An Interview with Leanne White - Head of Travelling to Andrew Balding
Leanne White (nee Masterton) is one of the most respected travelling head staff in the UK and Internationally. At the age of sixteen, she started working full-time for the Balding family and has never left! She rode seven winners as an apprentice, including Ian Balding’s final ever winner as a licensed trainer in 2002. Being such a talented rider made Leanne an ideal choice to represent Park House Stables around the world, taking her to Ireland, Canada, USA, Turkey, France, Italy, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai and Australia.
A highlight came in 2013 when Leanne played an instrumental role in travelling Side Glance to Australia in 2013. This is when he won the Group 1 Mackinnon Stakes on Derby Day at Flemington Racecourse under an inspirational ride from Jamie Spencer.
As testament to all the hard work, in 2014 Leanne won the Rider/Groom category of the Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards and also the Employee of the Year. These awards were presented, ironically, by sports presenter Claire Balding, her boss’ sister, and champion jockey AP McCoy. Employer Andrew Balding said, “This accolade was richly deserved by someone who has worked tirelessly and cheerfully to try and ensure than any horse that she has been associated with will achieve the very best results.” A year later, Leanne paid back to the awards that had shown her so much deserved recognition by joining the judging panel.
Life has quietened a bit in the last few years for Leanne. Last year, she married Ben White, having originally met in the village pub! At 41, she still rides out, does a bit of travelling and has recently started a Rider Coaching course.
As a happy endnote to their own personal story, Side Glance, known as Sidey, retired when he was eight and because Leanne was still travelling full-time, he went to a friend of hers to do some showing. “It wasn’t really Sidey’s forte, so she started to do a little bit of dressage with him but sadly hung her boots up in October 2019 and retired her other horse. Thankfully, having got married, I’d stopped the international trips and wasn’t doing so much travelling at home either so could have him full time. It’s been the best thing ever! He’s helped teach my 11-year-old stepdaughter to ride and she’s now totally hooked!”
Side Glance then - winning the Group 1 Mackinnon Stakes under Jamie Spencer
Leanne spent most of her childhood living in Dockenfield near Frensham, Surrey and later Hartley Mauditt near Alton, Hampshire. Now, she and Ben live in Kingsclere, just over a mile from the yard that has given her so many memories of wonderful travels with the stunning racehorses in her care.
Side Glance - now in retirement
Did you have a horsey childhood?
I really got into horses at the age of nine when I used to muck out ducks and geese at a local farm in exchange for rides on the ponies they had. When I was eleven, I started as a helper at a riding school in Farnham, Surrey. I worked weekends and after school in exchange for lessons. I also used to stay there a lot during the holidays and the helpers were allowed to take the ponies to the local shows. I learnt an awful lot trying to stay on very naughty ponies from Reading sales. This gave me a great grounding for later backing yearlings!
How did you get into racing?
When I was young and riding ponies I just loved going flat out. I’m not from a racing background but my family used to do a sweepstake for the Grand National. I had only been riding for a year or so when I picked Rhyme N Reason. I will never ever forget watching him win and how excited I was. From that day on I was hooked and wanted to be a jockey!
How did you come to work at the Balding’s?
When I was 14, my Dad and Grandad drove me up to Newmarket to have a look around. My grandad loved betting on the ‘Gee Gees’ every Saturday and said we needed to go to Newmarket and find out the best way for me to get into racing when I left school. We walked into a yard (to this day I don’t know who’s!) and asked the first person we saw what I needed to do. They very kindly directed us to The British Racing School. We were shown round by the late Rory McDonald. He told me I could apply for the nine-week course as soon as I was 15, but must stay at school and do my GCSEs. After doing my GCSEs, the Racing School placed me at Park House Stables to do five weeks work experience for Ian Balding before starting my course. The yard housed 90 horses back then, less than half the size it is now!
Can you recall how different it was starting at Park House Stables when you were sixteen?
Park House Stables was very different then. I was one of only five girls working there and it was very much a man’s world! All the horses were on straw beds. Thankfully, we only had two or three horses each to look after (compared to today’s six) because we had to show most evenings and put a twist in the doorway and have a dust pile!
As a female jockey back then, were you shown any animosity and do you think times have now changed?
