Justine Klaiber is a young jockey riding at Canterbury Park and Prairie Meadows. This is her story so far:
FOTH: Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
JK: I was born in Arizona, and I lived there about halfway through high school, then I
moved to Colorado.
FOTH: What was it like for you moving like that?
JK: I was a little upset at first; moving away from all my friends and family, but I quickly learned that I loved it and its many opportunities. I still spend time in both places.
FOTH: Very cool. Overall, what sort of girl were you growing up? Did you have a lot of friends?
JK: Ha Ha I was definitely the horse girl growing up! I never had a lot of friends, but I always had a few very good friends who I still keep in touch with.
FOTH: Did you always have a love for horses? What did you think of horse racing the 1st time you saw a live horse race?
JK: Yes, I've always loved horses, and I've been riding as long as I can remember. Honestly, I fell in love, there was this competitive edge to it that I can't forget.
FOTH: So at what point in your life did you decide you wanted to be a jockey?
JK: I actually didn't want to ride for a long time. I was ponying and galloping while going to school. I was busy and pretty content. I'm not even really sure what changed. Maybe because I was really a good gallop girl and didn't really know what I wanted to do when I got my degree. I guess it just seemed like a good path to head on. I also had some outside pressure from friends and people at the track.
FOTH: Who taught you how to ride through this period, the early days?
JK: An old rider by the name of Kenny Heim put me on my first race horse and helped me out a lot in the beginning. My brother-in-law is a rider and also helped, especially when I started breezing.
FOTH: What did your parents think of all this?
JK: They support me 100%. I think they would rather me do something a little safer, but they are definitely my number 1 fans! I'm very lucky.
FOTH: When you decided to start riding, was getting on actual thoroughbred race horses easy and natural for you, and how long did you exercise ride before you started to ride races?
JK: I had been galloping and breezing horses on and off for about four years. It's actually came pretty natural. I had been galloping so long that getting the mounts early on wasn't too hard. I was mostly riding for the same people I was galloping for.
FOTH: Did you know what it was going to take being a jockey when you started this journey? Did anything surprise you at all and was it easier or harder than you thought?
JK: Definitely harder than I thought! In the beginning. My weight was a struggle. I'm pretty tall for a female rider. Now I've learned to be a little healthier. The biggest struggle I think has been just staying positive in a slump, but supportive people make that a lot easier.
FOTH: Tell me all about your first race. Were your parents there? Were you nervous in the Jock’s Room? What track was it? Were you nervous in the post parade or being loaded in the starting gate? Where did you finish?
JK: My first race was on a palomino quarter horse that was coming off of a lay off. Her name was shiner blonde at Arapahoe Downs. The day before I had hurt my ankle getting a thoroughbred gate okayed, and my ankle was so swollen I could hardly get my boot on. I was pretty nervous in the post parade, but was pretty relaxed by the time I had got to the gate. We finished 4th!
FOTH: Once you got that race under your belt, did things go smoother for you?
JK: Yes, a lot!!! After that the mounts got a better, and I learned to chill out a little bit. Ha ha
FOTH: Now I have seen live quarter horse races in person. Do you feel in some ways they are more dangerous than just regular Thoroughbred races?
JK: No, I think quarter horse and thoroughbred races are equally dangerous. Although because the quarters are a little more hot blooded, they are usually perceived as dangerous or crazy.
CF: At which tracks have you ridden, and tell me just a bit about them?
JK: I started at Arapahoe Park, which will always be one of my favorites! I've spent a couple seasons at Turf Paradise where I always get a lot of experience. Rillito Park has to be my favorite! It's a small fair meet, but they get the best crowds, and it's always buzzing. Here recently I went to Canterbury Park and Prairie Meadows. I loved the full quarter horse meet at Prairie.
FOTH: I have been to the last two tracks you mentioned and had a great time at both. Take me through a typical race day for you these days.
JK: Typically, I get to the track around 5:30 and work horses until 10. Then I'm in the Jock’s Room by noon and ride the first couple race which are quarter horses and then ride any thoroughbreds I might have.
FOTH: What are some things you like to do when you’re away from the track? Do you follow any sport teams at all?
JK: No, I’m not into sports at all. Ha ha. I actually spend most of my time outside the track riding. I have barrel and rope horses, too.
FOTH: Have your parents been to many of your races, and, if so, have they been
there when you won a race?
JK: They come a lot, and they get pretty excited getting in my win pictures.
FOTH: If you weren't a jockey, what do you think you would be doing with yourself?
JK: Mmm, I would probably ride my barrel horses a lot more! Ha Ha, but I'm not sure, I would probably be going to school full time.
FOTH: You haven’t been riding for a long time, but do you plan on continuing to ride after you lose your “bug?”
JK: Yes, I do.
FOTH: Have you been injured being a jockey?
JK: No, nothing major.
FOTH: Are there many other female riders out at the tracks where you ride?
JK: At Turf Paradise, there are two others, but a lot of time when I go to a full quarter horse meets, I'm the only one.
FOTH: I forgot to ask earlier, tell me all about your first win, what track was it, did you win by a lot, etc.?
JK: My first win was at Arapahoe Park on a long shot. I had no idea I was going to win. It was a maiden that hadn't shown much in a non 3.
FOTH: Did the jockeys get you good after the race, and did you know that was coming?
JK: Ha Ha They did, and yes, I was ready for it!
FOTH: What did they get you with?
JK: They dumped this gross dirty boot water on me and baby powder. Then one of the girls stood by waiting with the water hose.
FOTH: Oh wow, crazy. If a young girl came up to you and said she wanted to be a jockey, what would you tell her?
JK: I would tell her that she's awesome!! And that it's worth every bit of hard work!
FOTH: Justine, I am out of questions, thumbs up for the interview, and any last words to wrap this up?
JK: No, just thanks for the interview, Footboy! Ha ha