it now.”
Andrews hasn’t always had it the easy way, having to gain the racing community's approval after joining Dan Skelton’s yard as a conditional jockey back in 2015.
And under the considerable burden of proving she was strong enough to compete, she knows she has battled hard to develop the stature she has today.
“I think once the boys understand that you’re not getting in their way and that you can ride, they really start to respect you,” she added.
“You really have to stand your ground a little bit – I’ve had a couple of cross words with a few people, but I think you need that so that they respect you, we respect them, and everyone gets along.
“For a long time, I was put under a lot of pressure because I didn’t want to let Dan down – he was putting his trust in me in telling his owners that I will be good enough.
“Luckily, they believed him, and now 90 per cent of the owners believe that I am good enough and they're happy for me to ride for them.
“I don’t know if that final 10 per cent will ever change – I think probably the older generation think that girls aren't good enough, girls aren't strong enough and they’re not up to it but I think times are changing and soon we will definitely be on equal levels.
“I think now that there are a few girls that are proving that we are good enough people are more likely to take on girls and give them the chance but at the end of the day you have got to really want it.”
Andrews has a ride booked in Thursday’s Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase where she will pilot Spiritofthegames, a horse who has finished second at Prestbury Park in his previous two races.
But even as the likes of Frost – who became the first female winner of a Grade 1 race at the Festival as she piloted Frodon to Ryanair Chase glory last year – and Blackmore also descend on the Cotswolds, Andrews still says there are limits to what women in racing can achieve.
“We are doing really well at the minute, but I don't believe that there will be a champion jockey over jumps, there's just not enough girls,” she said.
“Personally, I just know I couldn’t take the rides and the falls, that the boys have to, to be champions.
“But as long as at some point in the future we are on a level scale and everyone is accepting of the girls as everyone else, I will be happy.
“It is a tough sport and I can see why there aren't that many girls in it, but it's like anything – if you’ve got a good team behind you and someone to support you it’s worth it.
“I think I prove that anyone can do it as long as you’ve got the right team behind you.”