As a female apprentice jockey, I don’t think I was ever really shown any animosity. The Governor was always very fair and, if you worked hard enough and were good enough, you got the rides. The older lads didn’t like female jockeys on their horses and I’d get a bit of stick from them, but being a girl in racing back then you learnt to have thick skin.
There were a handful of really good girls riding when I started but I don’t think they got anywhere near the opportunities they deserved. Thankfully racing has moved forward so much in the last 20 years and girls are really getting a chance. Thanks to pony racing, jockey coaching, numerous training, support schemes, talent and equality in racing, we are seeing the likes of Hollie Doyle right up there in the jockey’s championship.
How did you get into the role of head of travelling?
I’d been a head girl for Andrew for a year or so when a South African filly came into the yard. I looked after her in quarantine for Australia in 2003 when Andrew asked if I’d like to take her. I jumped at the chance and while I was away the travelling head lad retired. Second travelling took his spot and, on my return, Andrew asked if I’d like to take on job of second travelling and the international meetings.
What have been your most favourite racehorses?
My most favourite horses would have to be Side Glance (who now lives with me; we’re currently learning dressage together!), Pentecost, Easter Ogil, Halmahera, Blond Me, Phoenix Reach, Vanderlin and I could go on. I get terribly attached to any with which I spend a lot time.
What is your favourite racecourse(s) in the UK?
My favourite racecourse would have to be Chester; it’s so unique, there’s always a fantastic atmosphere and Kingsclere horses tend to do well there.
What is your favourite meeting?
The Chester Cup meeting is one of my favourites along with York’s Ebor meeting and Royal Ascot. I also love Cheltenham Festival and, of course, The Grand National meeting at Aintree!
What is your favourite canteen?!
It would have to be York; the staff there really do go above and beyond.
What is your favourite racecourse(s) internationally?
My favourite international track is Flemington closely followed by Woodbine. I also love Veliefendi in Istanbul.
What have been your best days in racing?
I’ve been exceptionally lucky to travel with some really good winners, but I think I’d have to say my best days racing was when Side Glance won the McKinnon at Flemington in 2013, followed by Pentecost winning in Dubai in 2006 and Blond Me winning the EP Taylor at Woodbine in 2017. Riding my first winner at Kempton in 1997 on my second ride with all my family there was very special too.
What is the best part of your job?
Obviously travelling horses internationally and coming home with a big winner has been an awesome part of my job, but I think the best part is seeing horses progress from their first-time upsides to getting to the track and hopefully winning. Sometimes the biggest kick for me is seeing a very slow, fragile or difficult horse get its head in front!
And the worst part?!
Losing a horse.
Has your job changed since you first started doing the travelling?
My job has definitely changed since I started travelling in 2003. There is just so much more racing now and a lot more all-weather, evenings and Sunday meetings.
Please detail what the Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards mean to you?
Winning The Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Award’s Employee of the Year was just surreal. It was the most amazing day and evening! I think they are something that are really important to the industry. It’s not just a job and you really have to give your all, so being recognised for your hard work is really special. After the Awards, I was asked to do the ‘You’ll want to know what I ate for breakfast next?’ Q&As. One of my four ideal dinner guests was Jilly Cooper. Her books have kept me entertained during hours of travel. I think she’s absolutely brilliant! She read the article in the Racing Post and wrote to me afterwards asking if I’d like to go to her house for supper to help her with some details for her book as she was writing Mount! at the time. She just blew me away and we have stayed in touch ever since.
What has been your favourite day out of racing?
My favourite day out of racing was definitely my wedding day; I think my poor parents had given up hope! We got married in a little copse on top of a hill at a local dairy farm and I rode Side Glance up the hill and into the trees. It was magical!
What are your hobbies/interests?
Outside of racing skiing would have to be my favourite hobby. I love going with my husband and stepchildren, although they have got seriously fast now – my husband and I struggle to keep up!
I’ve taken up dressage in the last year on Side Glance; we’re finding it quite a challenge but very much enjoying it. I also do quite a bit of Canicross with my Cypriot rescue hound. We’ve not competed yet but hope do so to when everything opens up again.
What is your favourite food and drink?
My favourite meal is probably seafood accompanied by a good Sauvignon Blanc followed by chocolate... I’m a chocoholic and giving it up for January is killing me!!
What is your favourite movie?
What is your favourite holiday destination?
Anywhere with snowy mountains and, for some sunshine and sea Croatia.