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03 August 2022

Once imposter syndrome was firmly in its place, Cassandra Aina threw herself into the unknown world of racing via the BHA’s Development Progamme and is now immersed in her placement in Diversity and Inclusion. She charts her journey for Racing Together.

I had no prior knowledge of horseracing before joining the Development Programme. To be completely honest, I had no idea Newmarket existed. As a result, when I was first offered a place on the programme, I was perplexed and pondered for weeks whether they had simply phoned the wrong person by mistake. But, before we get into how the Development Programme went, you might be wondering how I found out about it in the first place.

Endless opportunities opened up

I recently completed my undergraduate degree at UCFB Wembley, where I studied Sports Law and Sports Business. During my third year, I attended one of my university’s career fairs. This is where I discovered the BHA’s Careers in Racing booth. At this booth, I stated that I wanted to work in the field of diversity and inclusion. I was invited with others to a talk with Zoe Elliot and Sean Simara. During this 30-minute presentation, they explained the ins and outs of the horse racing industry as well as the development programme. After a few weeks, some of my colleagues and I were invited to Ascot, where we were once again greeted by Zoe and a few other guest speakers. 

Through attending a full day of talks from industry professionals and watching horseracing in the afternoon, I was able to learn even more about the sport. This day offered me endless opportunities as it was there that I started to network with different people in the industry. Firstly, I started to speak to Paul Swain from the RCA. I then decided to add him on LinkedIn where he was then able to put me in contact with Rose Grissell (previous Head of Diversity and Inclusion at the BHA). This connection proved critical as I was then able to set up a meeting and get even more of an understanding of the Development Programme and what it’s like to have a career in the diversity and inclusion sector of the BHA. This was when I decided that I wanted to apply to the Development programme.

Soon settled into my stride

The dreaded assessment centre day had finally arrived. Every candidate was in game mode as soon as I walked in the door, ready to fight for their spot. One of the first icebreaker activities we did was to go around the room and tell everyone why you were there. Every candidate, except for myself, had explained how they had a horseracing background. The dreaded negative self-talk kicked in, and I began to wonder why I had even been invited to the interview stage. 

As the day progressed and the group was divided into small groups, my confidence began to return because it was not solely focused on horseracing knowledge. However, my confidence was shattered once more when I was given a surprise maths exam. I’m not ashamed to admit that I didn’t know the answer to the practice question and sat perplexed for the entire 20 minutes. Even though I gave it my all on that exam, I knew it was going to be my downfall. Fast forward to a month later and to my surprise, I received a ‘phone call from Michelle telling me that I have got a place on the programme.

A new rapport with horses

Next stop was Newmarket to meet everyone on the programme at the start of a two-week residential introductory course at The British Racing School (BRS). There was a diverse choice of speakers, field trips, and academic opportunities. The course demonstrates how various parts of the sport interact with each other. I honestly believe that if I had learned all of the facts individually, I would not have gained an understanding of the profession as quickly as I did. I was also relieved to learn that I was not the only one who struggled with the exam. 

The visits to the National Stud and Dalham Hall were my personal highlights of the two weeks. I enjoyed these places because I was able to build a rapport with the horses. Before this, I had not been able to get up close to a horse since I was a small child on holiday. It was a strange sensation to learn that I had just stroked Dubawi who as a sire is charged out at £250,000 for each mating. Sir Mark Prescott’s yard was another highlight. His understanding and connection with his horses is truly inspiring. I was also surprised to learn that the horses have access to a treadmill and a swimming pool. But I couldn’t write this blog without thanking two of my development participants, Isobel Wells and Molly Byran, for allowing me to ask them numerous questions when I didn’t understand some of the horse terminology used.

My placement is a great fit

I am currently doing my placement for the BHA in the Diversity and Inclusion Department. My  first two days on the job were spent in Swansea, where Naomi (my sponsor) and I attended a conference. It’s strange to say that I met Naomi for the first time on a three-hour train journey to Wales. Besides that, when we are in the office, I am attending Team calls with other companies to either advise them on how to improve their diversity and inclusion or to try to attract them to join our pledge. I listen and take notes on the ‘right’ questions to ask and how Naomi deals with clients. So far, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of my placement, and I can’t wait to begin organising my own initiatives and activities. 

One of my tasks during my placement was to create a PowerPoint presentation that included all of the initiatives so that I could understand what the horseracing industry is already doing in terms of diversity and inclusion. One of the efforts that piqued my interest was the Ouzbeck pilot, which was launched by Racing Together and Retraining of Racehorses. The Pilot brings ex-racehorses to residents of care homes. This notion appealed to me because of its inclusive nature. It allows the horses to meet a demographic of individuals who may not be able to travel to racetracks to form this relationship. 

I particularly liked the emotional support component, since commonly the residents may grow to become lonely and bored. In addition, this pilot has aided future expansion since the data gathered is being leveraged to have a larger effect. The work of Riding for the Disabled Association is something that I also appreciated. This idea particularly appealed to me since it provides a venue for individuals with disabilities to socialise and form friendships. It is also a chance for them to further develop their character via skill development and therapeutic sessions. I feel it is critical to provide equal opportunity for everybody. So, the fact that these two projects appeal to individuals of different backgrounds is why I opted to work in the diversity and inclusion field.

As for what comes next. Once my eight-week placement has finished, I am hoping to stay in the diversity and inclusion realm. Ideally, I’d like to extend my placement, however, if not I’d like to get a job in the RFU or England Netball in the same role.

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