WHEN most people reach the age of 55, they think about taking things easier, spending time in their garden, and perhaps taking up a not too strenuous hobby.
Mary Tyner is different. She has been a horsewoman all her life and is now getting back in the saddle to take part in a charity event in memory of her late son, Jack, who died in a tragic horse racing accident.
Mary who trains horses alongside her husband, Robert, said: “At the tender age of 55, I have decided to make my seasoned return to the racecourse to take part in the highly successful Corinthian Challenge Charity Race Series in aid of the Irish Injured Jockeys Charity.
“This is the fourth year of the Challenge, which will see 18 amateur riders riding over three top-class racecourses in a bid to raise funds for Irish Injured Jockeys and the jockeys it supports,” adds Mary, who lives just outside Innishannon.
“Last year the amateur riders raised more than €120,000 for the charity.”
Now Mary is joining the posse, although she adds: “I don’t think I rode a horse in a race since I had my first three kids.”
Apart from riding out at home, it is almost 20 years since she got in the saddle to race. Is it like riding a bike?
“Yes, it’s a bit like riding a bike; when it all comes back to you. I ride at home all the time; but it’s harder on the race-track.”
The first leg of the three-race challenge took place at The Curragh last Sunday, with two more planned for Cork and Leopardstown racecourses in September and October.
Mary says: “Unfortunately, I finished down the field in 10th place but it was a great experience to ride at the Curragh. It was a lot of fun being back in the saddle again.”
Remarkably, Mary’s target of raising €10,000 has already been surpassed.
She has an important personal reason for taking on the challenge.
“I want to help make a difference for the charity and the jockeys it supports in memory of my son Jack, who sadly passed away following a heavy fall at Dungarvan point-to-point eight years ago.”
Like his mum and dad, horse-racing was in Jack’s blood, and he was just 19 when he died, from a brain injury, after a bad fall.
“He was very sporty,” says Mary, who has five daughters, Kate, Joan, Clare, Dara, and Geraldine. “When he was young, Jack wanted to be a soccer player. Then, at home one day, he said he wanted to be a jockey.”
He was in the right place, with the right people around him helping him to fulfil his boyhood ambition.
“We showed him the ropes,” says Mary. “And we showed him how he could make a profession out of horse-racing.”
Jack mucked in, learning his trade, doing what he loved. “He learnt the brass tacks, grooming the horses and mucking out the stables,” says Mary.
He acquired other skills.
“I remember one day he was complaining that his sports jersey was wrinkled after it was washed. I showed him how the washing machine and the dryer worked and I said; there you go!”
His parents knew about the pitfalls Jack might face in his chosen career.
“There’s some hardships involved being a jockey, like taking the falls. It was possible he may not have made it as a professional jockey.” say Mary.
But he did.
“Jack got going, making a name for himself; he started having winners. He rode for us in a Bumper in a National Hunt flat race, his first race, and he won it,” says Mary. “He had a dream start.”
But the dream came to a tragic end one Tuesday in February, 2011.
“Dungarvan point-to points were postponed from the Sunday until Tuesday,” says Mary.
Jack was on top form ready to go.
“He already had a winner that day,” says Mary. “He was thrilled. I wasn’t there. I was busy at home with the girls; it was a school day.”
At the first jump in the next race, Jack suffered a fall.
Mary got a phone call from her sister. “She told me Jack had a fall in the last race,” says Mary. “She said she’d ring me back.”
Something didn’t quite ring true for Mary.
“For some reason, when I answered the phone, I thought my sister didn’t sound quite normal on the phone. I kept ringing her back.”
Mary got more information about her son.
“He had hit the ground hard,” says Mary. “I thought he was concussed. I had often taken a fall from a horse and been concussed, not knowing where I was when I woke up again. It happens every day to jockeys.”
This was a different day. Jack never regained consciousness. Age 19, he passed away on February 8, 2011.
“We never thought that he wouldn’t wake up,” says Mary.
“When Jack had the fall, I was sure he’d be alright. That he’d be OK. Robbie and I never thought that he was going to die.”
It was a terrible time for the family, but, amid the sadness and a heavy heart, had to wake up to the fact that she had five young children at home who expected mum to be there for them every day.
“Geraldine, the youngest, was only seven,” says Mary. “Kate and Joan were doing the Leaving Cert and the Junior Cert, Clare was in 2nd year and Dara was in 4th class.”
Mary somehow got through the pain. “I had to try and pick up the pieces and put a smile on my face,” she says. “There were six people watching for me. I remember the day after Jack’s accident, Geraldine was going to a birthday party. ‘Who’ll take me?’ she asked.”
Mary had to keep the family flag flying. “I had to try and keep the bright side out. I could easily have gone under.”
She found ways to cope with her only son’s untimely death.
“I avoided going into Bandon, where I’m from,” she recalls. “If I needed something from the shop, I sent the girls in to get it. They thought it was great fun.”
By degrees, Mary got back on track and learned how to roll with the punches.
She likes to remember her first-born as the boy who got to live his dream in the Sport of Kings.
“I remember the day of his ‘Grads’, Jack fixed up a car and drove it onto town. He rang me later saying he’d crashed the car. I was frantic and rushed into the Jeep to go and meet him.
“I got around the corner, and there he was, standing by the car that was upside down on the side of the road. And he hadn’t a scratch. I said to Robert, he’ll survive everything. He’ll live to be 90!”
Jack got to live a life doing what he was born to do, but it was tragically cut short
“Life does keep going,” says Mary.
And when the going gets rough, the cavalry arrive to make things better.
Now, Jack’s legacy is living on as his mother champions a cause close to all the Tyner hearts.
“We don’t dwell on the sadness,” says Mary. “We have great memories.”
And the family still have Jack’s car.
“It is still known as Jack’s car,” says Mary. “And we still say that something is ‘up in Jack’s room’ — he’s still part of the family. It’s like he’s never left.”
You can bet the Tyner girls will be cheering mum on as she rides out for leading trainer, Joseph O’Brien, in the next two events in the Challange, at Cork and Leopardstown racecourses thus autumn.
Mary says: “We had a fantastic start to the fund-raising at Kinsale point-to-points over the June bank holiday weekend. My daughters worked really hard to get posters done up and go around with buckets. They collected just over €1,500 there. I also held a coffee morning in Temperance Hall in Kinsale, which was a huge success, raising almost €3,000. It’s great to have so much support from everyone on this journey. I can’t believe how much money has been raised already and all the help I’ve been getting from friends and family.”
“I have great fun with my girls,” adds Mary. “They say I don’t look 55. I don’t feel it either.”
Spoken like a true champion.
Mary has partnered with local family business Log Cabins Cork, her main sponsor for the racing series. See www.logcabins.ie. She is also being sponsored by Lordan Safety Services, who specialise in equestrian events and construction safety management.
The second leg of the Corinthian Challenge takes place on September 1 at Cork racecourse over 1.5 miles. The final race takes place on October 26 over 1.25 miles at Leopardstown on the Irish Champions Stakes track, attracting people from all walks of life and all ages.
Irish Injured Jockeys (IIJ) was set up in 2014 to increase awareness and raise vital funds to support injured jockeys.
Its vision is to provide long-term care and guidance, not only when jockeys have suffered injury through race-riding, but when they will need help in their secondary careers and in their lives after they have finished riding.
Mary would like to express her gratitude to everyone who has kindly donated to her fund-raising page.