Sheena Ryan is a young jockey riding up in Canada and she quite a story to tell so far in her young career as she has some horrible luck with injuries, but she is a true trooper and is currently riding at Woodbine and here is her story:
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
SR: I was born in Kindersley, Saskatchewan moved to Roseneath, Ontario when I was about 5 years old and grew up here.
FOTH: What sort of girl were you growing up and I read that even at 9 years old you wanted to become a jockey as you and your sister rode horses through fields? Tell me more about this and as far as your sister goes how proud of you is she these days?
SR: I was obsessed with horses. My mom put us in riding lessons and it just went from there. I was a shy girl growing up and I was always smaller than everyone in my class. I played other sports in school and enjoyed soccer but I wouldn't consider myself a "stand out player". I used to draw pictures of horses, every essay for school was about horses...to the point where people in my class we're making fun of me and getting sick of listening about horses all the time. Things haven't changed much, haha. My sister is very proud of me. The first time she saw me race live was at Woodbine, and I achieved my first win at that track that day also.
FOTH: I read you did 3 years of accounting collage at the behest of your parents. Did they not want to see you become a jockey?
SR: My parents didn't really love the idea at first. It was scary, I had graduated with a 3 year diploma from Durham College and I was working as a Junior Accountant for a company in Cobourg, ON. It was a safe job and life but it wasn't fulfilling. When I decided to up and leave all of that my parents were scared that I was making a bad decision and didn't want to see me get hurt. Now they are proud of me and my dad even carries some of my wins photos with him to his job sites to show people. They are the best parents and my biggest fans. Mom tapes my races if she can't be home to watch them on. They have helped and supported me the whole way even when they were unsure about my decision to begin this journey.
FOTH: Tell me about this Alberta’s Olds College you went to and looking back how was that experience for you?
SR: Olds College was an awesome experience. I learned a lot about the basics there. Growing up I learned how to ride horses in a Western Saddle and the style from that to galloping racehorses was much different. I walked into this thinking it would be easy for me because I had been riding for so long. I was so wrong! haha! But with time I adjusted to the different style and slowly started improving. My teachers at Old's College teachers Real Simard, Nancy Huston, Twylla Bensmiller and Theresa Sealy were all very supportive and taught me a lot.
FOTH: I know you lived in Canada, but in 2011, you went down to Florida to gallop horses. What was the biggest difference in galloping horses down there as opposed to ones in Canada?
SR: Down in Florida I worked at Palm Meadows Training Center and found the horses are much more relaxed compared to at Woodbine Racetrack. The atmosphere of the training center compared to Woodbine is much different. It’s quieter there and its location is outside any town or city. Less noise and there is no racing at the training center so overall I think the horses just feel the difference. Also the weather is beautiful down there and getting done around 11am and going outside to enjoy the sunshine was so nice!
FOTH: You ran into some horrible luck while up in Canada as a horse belonging to Trainer Reade Baker caused you to break your pelvis. What exactly happened that caused this.
SR: The horse I was on was a nice horse. He never did much wrong or bad. But the weird thing is this was the 3rd thing that happened to me with this horse. We had him down in Florida and the first incident was he had got cast in his stall. So he was stuck and we were trying to help him get his feet under himself. In the process he kicked out and just hit my funny bone on my elbow. It wasn't a direct hit and it didn't do any damage but it’s not funny hitting the funny bone! The second incident I was preparing to work this horse with another one and just as we set off my right rein broke in half. I grabbed it and managed to handle the horse and nothing bad happened. The third was when we came back to Woodbine and I was waiting on the other horse I was to go in company with to the track. This horse got upset for some reason and reared up lost his balance and came down on me. I had 4 clean breaks and about a half dozen hairline fractures. It was not fun but I learned a hard lesson that day. No matter what you have to take care of yourself and do whatever is necessary.
FOTH: It took 7 months for your pelvis to heal. When doing rehab and stuff was there any thoughts of you just saying to yourself, I guess I wasn’t cut out to be a jockey or was your mentality I am going to come back and realize my dream?
SR: The thought did come to my mind when they loaded me into the ambulance. It scared me not being able to get up and walk away this time, being the first serious accident in my life. But when the thought came to my mind my heart was crushed. I knew as soon as the thought came to my mind I couldn't imagine not doing this still. I then looked on the positive side of the situation and figured maybe I needed the break from riding. I spent the time off with my family and friends. I used the time off as a motivation to improve myself and move forward. It made me stronger.
FOTH: Ok now you finally got your jockey license and you rode in your 1st race at Grand Prairie and you fell off the horse you were on and broke your arm!!! How disheartening was that for you and did you even again question yourself whether being a jockey was you were meant to be and what were your parents saying to you at this point?
