Fast Track: How I Got Here: Gay Kellaway's Route to the Top

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The Independent Culture
Gay Kellaway, 35, is the UK's top female horse trainer as well as one of the most respected riders in the business. Having beaten racing legends such as Lester Piggott and Willie Carson, she still remains the only female rider ever to have won at Royal Ascot

My grooming and grounding: When I was about 11, I set up my own mini- enterprise of discos for friends and charged them an entry fee. I was always trying to think up schemes like that, so maybe that's when the business acumen that's essential for horse training started. My riding skills became evident earlier than that, though, which was hardly surprising given that my father was a jockey and my mum ran a riding school. I always remember my father warning me against pursuing a career in racing because I was female, and I think that was one of the reasons I became more adamant than ever. I even gave up Sixth Form to do it. By 18, I'd become the youngest champion amateur lady rider in the history of sport.

My stairway to success: When I was 18, I went to America for a winter. They're notoriously tough on riders there and that worked wonders for me. It was so hard being female, but I got round that in two ways. First, by hanging on to my firm belief that gender should be irrelevant in this field, and second, by racing a lot in New Zealand, where women do it all the time. By 1988, however, I started to have trouble remaining at the seven-and-a-half stone I needed to be to ride. And although I'd had 60 winners, there wasn't much money to be had. So I went into training. Sport tycoon David Sullivan backed me financially.

My best blunder: I always used to say things I didn't necessarily mean because I spoke as I felt at the time. In hindsight, it was very rude and I often offended people. But the bottom line is that it got me noticed and it got me respected.

My fatal faux pas: Putting too much trust in people. Naively, I think everyone else is like that too, whereas in this business, a lot of people are mischievous. I've also trusted men in the business who I've later discovered were simply trying it on because I'm female.

My majestic moment: Winning at Ascot 11 years ago. The roar of the crowd and the pride and emotion I felt has never been matched.

The secret of my success: I'd love to say it's all down to talent, but the truth is that having a father in the business was half the battle. That aside, I think I've succeeded because I'm very tough and totally dedicated. Finally, I've always been prepared to do every job that's come along, no matter how menial. I had to because I didn't make enough money through racing, and now that I'm running a business, I can honestly say I use everything I've learned - whether it was through answering phones, making tea or working in sales.

My top tip: Travel. I've been all over the world in my job and it's made me so streetwise. I meet so many people who are clever and they're very aware of it, but they haven't got a lot of common sense. And don't let lack of money stop you. That's the best way to learn a thing or two around the world.

Interview by Kate Hilpern

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