There are rich pickings for champion jockeys around the world, millions to be won each year, but they all have humble beginnings as apprentices at Jockey School.
These days apprentice jockeys have to learn the ‘ins’ and the ‘outs’ of the horse itself. In New Zealand this year there are 55 young people in training and I’ve been along to one class at the Jockey School in Pukekohe.
The story really starts very early in the morning. At the Pukekohe race track, several young apprentice jockeys and stable workers have been up since 5.30am putting their charges through morning exercises, all under the watchful eye of trainer, Nigel Tiley.
The diminutive Nigel was a jockey himself for many years. He started at just 12 years old and went to jockey school too where he says he learned all kinds of stuff, even the correct silverware to use at a formal dinner.
Across the race course at the Jockey School, is director Sally Waters collecting her brood of students for the day. They are all very young and skinny, living off very little food it seems!
Apprentice Chris Dell says he’s had two spoonfuls of yoghurt and a sandwich since 5.00am. He’ll have protein and salad for dinner, but only after a run.
Wielding her riding crop, Zinjete Moki demonstrates how they all work out on the Equicizers – full-size dummy horses, fully sprung, padded, stirrups and saddle and all. The room comes with giant mirrors as in a dance studio, and Zinjete can practise her riding style and technique, while also increasing her strength.
Zinjete Moki and Chris Dell on the equisizers
In one classroom there’s a full-sized skeleton of a horse, various bones identified by sticky labels.
Left: Horse skeleton. Right: Picture from the classroom wall of a horse dissection
In another room the students hear from stipendiary steward Alan Coles who goes over the weekend’s racing, as it replays on TV screens. Young Zinjete won her race but was suspended for cutting off a horse. The class sees the replay as Alan Coles calmly talks about what went wrong. No one is going to rebuke Zinjete. After all, it could’ve been any of them! A bit later there’s a shout of disbelieving laughter from them all as they see a jockey in another race whack a competitor across his back.
Left: Watching replays. Right: Chris looks on as steward Alan Coles explains the replays.
At the end of their apprenticeship the young jockeys should come out with a good lump of money that’s been set aside from their race winnings. It’ll be a hard life, on the road all the time, but they could make a lot of money.
Just so long as they stay away from the carbs!