Allison DeMajistre Juvonen
We both have to admit we don't know a whole lot about Allison DeMaijstre Juvonen, but we contacted her about an interview and after a few emails back and forth we had an interview with her. She doesn't ride much anymore, but she was a very interesting interview subject.
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
AD: I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and lived there until my family moved to West Chester, Pennsylvania when I was 15.
FOTH: Do you have any brothers or sisters and are you close with your parents?
AD: I have two older brothers, neither which are into horses. I am semi close with my parents.
FOTH: What type of kid were you growing up?
AD: When I was pre-teens I was very active and into all kinds of sports. Softball, basketball, soccer, I actually competed in figure skating for about three years but it consumed so much time and energy and MONEY that I gave it up reluctantly. My last two years in high school were a little dodgey, I started hanging out with the 'wrong crowd' if you know what I mean. But it didn't last forever, thankfully.
FOTH: What led to you getting involved in horse racing? What did you think of a race track and jockeys when you saw them for the first time?
AD: When I was fifteen years old I rode my first horse, whose name was Vermont. I told my parents I wanted to be a jockey. First of all they didn't take me seriously and second of all they told me I HAD to go to college. So I did. I went to the University of Miami in Florida. I didn't sit on a single horse for those four years. As soon as a graduated with a B.S. in English and Art and a 4.0 grade average I went home and went to the horse farm down the road from my house. I cleaned stalls in exchange for lessons. One thing led to another and I ended up learning to gallop on Jonathan Sheppard's farm in Unionville, Pennsylvania. I never really saw a racetrack until I went to Gulfstream Park with Jonathan one winter. I found it to be glamorous and exciting and then all I wanted in life was to be a jockey.
FOTH: What was the feeling like getting up on a horse for the first time?
AD: The feeling of getting on my first racehorse just to gallop was a little intimidating. I thought all racehorses wanted to run off and you had to be really strong to hold them. Those poor horses of my first year of galloping. I was nervous, then they got nervous and we were both a mess. I got over it soon enough though. Now I feel like being on a horse is the only place I really belong, it just feels like the most natural thing that I do. I can't imagine my life without it.
FOTH: When you decided to become a jockey did anybody try to talk you out of it?
AD: The only person I can remember really trying to talk me out of it was Michael McCarthy at Delaware Park. He told me I'd never make it, wasn't ready and blah blah blah. I was so angry it just made me want to do it more. I guess the stewards at Delaware tried to talk me out of it too. Dangerous, expensive and more blah blah blah. Of course I didn't listen. I was on a mission.
FOTH: How long did you gallop/exercise horses? In your mind did you think you were a 100% ready to become a jockey?
AD: I galloped for about 3 years, maybe 2 1/2 and I was definitely not ready. If I would have started at the level I could ride 2 years after I started I may have been a superstar! Instead I made some horrible mistakes and embarrassing ones! And it took me over a year to win my first race.
FOTH: If you remember, tell us about your first race.
AD: I actually rode in a few amatuer races before I got my apprentice license. Oh was I not ready for that! The first race was at Suffolk Downs and I was so nervous I couldn't speak. I think the trainer was Joe Cesarini. All he said was, "you gotta break this horse good and when you turn for home you gotta hit him with that whip as hard as you can." Guess what, I broke in the horses mouth and dropped my whip by the 5/16 pole. It was an experience though and unbelievable I didn't let it discourage me. I actually have to hand it to my husband. As many times as I wanted to give up he was there pushing me, telling me that I could do it. I just needed to believe in myself.
FOTH: Tell us about your first win. Was it close or did you win by many lengths? Did you creamed with various food objects after the race?
AD: My first win was on Buck General at Hialeah Park for Butch Potter. It was early in the meet. The track was so sloppy. After we broke from the gate I was in front. Going into the first turn I heard some yelling behind me and then I saw the outrider going up towards the turn so I knew something was up. Passing the 3/8 pole I started getting really excited thinking I could actually win. I kept going trying not to lose my cool. At the quarter pole I was still in front. I was actually going to win. Then, at the 1/8 pole Buck tripped in a hole or from the sloppy track and I almost fell off! I made it to the wire though. Afterward I found out 2 horses broke down on the first turn. Then because Buck almost fell down the jocks had a meeting after the race and refused to ride. It was two more days before they ran at Hialeah because the track was in such bad condition. At least I got my win in first. Brent Bartram was the only guy I knew at Hialeah because I hadn't been in Florida very long and we had both been at Delaware. After the race he knocked on the door of the girl's room and said he wanted to congragulate me. I opened the door. He shook my hand with one hand and smashed an egg over my head with another. That actually meant a lot to me since no one else even mentioned it was my first win.
FOTH: You told me you won the apprentice title down at Tampa Bay Downs some years back. How was that award for you and did you find it tough after losing your "bug"?
