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

Central Leader - - NEWS -

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.’’


At home:

Danielle John­son loves her fast-paced ca­reer.

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