An inspirational young jump jockey who was paralysed from the chest down in a fall in France is aiming to build a new life - with the help of a North-East horseracing stud. PETER BARRON met him

LYING in a hospital bed, two days after the accident that changed his life, jockey Jacob Pritchard Webb realised he was never going to ride in horse races again, and asked himself the question: “What the hell am I going to do now?”

A year on, 24-year-old Jacob is preparing for a new life as a bloodstock agent, breeding and selling horses.

And, as if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, he’s also set his sights on making it to the Paralympics as a member of the Great Britain table tennis team.

“You just have to live your life,” he shrugs. “I’ve had some dark days but I want to go out there and achieve things that are worthwhile.”

Jacob is speaking during a visit to Elwick Stud, near Hartlepool, which has offered to help him with the first part of his dream. There might not be much they can do to help him with his table tennis, but there’s not a lot they don’t know about what’s involved in breeding racehorses.

“I know none of it is going to happen overnight but I’m pretty stubborn and, if you put the hard work in, things happen,” he says.

When he was growing up, Jacob’s grandparents kept horses for harness racing, and Jacob spent five years excelling in the driving seat before going off to racing school to train to be a jockey.

His first job was as a stable lad with Sir Mark Prescott at Newmarket, where he got to ride equine stars such as champion sprinter Marsha. As well as riding work on the gallops, he also began to develop a keen interest in pedigrees and the breeding side of the Sport of Kings.

After becoming too heavy to be a Flat jockey, he moved to the Cotswolds to become an amateur jockey at Fergal O’Brien’s National Hunt yard for three years before relocating to France in search of more winners.

He ended up being attached to the stable of leading trainer Emmanuel Clayeux, but his world fell apart during the opening race at Auteuil on June 23 last year. He was riding for another trainer, Bertrand Leferve, when his horse, Galant Des Boulats, fell heavily.

As Jacob rolled on the turf, he lost the feeling from the waist down immediately. The T4 vertebrae had been badly broken, and he went on to spend 178 days in a French hospital before returning to the UK to continue his recovery at Oaksey House, the Lambourn rehabilitation centre run by the Injured Jockeys Fund.

It was during his rehabilitation that he developed his talent for table tennis. What had been just a hobby turned into a passion and, after joining a club near his home in Leicester, he was signed up by Team GB’s future stars programme.

Now, he’s aiming to make the Paralympics in Los Angeles in 2028, by which time he hopes to have established his bloodstock business at his grandparents’ farm at Hay-on-Wye, in Wales.

In amongst all of that, he also plans to work with the Racecourse Association to improve accessibility for disabled people.

Racing legends including AP McCoy, John Francome, and Mick Fitzgerald have all made time to be encouraging. Former champion apprentice jockey Freddy Tylicki, who was also paralysed from the waist down in a fall at Kempton Park in 2016, has also been “extremely supportive”.

Freddy has carved out a career as a bloodstock agent, and has given Jacob invaluable guidance, including allowing him to bid for him during a sale at Newmarket.

“Jockeys, trainers, and the racing industry generally could not have been more accommodating,” he says.

The invitation to visit Elwick Stud, as part of his mission to soak up as much information and experience as possible, is another example of that support.

It came about after a chance encounter between Jacob and racehorse owner Peter Appleton, who is joint director of Sheraton Bloodstock, based at the stud.

Peter started chatting to Jacob at a sale at Doncaster, was impressed by his attitude and ambitions, and the visit was duly arranged to Elwick Stud, which is accustomed to making dreams come true.

The stud was the dream of the late Geoff Turnbull, and is now run by his son, Nick.

“He was someone who always believed in giving people a chance, and he would have loved Jacob’s determination to succeed – he’s an inspiration,” says Nick.

The team at Elwick has made it clear to Jacob that he’s welcome to return at different times of the year, so he can gain as much knowledge as possible about what’s involved in the breeding industry.

“Coming to a fantastic place like this just whets my appetite even more,” he says. “I’ve spent so much of my life with horses, and I want that to continue. I miss my own two legs – of course I do – but I also really miss being around these four-legged beasts too!”

Whether it’s breeding future stars of horseracing, or winning a Paralympics medal, any bookie would surely make Jacob Pritchard Webb odds-on to be a winner in life.

WHAT a joy to see the return of the Parkrun at the weekend after the frustrations of lockdown.

Government initiatives to tackle public health come and go, but nothing compares with seeing ordinary people, of all shapes, sizes and abilities, coming together on a Saturday morning to run or walk 5k round the nearest park.

On Sundays, it’s the juniors’ turn in South Park, Darlington, and my granddaughter, Chloe, aged four, was bursting with pride at the weekend after being presented with her half-marathon wristband for completing 11 Parkruns.

It’s about inspiring the next generation. As well as being doubly determined to now aim for her marathon wristband, she wants to assist her Grandma as a volunteer marshal at a future adult Parkrun.

This is what making a difference to public health is all about – and it came from the grass roots.

The organisers have even promised Chloe her own high visibility volunteer's jacket!

STILL on a sporting theme, it’s the Darlington championships at New Blackwell Tennis Club on Saturday.

I decided I’m too old to compete, but then I heard about Leonid Stanislavskyi, who’s been registered as the world’s oldest tennis player at 97.

The Ukrainian is preparing for the Super Seniors World Championships in Spain after asking organisers to create an over-90s category.

Wonder if he’s known as Codger Federer?

FINALLY, back to equestrian matters. What’s a horse’s favourite Olympic event?

Stable tennis, of course.