Two of the most frequent questions I am asked are, “how did you become a jockey?” and “why did you want to become a jockey?”
It’s almost humorous, as if there’s one short, easy answer. Especially for someone as long winded as I can be, trying to give the answer they are looking for can be difficult. How do you explain a life long passion and countless hours of hard work and dedication in a few sentences? How do you explain the amazing connection you feel with a 1,200 lb animal that has a mind of its own? How do you explain the gratitude you feel every morning being able to watch the sun come up from the back of a horse?
This sport has many highs and equally as many lows. It’s something that a larger percentage of people couldn’t and wouldn’t want to handle than could. But it’s also remarkably rewarding. The payoff is great to win races, but there’s so much more than just winning. I’ve been more proud of a horse running 4th in a tough race than winning a less competitive one. I’ve been thrilled to just make it through the post parade and out of the gates on a difficult, rank horse who’d failed at doing so twice before. I’ve seen people admire and respect a veteran runner who came through their last race safe and sound and would be retired to a good home. I’ve looked up and thanked God after clinging to the side of a racehorse who thought they wanted to try out to be a rodeo bronc, and I somehow ended up back in the saddle instead of in the dirt.
Being a jockey has a sort of star quality attached to it. Despite the fact that we’re generally covered in dirt, it’s almost glamorous in the sense that we become the faces of the sport as much, if not more than the star horses. We wear the bright, pretty colors, we get to take our picture, we get our name in the program, and we even have a team of people behind us every day. I mean come on, we don’t even have to clean our own boots. But in all honesty, my job is probably the simplest of them all. The most dangerous and the riskiest, yes. But horses require 24/7 care, it’s not as if they can take care of themselves. I’m with these athletes for 10-12 minutes when it comes to race time. And we may have met a couple of times during morning training. There are hot walkers, grooms, exercise riders, pony people, trainers, vets and farriers who spend way more time getting to know and prepare these animals for the races. The jockeys end up getting a lot of credit for a horse being successful, but the only thing I want to take credit for is getting myself there physically, mentally and emotionally. The success of a horse comes from the behind the scenes efforts of many, many people who are investing their time, love and care into these animals day after day.
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So the why and the how aren’t really the important questions to be asking.
It’s more the WHAT that I want someone to understand. The what keeps you going. The what keeps your head up through the hard times. The what that makes all your problems disappear when you’re in tune with an amazing animal. Because I know there’s nothing else I’d rather do every day. And I’m pretty positive 98% of race trackers would say the same.
I’m here to enlighten you, the fans and maybe those of you who aren’t fans yet. I want to show you what it’s like through my eyes. From someone who started at the bottom and is still working every single day to get to the top. And maybe, if I’m lucky, I can ignite a little of that spark in you that is my what. It’s the view of the first rays of sunlight poking their way through the lingering night sky at 5 am, the motion of the world waking up to start their work day as I’m almost through with mine, the feel of a horses heartbeat through my legs as they anxiously wait for me to cue them into their morning exercise, the smell of hay and sweet feed as I get nuzzled by my favorites in the barn and the way it feels to look into a horse’s eye and feel a connection deep within your soul. And hopefully you will tell a friend, and that friend will tell their friend, and so on.
This isn’t just a sport to us; it’s our lives.