As you may be aware I've been on the sidelines for the past few weeks and have been very humbled by all the messages of support. It's made me think how I can give something back to the people who have been so kind.
So I've decided to start write a blog and share with you some of my own thoughts and ideas.
We can discuss anything you like on here - issues in racing and around life in general - just let me know what you'd like to see on here and we'll see how it goes.
I've not written much since my university days almost a decade ago so you'll have to bear with me and forgive me any grammatical errors or tpyos!
As this is the first post I'll tell you a little about my story so far.
My name is Joanna Mason and I was born in February 1990. I'm an English-based professional flat jockey from Malton in North Yorkshire. I'm the grand-daughter of Mick Easterby, the 'infamous' dual licence trainer in the north and the niece of David Easterby.
I was born into a racing family. My mum (Sue Mason nee Easterby) used to ride in Point-to-Points, my dad (Ian Mason) trains Pointers and of course there's the aforementioned grandad Michael and Uncle David Easterby. They need little introduction.
My cousin Jacqueline Coward was also the nine times Yorkshire Point Champion (I was runner up to her numerous times) and National Champion (2013). I can safely say that riding horses runs in the family!
I've been brought up with horses and I can't imagine life without them.
In the early days my sights were firmly set on riding in Point-to-Points (I guess I must have looked up to my cousin Jacqueline).
In my late teens I was riding Point-to-Point and studying Sports Science at University. I enjoyed the studying and I stayed on for a further year to complete a Masters in Sports Nutrition.
I've not done anything with the degree as such but I guess it's still in the locker if ever I need it!
Racing took over after leaving University and I began riding on the flat as a lady amateur. It was an early ambition to be a jockey and the dream came true on 1st August 2006 when I made my debut under rules at Beverley at the age of 16. I rode a horse called riding Emperors Well in an amateur riders' race.
We finished second to stablemate Gala Sunday ridden by Serena Brotherton. I'm not sure how I felt as I didn't really seem to do very much and the horse looked after me, but I loved every moment of it and from then on I was hooked.
I combined riding in Point-to-Points in the winter with the amateur flat riding throughout the summer and spring.
My first winner came in August 2007 when Lake Chini won at Carlisle and three days later I won on Ahlawy at Redcar.
However, in March 2015 I took a bad fall from a horse called Comedinewithme at Hutton Rudby Point-to-Point. Little did I know at the time what this was would spell the end of my Point-to-Point career. I'd ridden 48 winners and enjoyed every minute of it but my time Pointing was well and truly over.
The diagnosis came soon after.
I had an unstable door wedge fracture of my T8 & T9 and a bang to the head and this was sufficient to land me hospital. I needed an operation which involved inserting eight pins and two rods to support the fracture.
The focus was now on recovery but I'd soon be back on a horse.
Just over three months after the fall, and after a stint in the Jack Berry House, I was riding again. If it wasn't for The Jack Berry House and the specialist care and attention this would definitely not have been possible. I decied that I was going to concentrate on the flat and riding as an amateur, together with working in the yard and doing a lot of travelling.
I managed to win two joint lady amateur championships, the latter shared with Serena, and numerous runners up placings. I also rode for two seasons in Dubai (November to March) working for Charlie Appleby and rode 38 winners under rules over the years.
Then Covid happened.
The opportunities for amateur riders dried up. The limited number of race meetings and various associated rules meant that amateurs were unable to ride during the pandemic.
I began to have a serious think about turning professional. It was the only way I was going to be able to ride.
Soon a few doubts set in.
I was 30 years old. Was I too old?
I was also too old to go back as an amateur if it didn't work out. What would I do if I couldn't ride again?
And of course, the ever lingering doubt. Was I good enough?
Serena gave me the kick up the backside that I needed and I also gathered together a bit of self-confidence.
I steeled myself and plucked up the courage to speak to grandad and David about becoming a professional jockey.
I raised the issue with them and waited for the reaction.
It was positive.
They both thought it was a brilliant idea.
Now it was time to get down to work and make it all happen.
On the 27th of November 2020, at the age of 30, my life took a turn for the good. After the fitness tests were passed and I'd completed an afternoon course via a Zoom call I acquired a licence.
My first professional ride was on board the legend Tapis Libre.
I love Tapis.
Tapis and I have won ten races on him, including the Queen Mother's Cup and four Epsom Ladies Derbies, and he gave me all the confidence I needed. Although not much different to any other race, this time I was against professionals not amateurs, riding against the likes of Jim Crowley, Tom Marquand, Cieren Fallon and PJ McDonald.
Since turning pro I've not looked back.
On New Year's Eve 2020 I rode my first winner when Marwari came home in front at Newcastle for the Mick Easterby team.
The following day I started out on my first season as a professional jockey.
By the end of the year I had ridden 44 winners from 363 rides at a strike rate of 12%. It was much better than I could have ever hoped for.
