Jockey born and bred for it
Hurtling down a track perched on 500-odd kilograms of pure muscle is not everyone’s cup of tea. But competing in one of the world’s oldest sports is a thrill for young jockey Danielle Johnson. She sat down with reporter Lauren Priestley to chat about why
Racing is in Danielle Johnson’s blood.
The 23-year-old was learning to ride horses before she could walk and has been a jockey for six years.
Her mother is a thoroughbred trainer and her dad, former jockey Peter Johnson, was at the top of the New Zealand racing scene. And their prodigy is gearing up for yet another packed schedule this summer.
Johnson, of Pukekohe, will be hitting the track almost every day in the hopes of making it into the winner’s circle.
‘‘Winning is just the biggest thrill. It’s a pretty cool sport when you think about it.
‘‘You’re out riding horses and making money at the same time.
‘‘It’s a sport that you’re just born and bred into.’’
The fearless young
rider doesn’t let the dangerous nature of the sport hold her back.
Horses can get up to about 80kmh during a race and Johnson has ridden 419 mounts to victory so far. She has fallen off just once during a race, back in 2009, and broke her wrist.
It could have been a lot worse, Johnson says.
‘‘I don’t really remember it, it all happened so quickly. You can’t really think about that side of it. If you got nervous, I don’t think it would be an industry you would want to be in.’’
The constant travel is probably the hardest part of the job – apart from the weightmanagement for male jockeys, Johnson says.
Jockeys need to be at a certain weight for races, meaning a lot of them have to spend time in the sauna to sweat it off before race day, she says.
And because Boxing Day is one of the biggest dates on the racing calendar, many jockeys don’t revel in a traditional Christmas dinner.
‘‘That would definitely be the hardest for the males but I don’t have to sweat so I’m pretty lucky.
‘‘We’re so full-on in summer, you could probably ride five days a week with up to 10 rides a day.’’
Johnson says she has a ‘‘couple of favourites’’ but all horses bring something different to a race.
Being a jockey isn’t a life-long career, she says. She plans to retire from racing after another 20 years and what happens after that is anyone’s guess, she says.
But there’s no doubt which animal it will involve.
‘‘You do have a soft spot for a couple, but because we’re not riding them every day makes it harder to have that bond.
‘‘I would like to keep doing something for horses when I finish up.
‘‘I couldn’t not be with them.’’
Danielle Johnson loves her fast-paced career.