Hop­ping to Get Back into the Sad­dle

Ladies in Racing - - Con­tents - Story by Tim Guille Im­ages by Atkins Pho­tog­ra­phy and Rac­ing SA

Libby grew up on a farm in Caster­ton in coun­try Vic­to­ria. As a young girl, one of her favourite mem­o­ries was going on camel treks. “Dad had lots of camels when I was grow­ing up. Ev­ery win­ter we would take them into the desert and do tourist treks and we raced them,” she said. It was there she had her first taste of rac­ing. “When I was 11yo I started rid­ing them in races. I did that for a few years and cer­tainly learnt a lot,” she re­called. It wasn’t only camels that Libby grew up around though. “Be­cause I grew up on a farm, I was al­ways rid­ing. I was given a sta­tion pony on one of the camel treks, be­cause I had won a race. It was an un­bro­ken pony, and I had to train and look af­ter him. I just loved that,” she added. While it was a life­style that many would have en­vied, Libby re­alised that a solid ed­u­ca­tion was a must have. “School­ing was be­com­ing a real challenge to man­age, so I stopped be­ing part of the camel treks and rac­ing,” she said. With an in­creased fo­cus on im­prov­ing her ed­u­ca­tion, Libby moved to Mount Gam­bier to fin­ish her school­ing, a move that would turn out to be for­tu­itous for her later on. Af­ter fin­ish­ing school and want­ing to spend time earn­ing some money, Libby de­ferred from Univer­sity. While most young adults that take that path head on an over­seas ad­ven­ture, Libby went down an­other road. “I started work­ing at Michael O'leary's rac­ing sta­ble to earn some money be­fore going to Univer­sity to study an Ar­chae­ol­ogy de­gree. I grew up around horses, so I just saw it as a way to start mak­ing some money. Then one day the sta­ble was short of a rider, so they put me aboard and I guess the rest is his­tory,” Libby said smil­ing. Ini­tially Libby still didn’t think rid­ing was going to take her any­where. “It wasn’t long af­ter that Michael of­fered me an ap­pren­tice­ship and I thought I’ll do this for a year and see where it goes,” she thought. Be­fore long, Univer­sity was off the cards. “The money be­came a big fac­tor af­ter a while. It was either an ap­pren­tice­ship or study at Univer­sity for fours years and end up with a debt,” she con­tin­ued. Even though money was a key part of her new ca­reer choice, Libby is im­mensely pas­sion­ate about horses and the in­dus­try. “I have al­ways loved horses and en­joyed rid­ing. I love rid­ing fast so it’s great to get paid for that. It’s a great job un­til some­thing goes wrong of course. There are cer­tainly no 9am – 5pm work­ing hours. There are early starts, but I’m of­ten home by 10am and I get to en­joy the day,” she said. It wasn’t long be­fore Libby had her first race win. “It was great to ride my first win­ner, such a buzz. It was on a horse called Our Monar­chy for Bill Wild in coun­try Vic­to­ria,” she re­mem­bered. 12 months into her ap­pren­tice­ship with Michael, Libby de­cided to try out her luck on the big­ger stage and moved to Ade­laide, tran­sfer­ring to Richard Jolly. The move paid off in many ways. “Those first few years were great. I had some really good re­sults, like win­ning one of the Na­tional Ap­pren­tice­ship Se­ries Races at Rand­wick on a Dar­ley- trained horse in 2008. Wear­ing those silks was pretty spe­cial,” she said. In a highly com­pet­i­tive ap­pren­tice­ship en­vi­ron­ment, Libby seemed to thrive. “I won the Dux of Ap­pren­tice­ship School in Ade­laide two years in a row, which was spe­cial. I also fin­ished third in a Se­nior jock­eys pre­mier­ship as an ap­pren­tice which I was really proud of,” In 2010, Libby had one of her best days at the track. “I rode four win­ners at a meet­ing at Morphettville in Novem­ber. That was def­i­nitely one of the high­lights of my ca­reer that’s for sure,” she said, again smil­ing. With Univer­sity a dis­tant mem­ory now, Libby had achieved what she wanted to get out of tak­ing up rid­ing in the first place. “I came out of my ap­pren­tice­ship in 2011 with a car, a house, a ca­reer and no debt,” Libby said. Libby was also part of one of the more un­usual oc­cur­rences in rac­ing and be­came an in­ter­net sen­sa­tion at the same time. At Oak­bank in 2014, as the horses jumped dur­ing a race, fel­low jockey Holly Mckech­nie lost her bal­ance and was des­tined to fall, be­fore Libby lent over and helped her re­gain her bal­ance and con­tinue her ride. “It wasn’t that big a deal, she was just fall­ing and it was just con­tin­u­ous rac­ing,” Libby said. But to the sur­prise of many, the stew­ards didn’t see it that way, rep­ri­mand­ing her for dan­ger­ous rid­ing. “You see some­one in trou­ble and instinct kicks in. I didn’t think it would blow up as much as it did. It was hi­lar­i­ous in the ste­ward’s room. They were com­ing down on me quite hard and Holly lost it.” While Libby has ex­pe­ri­enced the high­lights of be­ing a jockey, she has also ex­pe­ri­enced the dan­gers her cho­sen ca­reer pre­sented. “I have had a few falls here and there in my time,” she re­called “I re­mem­ber my first fall was at Nara­coorte on their Cup Day. I had won my first three rides on the day and was a bit too con­fi­dent when I was rid­ing in the Cup, when I clipped heals and fell,” she said.

