TV presenter Chris Hughes: Riding racehorses makes me feel like a cowboy
TV presenter Chris Hughes lives his life in a whirlwind of work and exercise. But despite his punishing schedule, the unparalleled joy he gets from riding racehorses is something he’ll always find time for.
“Horses find a place in your heart,” admits the former Love Islander, who now presents live horse racing for ITV, and BBC Sport coverage of The Hundred cricket tournament. “It’s the freedom, the escapism – sitting on a horse that’s travelling at 30-40 miles an hour across the fields and up gallops just feels very carefree. You feel like you’re a cowboy.
“It’s a great way of getting up in the morning and getting the fresh air. Add everything together and it’s just a very good vibe, a very good feeling. I absolutely love it.”
Growing up on a farm in the Cotswolds, Hughes, 30, began riding around age eight and had a couple of ponies himself. He started riding racehorses at 12 or 13, with friends who later became professional jockeys. “I was very blessed to grow up in the area I did, which got me involved in the sport from an early age,” he says, speaking ahead of National Racehorse Week (September 9-17).
Following his stint on Love Island in 2017, where he paired up with Olivia Attwood (they went on to star in reality series Chris And Olivia: Crackin’ On, before they split in 2018), Hughes has forged a busy presenting career.
Despite this however, he tries to ride as often as he can. “It all depends on my schedule,” he says. “I just try to ride as often as I can in different racing yards. And that’s great, I really enjoy that.”
Hughes also enjoys anything to do with sport and exercise, revealing: “I exercise a lot. I go to the gym six days a week, and I run 30km a week minimum.
“I look after myself as much as I can – a big part of my day is my own physical wellbeing,” adds Hughes, who eases his weary muscles with trips to the sauna and steam room four nights a week. “So yeah, I exercise a lot, I train weights a lot, I play tennis a lot, I play golf a lot, I sweat a lot in the sauna. It just all adds up and makes me feel good.”
He does his best to eat healthily, too. “Obviously, the biggest part of looking and feeling great is your diet – about 80% of it’s diet-based. So you’ve got to eat healthily, or it defeats the object of putting in any kind of physical pain.”
Surely with all this hard work and exercise though, he must enjoy a bit of relaxation?
“Me relaxing?” he says, incredulously. “I don’t really relax – it’s rare! I find it really hard to relax, unless I go away – but even when I go away I’ll be doing something. I’d love to be able to sit down and just chill and be content in my own company and do very little, but if I stay at home and I’ve got a few hours free, I’ll go play nine holes of golf, or I’ll go to the gym or the sauna. Or I’ll go for a run or just find something to do. I can’t sit still.”
That’s possibly why he’s set to be involved with National Racehorse Week – appearing at racing yards and getting the message across to an often-unaware public that racehorses are incredibly well-looked after equine athletes.
The week will see racehorse training yards, studs and retraining centres throughout the country open their doors and invite the public to get up close to the horses and teams that look after them. With more than 130 mostly-free events, visitors will have the chance to watch horses exercise on the gallops, treadmills, walkers and even in equine swimming pools, as well as seeing the work physiotherapists, chiropractors and farriers do to keep racehorses healthy and happy.
“I’m really, really looking forward to the week,” says Hughes. “Opening the doors to the public is a great way to showcase what happens in a racing yard and behind the scenes. It shines the light on how much hard work the staff do looking after the horses, the year-round care they get and the attention – just celebrating the racehorse in general.”
He points out there are certain misconceptions about racing, which he hopes the week, organised by Great British Racing, will help dispel. “If a horse didn’t want to run, it wouldn’t run, it’s as simple as that. You can’t force a horse of that weight to run – they love it, and they’d run forever if they could.
“Some people aren’t educated about what happens in a racing yard and how well the horses are looked after, and events like this can showcase what exactly happens behind the scenes and the five-star treatment the horses get,” adds Hughes. “It’s a good opportunity for people who want to educate themselves on the sport, on the welfare of the animals and how well they’re looked after – it’s a complete eye-opener.”
Chris Hughes is an ambassador for National Racehorse Week. Find your nearest event and book your space online at nationalracehorseweek.uk
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