Unbridled Passions: Jockey coach and Derby winner Michael Hills as you've never seen him before

I have always been interested in birds and for the last five years I have bred Gouldian finches.

They are amazing little birds, which are native to Australia, and come in various really bright colours.

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Three of us – all ex-jockeys – took up breeding these birds at the same time: my twin brother Richard, Kevin Darley and me.

Keeping and breeding these birds, which are also known as rainbow finches, has become a real passion for all of us.

I have always been into nature and loved watching wildlife programmes on television. Richard and I were keen on birds when we were kids – we used to breed budgies and we had some peacocks.

But when we started off as professional jockeys our jobs took up a lot of time and we let this interest slip.

Then, when we both bought our family homes in Newmarket, we had garden ponds.

So Richard bred some ornamental ducks and I bred some swans.

But it was only when Kevin met a bird breeder in Doncaster that one year, during the St Leger meeting, we went to see him and all bought a couple of pairs of Gouldian finches. It all started from there.

Then, some time after I retired as a jockey in 2012, I built this indoor, heated aviary for the Gouldian finches. They need warm conditions because they breed in the winter.

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At present, I have 17 pairs and so far I have bred 90 birds. If you breed them well, you create birds with beautiful colours and the fun part for me is pairing one bird with another to get a new colour.

That's where Richard and Kevin come in because we swap birds for breeding purposes.

The rare blue birds cost around £50 each and the more every-day coloured ones range from £30 to £40 a bird.

Each year, I pair the birds in a separate cage in September. Then they breed in between October and early March. They lay eggs and these incubate for about 21 days.

Then you get the chicks and you have to look after them or they will die. I try to breed blue and silver birds because they are the rarest.

When you advertise the young to sell, you realise how popular this hobby is: my emails go crazy and people will drive from all over the country, saying, “Please save it for me. The drive is 10 hours but I will definitely be there tomorrow.”

People are really enthusiastic about getting new coloured birds into their collections.

I still ride out most days, then I check on the birds and feed them seeds, before I do my jockey coaching for the BHA (British Horseracing Authority).

Then I go to the aviary, take my iPad to watch the racing in the afternoon and relax with the birds.

It’s a good way of switching off from racing – just doing my own thing. I will never give it up.

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