Rachael Kneller is a young jockey that is currently riding over in England. She also would like to come to the US to ride someday. I asked about doing an interview for the site and I emailed her some questions and here is what she said to them:
FOTH: Where were you born and what sort of girl were you growing up?
RK: I was born in Wolverhampton in the West Midlands area of England, and was a bit of a tomboy growing up. I had an older brother who I'd play in the garden with climbing trees and playing football (soccer) which turned me into a tough girl rather than a girlie girl. Most people my age were into playing with dolls but I would rather be outside getting mucky! I guess I got my sporty personality from playing sports in the garden.
FOTH: Are there many racetracks at where you grew up?
RK: There is a racecourse in my home town of Wolverhampton called 'Dunstall Park' which is an all-weather track (dirt), where I have had a fair few rides. But with England being so small, there are lots more tracks within an hour's drive that we travel to also.
FOTH: What sort of girl were you growing up and did you have a love for horses
at a young age?
RK: I have always loved horses for as long as I can remember. My bedroom was covered in horse posters and bed linen, etc. I was horse mad and had horsey teddies all over my bed. My family were also horse mad which is probably where I get it from. My uncle was an apprentice jockey and my granddad owned a riding school where both my mom and my dad worked, so horses was always on the cards for me. I have ridden since I was about 4 years old and my mom used to pick me up from nursery (kindergarten) on my first pony who was a little sheltered pony called 'Murphy'. Then I grew up attending pony club and going to local shows where I did show jumping and eventing. I eventually got involved in racing when I was 15 years old.
FOTH: What was it like getting up on a horse for the 1st time. Did it feel
natural or did it feel kinda weird?
RK: I actually don't remember the first time I rode as I was so young, but I have a photograph of me sitting on my mom's horse when I was 4. My legs barely reach either side of the horse and I'm wearing my mom's riding hat which is so big you can barely see my eyes. It looks so funny!
FOTH: Who taught or helped you out to ride?
RK: My mom helped me out a lot as she is a qualified instructor, but I also had lessons at a local riding school until I was 7. Then I joined the pony club where mom took me to rallies on my pony where we were given free lessons by qualified instructors. It was good as it was a place to meet people like me that were horse mad and wanted to improve. I was in pony club until I was 14.
FOTH: Would you ever want to come to the US to ride one day?
RK: Oh yeah definitely. I would like to ride in lots of different countries as the different styles are a good way to improve your overall riding. But America I would love to come as I have watched "Jockeys" on Animal Planet and the riders are so strong in a finish, so it would be great to get some coaching from them.
FOTH: What are some of the tracks that you have rode at and how long have you been riding?
RK: I have ridden at around 15 different tracks in England, as it is only small country and they are not too far away. I've rode at Chester, Haydock Park, Dunstall Park, Thirsk, Redcar, Chepstow, Pontefract and many more. The furthest one away is about 6 hours in the car, so unless my agent gets me a ride there then I try to avoid it. In England we ride wherever we can get rides, whereas I think in America you tend to stick to one track. I have been a jockey since I was 18 years old, so for 4 yrs now.
FOTH: Have you won many races and do the jockeys get you with water and stuff
over there after your 1st win like we do over here?
RK: So far I have ridden 3 winners. My first winner was at a Grade 1 track which was amazing. I was privileged to get a ride there and never thought I stood a chance of winning, so it was a nice surprise. I didn't get soaked with water but when I went into work the following day to ride work for my trainer, all the staff threw me on the muck heap-lovely!!
FOTH: Are there many girl riders over where you ride at?
RK: No, unfortunately there isn't. We have a lot of girls working in racing in England, but they don't all race ride. A lot of them just work for a trainer looking after the horses and leading up at the races. There are 3 professional girls and everyone else has tried and failed, or is like me-trying now.
FOTH: What are some things you like to do when you are away from the race track?
RK: I love spending time with my partner Frank. We live together with our 2 dogs so we usually chill with our family and take the dogs for a nice run in the woods, then we will go out for lunch somewhere nice. We also love holidays which is something we do at least 3 times a year. We travel to the Caribbean a lot and Mexico, anywhere hot! But when we're not on holiday or riding, I tend to chill at home with Frank and a DVD and a pizza.
FOTH: Which do you prefer the dirt or the grass and why?
RK: I prefer the turf (grass) as it's much nicer to ride on and the kick back isn't as severe. The all-weather (dirt) gets everywhere and I find myself still picking bits of sand out my ears all night!
FOTH: Have you had any injuries so far and if you have what has been the worst
RK: I have had a few falls along the way, but nothing life threatening. I have had concussion twice from falls on my head and I have broken my left collarbone in a fall last winter. I was bucked off a 2 year old while out riding and had to go to hospital for an x-ray, so I had a lazy winter at home. But I love racing so much it would take more than that put me off!
FOTH: Do you ever have any problems with your weight and what is the riding
weight over there?
RK: I used to struggle with my weight in my first season, and spent a lot of time in the sauna and starving myself for races. But since then, I know what weights I need to be so I made an effort to get my weight down. I now weigh 7 stone 12 pounds and I eat what I want as long as it's in small portions, so I don't put on anything. Most of the weights in races are between 8 stone 3 pounds up to 9 stone. I am light though so I can do the lower weights that other jockeys struggle with.
FOTH: If you could change a few things about the sport over there, what would
it be and why?
RK: The prize money is not very good. The average race pays out £2000 to the winner, which isn't much considering the cost of training fees for owners. I would also make the facilities for girls at the races better. The girls changing rooms are far too small and with more girls getting involved, they need updating.
FOTH: Do you have a favorite horse that you have ridden or track that you have rode so far?
RK: Yes, my favorite horse is a bay 5 year old gelding called 'Hucking Heat'. He gave me my first winner and I have been 3rd on him twice. He is such a genuine horse that always tries his heart out for you. I have a huge picture of me and him when we won hanging in the dining room at home.
FOTH: Are there many horse farms where you live?
RK: There are about 6 in our area. In England there are around 3000 trainers but they are all dotted around all over England. The one's by me are within a 30 minute drive, but the others are around an hour+ away.
FOTH: What is the most famous track where you live?
RK: The most famous track in England is probably Ascot. This is situated about 2 hours away from me. This is a track that I would love to ride at as the Queen of England always goes to Ascot to watch, so it would be amazing to ride in front of her majesty.
FOTH: DO you follow any other sports and if so what sports are they?
RK: I like to follow football (soccer) and my local team is Wolverhampton Wanderers, who have just been promoted to the premiere league. I also recently went to the England vs Andorra match in London which was great. Other than football, I don't really follow any other sports.
FOTH: Do you feel that you have to work harder to earn the respect of trainers
with you being a female jockey?
RK: Definitely. Girls in racing are seen as weak. Trainers don't think girls can hold a strong horse or push one out in a finish as well as the men, who are known for their strength in sports. So it is hard for us, but as more and more girls are getting into racing and becoming a success it's slowly getting easier.
FOTH: Do you pretty much get along with all the other riders?
RK: I do yes. Us girls all stick together in racing. We're all best friends until we go out onto the track and then it's war! But we support each other really well and are always really happy for each other when we do well.
FOTH: Have you ever seen any races from the US on TV and if you did what did you think of them?
RK: Yes I've seen a lot of American racing on the TV and I think they all look very stylish. American jockeys ride with very short stirrups so they can get very low in the saddle, whereas English jockeys don't ride quite that short because the horses are too fresh. They tend to bounce about a lot and it's safer to ride a little bit longer in case they dart left or right at the start.
FOTH: Any last words. Thumbs up for the interview.
RK: Thanks for doing this interview with me.
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