SR: I waited so long for my first race and I was so excited and nervous that day like anyone would be I suppose. When that happened I didn't even care that I broke my arm. I felt like I failed. It was really hard up in the hospital I had to wait a day and a half to get into surgery. Wasn't allowed to eat, my heart was broken; to sum it up I was a mess. I didn't want to give up and my family didn't want me to give up. The first accident was more physically challenging, this one was mentally. After getting the surgery in Grand Prairie Hospital I flew back home to Ontario to stay with my parents. It was hard to stay positive and I admit I was very miserable for a while but in the end I realized I am lucky to have my family and friends behind me. No matter what happens they will always be there for me and just because my first race didn't go as planned doesn't mean I can't race ride. I learned from the experience and moved on. Again, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger!
FOTH: Now Trainer Ron Grieves told you to heal up and he would have horses for you when you were ready to come back and sure enough he did. How exciting was that for you knowing he had kept his word?
SR: Ron taught me so much when I started at the race track. He was the first person I ever worked for and to have my first win with him was awesome. I look up to Ron and he was an excellent teacher, very patient and he never gave up on me. After my first race and what a disaster it was, he was the first person I called. I feel very lucky to have someone like Ron supporting me, to this day I still keep in touch with him and I know he will always be there to help me out.
FOTH: Now 2 months later at Northlands Park, you won your 1st race. I imagine you must have been grinning from ear to ear after all these setbacks and now you finally win a race. How was it jogging the horse back to the winner’s circle?
SR: Wow…you can't get that kind of experience anywhere. I felt like I just won the Kentucky Derby, it was amazing. I was on cloud 9 and felt so happy I could burst. I will never forget it. The horse that I won on was also the first horse I got on after my last injury, he is a very kind easy to ride and good horse to start back riding with. It was cool because he had been off for a couple months as well, he was sick, and then we both come back and get both of our first wins together. "Circle of Time" he is a special horse to me and I will never forget him.
FOTH: Did the jockeys get you good after the race and did you know it was coming?
SR: They poured water over me after the race; I knew something would be coming. My friend Shannon Beauregard got me really good a week later in the Jocks room with maple syrup, eggs, baby powder, feathers... you name it she dumped it on me after she duck taped me to a pole. I didn't see that coming but it was funny.
FOTH: Soon after you decided to go ride at Woodbine, which is the top track in Canada. How has it been for you riding at Woodbine and for those who don’t know tell me a bit about riding at Woodbine is like?
SR: Riding at Woodbine is fun and competitive. There are a lot of jockeys and there is some pressure to do well because you need to get rolling.
FOTH: What tracks have you rode at so far?
SR: I have ridden at Northlands Park, Woodbine, and Fort Erie Racetrack.
FOTH: What is the best piece of advice you have been given so far?
SR: Don't take anything personal, business is business. Enjoy the good days and learn from the bad days. Always try to see the positive of any situation because no matter how bad it is there is always a positive.
FOTH: Do you feel you have a certain riding style?
SR: I haven't ridden enough races to say I have a certain style really. I try to let the horse tell me what they want to do, it was advice given to me by a couple older Jockeys.
FOTH: Have you ever ridden in any races outside of Canada to date?
SR: No I haven't.
FOTH: Take me through a typical day for you these days?
SR: I start work in the mornings around 6:30 am. Work horses, walk around talk to trainers and my agent and I will discuss business. Usually finish around 10:30 - 11am. If there is day races I usually go to the room check my weight, maybe have a light meal and nap for half hour or so. Then ride whatever races I have that day. Afterwards I just go home, eat and relax. I will watch my replays and think about what I could work on or if I could have done certain things better. I have an equizer at home too so I will go on there and practice certain techniques I need to work on.
FOTH: What are some of the things that you like to do when you’re away from the racetrack?
SR: I love to go out hiking, running any kind of outdoor activity really. Love being outside and away from the city! Also I love reading books and watching movies and hanging out with friends and family.
FOTH: What is the best and worst thing about being a jockey?
SR: Best thing: Working with horses, best feeling in the world is when you and that animal connect and want to achieve something together.
Worst thing: Injuries that may occur, also a very competitive business.
FOTH: If you had to be an athlete in another sport, what sport would it be and why?
SR: I think I would like to be a trick rider or an acrobat. I love watching them do tricks off horses or the acrobats in the Cirque du soleil. They are so talented; you would have to be so strong and fit. Amazing to watch.
FOTH: What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
SR: I think proudest moment for me was my first win, I finally raced and I won, I proved to myself that I could do it.
FOTH: Do you think you will be involved in the sport of racing one way or another for a long time to come?
SR: Yes. I love the sport. I couldn't imagine not having horse racing in my life.
FOTH: Do you have any goals for yourself?
SR: Yes. Keep improving and I would love to achieve the Apprentice Sovereigns Award next year.
FOTH: Any last words….thumbs up for doing this interview!