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Hayley Turner: Trailblazing jockey breaks her body for fun

By Matt Majendie, for CNN
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Leading the way for female jockeys: British trailblazer Hayley Turner (right) with Germany's Steffi Hofer (left) and Canadian Emma-Jayne Wilson at Ascot, where they competed in the Girls team at the 2014 Shergar Cup event. Leading the way for female jockeys: British trailblazer Hayley Turner (right) with Germany's Steffi Hofer (left) and Canadian Emma-Jayne Wilson at Ascot, where they competed in the Girls team at the 2014 Shergar Cup event.
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Life in and out of the saddle
Life in and out of the saddle
Life in and out of the saddle
Life in and out of the saddle
Life in and out of the saddle
Life in and out of the saddle
Life in and out of the saddle
Life in and out of the saddle
Life in and out of the saddle
Life in and out of the saddle
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • History-making female jockey Hayley Turner has made history in flat racing
  • Not even broken bones or head injuries have kept her away from the Sport of Kings
  • Turner is adamant that being a jockey is not a man's world and women can thrive
  • She says of her many injuries in her career: "I could break bones all day long"

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(CNN) -- She's not so much the pinup girl of British horse racing as the "pinned-together girl."

Hayley Turner has been a trailblazer for female jockeys in the UK, but it's taken its toll on her tiny frame -- and she doesn't mind at all.

"I could break bones all day long," says the 31-year-old, who once received fan mail addressed to "Hayley Turner -- Hospitalized somewhere in Cambridgeshire."

"I do the same as the lads and get injured the same," she adds.

"It's not a man's world, not at all. Okay, more men do it but there are women too."

A year ago Turner lay crumpled on the turf at Doncaster racecourse.

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She had moved her mount Seal of Approval to the inside rail to vie for victory in the home straight, but the horse clipped the heels of a rival and crashed to the ground at full pelt on top of her.

Her pelvis was broken, along with three vertebrae, just 10 days after she returned to racing following five weeks out with a broken ankle -- which to this day is still held together by screws.

Turner's most serious accident was in 2009, when she was also trampled by her horse. She was found on the turf by medical staff with blood oozing from both her ears and her nose.

"I don't remember a thing, which is odd as I think I was conscious at the time," she says.

"With all the blood, it was obvious I'd bruised my brain quite badly. It wasn't stressful for me but it was for my family as it was a case of 'how bad is this' for them. Was I going to be brain-damaged for life?"

She made a full recovery but was then told by authorities she could not race for a full year, a decision she later appealed with the backing of her family -- and won 60 races that shortened season.

"My family hate the injuries as it's always a case of 'let's go to hospital and see how bad it is,' " she admits, "but when I'm not training I'm just annoying, ringing them the whole time, asking what they're doing.

"So I think they're happier when I get back riding."

In 2008, Turner was the first female jockey to ride 100 winners in a UK season, from nearly 1,000 races that year.

She was the first past 500 career victories, the first outright Group 1 winner and, in reality, the first from Britain to have forged a full-time career in horse racing.

Turner has more than 50,000 Twitter followers, making her more popular on the social website than high-profile Canadian jockeys Emma-Jayne Wilson and Chantal Sutherland, who have the edge in on-track wins.

Her time at the top has coincided with an increasing number of women coming through the ranks in both her domain of flat racing as well as jump racing, but she is reluctant to reflect on the influence she has had on them.

"I feel happy for what I've done, personal pride, but anything more than that I don't think I'll appreciate until I stop riding," says Turner, whose first race was in 2000 -- almost three decades after women were first permitted to compete by the Jockey Club.

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"I might look back and think, 'Actually, I did quite well with that.' But as I said, I work with the lads and like the lads. I don't feel any different and I don't get treated any differently by the other jockeys or trainers."

One difference is that at race meetings the two changing rooms are divided between the sexes, which can sometimes mean Turner has a room to herself. "I love that as I can have a bit of a lie-down, so that's a perk," she admits.

Despite her down-to-earth tomboy attitude, she did wryly admit to Tatler's website this year that she had once won a race on a horse called Wonderbra -- whose mother was named Supportive.

But more of an honor has been riding winners owned by Britain's Queen Elizabeth -- the grand patron of the nation's racing and breeding scene.

Unlike most of her peers, Turner did not come from a racing background. She hopes that will inspire aspiring riders to think, "If Hayley's done it, why can't I?"

Her mother used to be a freelance horse-riding instructor and now runs a business finding new homes for retired racehorses, but the track was never a great interest in the Turner household.

"Actually it still isn't," says Hayley. "My parents like the Shergar Cup (a prestigious event held at Ascot where she has competed in an all-female team) and, if I've got a ride in a big race, they'll watch it. But the main follower is my nanna.

"She'll look up my races the night before and know where I'm riding. If I win a race she always tells my mum so, after every win, I'll get a text from my nanna and my mum."

Her pathway into the sport was through a one-off taster session at a horse-racing school a friend was attending. She tagged along and that was it ... she was hooked.

"I left school and wasn't that interested in anything," Turner says. "I did quite well at PE and textiles but this happened. It was then I became determined to be the best I could be, and I think that would have been the same whatever work I'd got into."

Not once have her family asked her to give up the sport she loves: "I think they know it would make me even more determined."

Irish jockey Peter Toole sails over the water jump on Fine Parchment at Aintree in April 2011. His racing career would end the next day after he suffered bleeding on the brain when falling at the first fence in a race preceding the Grand National. Irish jockey Peter Toole sails over the water jump on Fine Parchment at Aintree in April 2011. His racing career would end the next day after he suffered bleeding on the brain when falling at the first fence in a race preceding the Grand National.
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And worrying about the risks is not an option -- if she did, Turner fears she would lose the courage to ride again. As proof of her determination, she has twice ridden Seal of Approval since last year's accident.

She does, though, with her warped sense of humor, like to blame her previous brain injury on "when I do stupid things, which is often" -- but the reality is there are no scars from that 2009 incident.

Fully fit from her latest stint sidelined in the latter part of last year, Turner is again competing in the British Champions Series, which began in May and culminates at Ascot on October 18 in the richest racing day on the UK calendar, with £3.75 million ($6 million) in prize money on offer across the five events.

She won two BCS races in 2011, ranking seventh in its inaugural year, but is playing catch-up this season. She has 25 wins overall from 377 starts, compared to 60 from 449 in 2013.

"I'm just happy to be riding. It's not been my best season but I'm not too worried by that -- there's been some tough times to come back from," Turner says.

"You can be forgotten quickly as a jockey but I'm getting my foot back in the door. I'm getting plenty of rides and I'm happy with that."

Read: The secret to horse racing success

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