My best season as an amateur had consisted of seven winners from only 28 rides (as an amateur there are much fewer opportunities, with rides confined to just amateur riders' events).
I loved every minute of my first season, riding winners up and down the country, travelling miles and riding for lots of different trainers with the help of my agent Niall Hannity. A decision I now look back on with great price but I do think "why I didn't do this sooner?"
But could I better the following season?
Yes I could.
The 2022 season saw me make lots of new connections with trainers. I was also asked to be a brand ambassador and sponsored by SKYBET. I rode my first double at Ripon and also first treble at Ripon. I won two SKYBET Sunday Series races with Yorkshire Lady.
In 2022 I rode 46 winners from 487 rides. I rode out my claim (95 winners) in May at Catterick, and soon reached the career landmark 100 winner on board Grantley Hall. And to top it off I was picked to ride in The Shergar Cup at Ascot.
The Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup is the world's premier jockeys' competition where four riders in each of four teams - Great Britain & Ireland, Rest of the World, Ladies and Europe - battle against each other, each jockey has five rides across the afternoon. I was asked to be part of the girls' team, alongside Hayley Turner, Canadian sensation Emma-Jayne Wilson and Nicola Currie, as well as top international jockeys in the other teams.
I had a good book of rides and my first ride was a winner for Mr Haggas on board Amanzoe.
The girls' team finished up in third place and I was fourth individually, the highest ranked ladies team member. This was a day I would never forget. Never did I think I would be riding this many winners in a season but to also be picked to represent the girls' team and rides winners for one of the top trainers in the country. Surely things couldn't get any better in 2023 … or could they?
I got the call up early on in the year to ride in the 2023 International Challenge in Saudi Arabia over the Saudi Cup weekend. The 2023 International Jockeys Challenge is made up of seven international women, two local men and five international men.
All races consist of 14 runners and five reserves, with all 14 jockeys to ride in each race.
It was an honour to be asked and I jumped at the opportunity. My mum to come along for moral support (although she was far more excited than me, I just took it in my stride).
Good things like this didn't normally happen to me.
Again it was a privilege to ride against some prestigious and world renowned international jockeys.
I came close to a winner on my first ride as I was caught on the line and finished second. I was told that my second ride, a horse called Medbass, liked to run from the front so I followed instruction. I made the running and he kept going. In fact he kept going and going and nobody could catch him.
I had my winner!
The crowd, the feeling and the buzz. It was something else.
You never tire of the winning feeling.
I finished in third place in the Championship and it was a day that I will never forget. To travel to the country, ride a winner and come third in the Championship surpassed even my greatest expectations and we travelled home happy.
My aim for 2023 was to reach a half century of winners but unfortunately I've come up against a few setbacks.
The first came when I was kicked on my leg when unsaddling Jazz Samba after winning at Beverley. The recovery set me back nine days and just as I felt like I'd got back going again by riding a double on the Saturday at Doncaster followed by an easy winner on Reach on the Sunday.
The following day I was riding a two-year-old filly on her first day back cantering for David and my grandad when three pigeons flew out across the gallop. I've told the story that many times, and it sometimes evolves into a deer being the culprit. But in reality it was just a three pigeons. As they flew out of the hedge they startled the horse and she was gone from underneath me. I came off and landed awkwardly on my leg.
I picked myself up and hobbled down the gallop back to the yard where grandad picked me up and took me to the office to get some ice on my ankle.
I knew that I had four rides that all had a good chance at Thirsk that afternoon. These included Menelaus for David and grandad, and he did indeed win.
I did my best to stay hopeful, but the swelling on my ankle was too much and I initially thought that I had strained the ligaments.
I decided the step down from my rides that afternoon and seek further help from The Jack Berry House who recommended I get an x-ray to rule anything out.
The outcome was a spiral fracture of the distal fibula.
Not what I'd hoped for. I was a little emotional with the outcome.
I now had to get over the fact I was injured and couldn't ride. This was very hard for me, because for the last 2½ years that's all I'd known. The riding. The driving. And the chasing of that thrill of a winner over and over again.
Six weeks on here we are.
After a lot of bruising, icing, physio, hydrotherapy and gym sessions I've got to where I am today walking without crutches and without a boot (which I hated cos they get in the way).
It's been hard going.
We all wish we could have time off, but it's even harder having time off from something you love, live and breathe doing every day.
Missing winners has been the hardest part.
The horses have been in fine form at New House Farm where they've sent out 14 winners since I was injured.
As much I'd have liked to embrace the time off, I honestly haven't.
I always strive to ride winners and my goal was to beat last year's total of 46 winners. My aim is 50.
I'm hoping this week I'll get some good news on when I will be back riding out and most of all back racing and doing what I love.
I'm aiming for the end of the month but things are never easy with this process.
But I'll be back.
Stronger, fitter and ever more determined.