IN OCTOBER 2014, 28yo LIBBY HOPWOOD WAS AT THE TOP OF HER GAME. SHE WAS RID­ING WIN­NERS

REG­U­LARLY, HER CON­FI­DENCE WAS AT AN ALL TIME HIGH AND SHE WAS BE­COM­ING KNOWN AS A VERY STRONG AND COM­PE­TENT RIDER AMONGST

THE IN­NER SANC­TUM.

BUT ON OCTOBER 15TH, A DAY KNOWN UN­OF­FI­CIALLY AS ‘BLACK WED­NES­DAY’ TO SOME, LIFE AS LIBBY KNEW IT WOULD BE CHANGED

FOR­EVER.

At the top of her game, Libby ar­rived at Mur­ray Bridge on a sunny Wed­nes­day in Spring, 2014 with a few good rides lined up. Libby ar­rived at the bar­ri­ers for Race Eight aboard Bari­gan Boy. Dur­ing the race Colla Voce, rid­den by Caitlin For­rest, fell heav­ily whilst lead­ing, bring­ing down four horses in­clud­ing Libby’s. A frac­tured col­lar­bone and ver­te­brae, punc­tured lung, se­vere con­cus­sion and bleed­ing on the brain are eas­ily in­juries that could be as­so­ci­ated with a car crash vic­tim, but that was the out­come for Libby. “I don’t re­mem­ber any­thing from that fall. The last thing I re­mem­ber was ac­tu­ally from the Satur­day be­fore that day,” Libby said. Three of the four jock­eys who fell suf­fered in­juries in­clud­ing Libby, but the fall claimed the life of Libby’s close friend and col­league, Caitlin. “I’ve never seen the race and I never will. I don’t re­mem­ber it and I’m going to keep it that way,” Libby said bluntly. Her treat­ing spe­cial­ists ex­plained the sever­ity of her head knock to her. “They said that I knocked a part of the brain that fil­ters out things that it needs to. So in­stead of the brain fil­ter­ing and giv­ing me what I needed, it couldn’t, and it was tak­ing on ev­ery­thing and get­ting over­whelmed. I had a bleed in the mid­dle, but most of it was around the front, hence why I was get­ting the headaches,” she re­mem­bered. Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion for Libby has been a very chal­leng­ing process. “It’s been long and frus­trat­ing to be hon­est I re­mem­ber do­ing some ba­sic bal­ance work and had to walk in a straight line. I couldn’t do it and I ac­tu­ally fell over. I had no idea how bad I was un­til I started the re­hab. I couldn’t sign my name and I wasn’t able to think straight at all. I suf­fered some se­ri­ous headaches in the early days, but they have sub­sided thank­fully,” Libby said. Through­out her re­cov­ery process, Libby still has had to deal with the pass­ing of her close friend. “I vis­ited the mini shrine that was set up by some of the other ap­pren­tices a few times, which was help­ful. Its hard to de­scribe los­ing a friend and per­son­al­ity like her,” Libby said sadly. It was dur­ing this time that Libby also was re­minded of how much she loves the peo­ple in the in­dus­try. “I started going to the races again over time and it was amaz­ing how much peo­ple were reach­ing out to me and keep­ing con­tact. I feel very lucky that the peo­ple I work with and the rac­ing fra­ter­nity are all good friends who looked out for me,” Libby said smil­ing.

The down­time was not all bad for Libby, she was able to eat well and travel over­seas. “I re­alised It was the first hol­i­day I had had for five years. I hope that it’s my last one for some time. I just wanted to get back to the job,” she said with a de­ter­mined look in her eyes. Af­ter six in­ten­sive months of re­hab, Libby got the news she had been wait­ing for re­cently, 13 months af­ter the fall. “I fi­nally got the all clear from the neu­rol­o­gist and Work Cover to start rid­ing ponies. I’ve been see­ing an ex­er­cise phys­i­ol­o­gist and I was fail­ing a lot of things phys­i­cally. I started to im­prove and soon enough I passed ev­ery­thing and was al­lowed to ride non-race­horses,” she said. Libby said, “It was a nice feel­ing to say the least. My horse, Zor­rin, was my first ride back be­cause I could trust him and he is so quiet.” But it was still gong to be a while be­fore she could re­turn to the rig­ors of rid­ing a race­horse. “I still need to pass a con­cus­sion test be­fore I can re­turn to track­work. The main con­cern is that if I fall off again with the dam­age I’ve done I will be in a worse po­si­tion,” Libby said. The chal­lenges are still not over for Libby. “While I con­tinue to im­prove, I’m still not pass­ing the con­cus­sion test base­line. Seems the doc­tors were right that I would be out of the sad­dle for 12 or so months,” she said. But get­ting back to rid­ing is never far out of her mind. “I would love to ride a few of my favourite horses again like Umaluka and Justify That. I would love to ride in Sin­ga­pore and def­i­nitely want to win races in Vic­to­ria. Moonee Val­ley at night is amaz­ing,” she said hap­pily. De­spite her in­juries and on­go­ing chal­lenges, Libby high­lighted that she is feel­ing great. She said, “I feel fine, that’s the an­noy­ing part. I pretty much feel a hun­dred per­cent, apart from the fact I get tired at times. But I’m pretty hun­gry to get back into it. With her de­ter­mi­na­tion, all who know Libby would agree and con­firm her state­ment.

Libby with other fe­male jock­eys

Win­ning on Lady Hed­eraj at Mur­ray Bridge

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