Book lovers are under starter’s orders to meet authors at the Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival. Among them is Yorkshire stable lass Gemma Hogg who gives Catherine Turnbull a peek inside the racing world

IF you’ve ever watched racehorses being led round the parade ring by stable lasses and lads and wondered about their lives and relationships with their charges, Gemma Hogg’s book and her talk at the Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival will give you a remarkable insight into the closed world of the racing yard. As you might imagine, it’s rough, tough, hard work and brutally long hours and those who do it are passionate about working with horses.

She tells the tale of how in 1998, aged just 17, she arrived at Micky Hammonds Racing in Middleham in Wensleydale in Stable Lass: Riding Out and Mucking In: Tales from a Yorkshire Racing Yard. She was terrified, but determined, after a brief course at the Northern Racing College. On her first day out on the gallops, on the moor high above the dale, the rookie stable girl from Leeds fell within minutes from Polo Venture and soon learned how to check her tack. Here first time away from home, she was contending with homesickness and a squalid house share, rich language and banter in the yard and then there was the challenge of the horses. They, she assures us, are as individual as people, some placid while others like Valiant Warrior, loathe everything that moves.

Gemma tells it like it is, like a hilarious conversation with your mate over a beer or two and it’s very entertaining, honest and sometimes sad. Her brother-in-law James Hogg, who is a writer, says no one working in stables had written a book; racing books were about trainers, jockeys and horses.

“We got together and chatted through my memories, planned it and wrote it together,” Gemma says. “I never dreamt that I would write a book, but it has been so well received. I hope I will inspire others – conditions and college training have changed for the better since I started 20 years ago. It’s a tough, but fabulous life. It’s not as popular as it could be, but once you are in, there’s an unbelievable buzz. People don’t understand how attached stable staff become to horses. Even though I am not grooming them every day now, I’m still involved.”

Gemma is now assistant trainer to Micky Hammond and the day we spoke she had been up on the gallops, following and watching the horses and riders, and mucked out four boxes. She was named Employee of the Year at the 2016 Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards, as well as winning the Leadership category.

Gemma's life in stables began through her love of horses and riding. She rode a winner under rules, bringing Micky’s Charlotte Vale home in front in an amateur riders’ handicap at Hamilton in 2007. She has also competed in a charity race at Cheltenham aboard yard stalwart Amir Pasha, raising £2,500 for Greatwood and celebrating her 30th birthday in style.

“Female jockeys were in the amateur rank for fun, but now they are professional, too," she says. "It’s a massive thing and I think they have more guts than the boys. It is one of the few sports in which we can perform as equals and be as good, if not better. “

Gemma is being asked to write more about her exploits. “It’s difficult writing about people you work with, but I’ve managed not to fall out with anyone. I’ve plenty more stories to tell, so I hope to write another book.”

She has appeared at several book signings and events and loves meeting readers and telling them about her world. “It’s a life, not a job, but people seem pretty interested, so I’m happy with that.”

* Gemma Hogg will be appearing at the festival on Saturday, October 20, 9.30am, at The Crown Hotel, Harrogate. Hosted over a long weekend, the Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival takes place at The Crown Hotel from October 18 to 21 with a line-up featuring household names from the worlds of comedy, history, sport and literature.

The social media star behind Why Mummy Drinks, Gill Simms, is presenting her new book, Why Mummy Swears, while wife of the late Professor Stephen Hawking, Dr Jane Hawking, whose book inspired Oscar-winning film The Theory of Everything, will talk about her new novel, Cry to Dream Again. The presenter of Radio 4’s The Week in Westminster, Isabel Hardman, will also discuss Why We Get the Wrong Politicians and John Simpson, the face of the BBC as World Affairs Editor for over two decades, will discuss his revelatory thriller Moscow Midnight.