AD: Winning the apprentice title at Tampa was a great thing. It was so tough there in the beginning of the meet. No one wanted to ride a girl and especially one they hadn't really heard of. Most of the people were from places like Suffolk Downs and Finger Lakes and I knew close to no one. I got a really good agent half way through the meet, Chuck Diton, and he helped me out a lot. He was a great agent and a really nice guy. Anyway, Randi Melton and I were in the running up until the last day, really the last couple races. I ended up winning the last race on the last day of the meet. I remember the horse's name, Mooglee, I thought it was a funny name. Anyway, when I got back up to Delaware Park that spring no one seemed to think apprentice title at Tampa was a big deal. Everybody likes to downplay Tampa but guess what, it's a tough place to do well.
FOTH: What tracks have you ridden at and do you have a favorite horse or track that you rode at?
AD: I've ridden at Delaware, Monmouth, Meadowlands, Aqueduct, Calder, Hialeah, Gulfstream, Charles Town. It's hard to believe so many. My favorite horse by far was a filly named Friendly Goose. I lost my 10 pounds on her and I think I ended up winning 5 total on her until she got claimed. I haven't seen her since. She was so much fun to ride. She would break and take herself back so she was about 15 lengths off the pace (going long), at the 3/8 pole I'd say "come on Goose!" and she'd get herself in gear. She'd split horses, go up the inside, all she wanted to do was win. I loved that filly.
FOTH: What is the biggest race you ever rode in and also biggest race you won?
AD: I rode 'The Goose' (I like to call her) in a stake at Charles Town. She was a West Virginia bred. She ended up third. I didn't really win any great races that I can remember.
FOTH: Have you ever been taken off a horse cause your a female?
AD: I'm sure I've been taken off horses because I'm a girl but no one would be willing to admit that was the reason. Most of the time you hear, "it was the owner that didn't want to ride you".
FOTH: What are some things you were taught as a jockey and have your parents ever seen you ride and what do they think about you being a jockey?
AD: My parents love that I ride races. They watch the Pennsylvania racing station every time I ride. They didn't know anything about racing before I started riding, now they are experts! They both bet sometimes. My dad likes to wheel my horses, it's kind of funny. The best thing is down in Tampa my average payoff on a winner was at least $15 because I'd be on all the longshots. So when I won on a horse they usually made some pretty good money. I learned a lot of stuff when I was a jockey. I learned about riding, racing, how to handle myself with owners, trainers, and other jocks. I also learned a lot about horses and how every single one of them is different. I learned to be patient and to never bitch out loud about the gate crew!
FOTH: You also told me you donít ride much anymore cause you have a family and recently got married. How much longer do you think you will ride for and was it tough to maintain weight for you afer having a child?
AD: There's a lot of reasons why I don't ride much anymore. Nickalas, my son, really isn't the big reason to me but to my husband. He worries that I'll get hurt. I've never gone out on the track with the thought in my head that I would get hurt. If I ever do I'll stop riding horses all together. My husband, Erik, is also a trainer. The biggest reason to me is that I'm too busy with our business to go out and hustle other people for mounts. I get on anywhere from 8-12 horses a morning for him. The only races I've ridden since I've been back are for him. I do miss riding in the afternoon and every time I do it I want to keep on doing it but I also have a good time riding in the mornings and seeing the horses that I've been riding win. I get a lot more nervous watching someone else ride them in a race than I ever got riding myself! My weight really isn't a problem. If it was I wouldn't raceride at all. I hated dieting and if I never sit in another hot box it will be too soon!
FOTH: What do you think could be done to make it easier for the female riders in this sport? Do you think that females don;t get half the credit they deserve?
AD: I've come to realize that this is not a woman's sport. It's not because I think women are not as good as men, I think that men are stronger than women. We have all the mental qualities that the majority of men don't have. We're patient, we have good hands, we're brave but we don't do stupid things, we think about what we're doing and we have the ability to think quickly, we can also get run out of horses that men can't. Unfortunately though, we are simply not as strong as men and I'm not afraid to admit that and neither should any girl. But most trainers want to see a guy finish on a horse that is running out of run. If their horse gets beat then they blame themselves. If a girl is riding that same horse and she gets beat in the same way the answer is she's not strong enough. What I'm trying to say is that strength isn't everything in riding but it is a lot and it's what trainers and owners want to see.
FOTH: Did you have any goals when you were starting out and did you manage to accomplish any of them? Is there any you still want to accomplish?
AD: Starting out my goals were huge. I would have liked to have won the Eclipse Award. Of course that didn't happen but I did ok and I won my fair share of races. I got better the longer I rode and I loved what I was doing. I guess that's an accomplishment. At this point my goals are to ride the best that I can, make my horses happy and relaxed, be the best mother and wife I can be, and to WIN ONE MORE RACE!!
FOTH: Allison thanks for the interview. You gave some great answers. Any last words?
AD: Thanks for the interview and if you need anything else just let me know.
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