- Written by Queen Munguti for KenyaKidz
At just 16 years old, Kenyan teenagers can get a kickstart in the job market by engaging in exciting careers that are considered ‘out of the ordinary’ such as a horse jockey.
A jockey is a person who rides horses competitively and in Kenya the sport has become a favpourite among many with the Ngong Racecourse being a favourite hotspot over the weekend for horse riding lovers.
For jockeys however, it is more than just a love for horses, it is a competitive job that requires extensive training.
“The number one requirement for any horse jockeys wanna-be is courage,” said Charles Kimani, a 24 year horse jockey apprentice at the Jockey Club of Kenya.
“I have seen many people come here with so much enthusiasm wanting to be a horse jockey but once they get an injury they leave immediately. In this career, injuries are inevitable due the rigorous training that one has to endure in order to become a professional jockey.”
It is this courage that landed Kimani the job at the jockey club of Kenya in the first place three years ago. He walked into the Ngong Race Course to watch a horse riding competition and after the race; he walked into a stable and introduced himself to the first jockey he saw and who would go on to be his trainer, Joe Kariri.
“After I introduced myself to Joe, I explained to him my enthusiasm with the sport and my interest in taking part in it. He asked me a few questions to gauge my knowledge on horses and coincidentally he was also looking for an apprentice at the time, so he took a chance with me.”
Trainees receive their lessons from licensed horse trainers; this is where a jockey learns all the styles of horse riding, no education qualification is required for the job.
“The first horse riding style that I was taught by Joe is how to trot. This is how to sit on a horse and get it to ride without a fuss. Next was how to sit in a canter, this how to maintain good balance on a horse, then speed. Once one learns how to navigate speed on a horse, they are on their way to becoming a jockey. These are the first basic lessons for a horse jockey trainee,” said Kimani.
“Most of the others things you learn on the job some jockeys have even go on to develop their own unique riding techniques.”
Although it seems like an easy training course, it can actually take up to even one year to learn all these while it can even take days for some to master the skills. Kimani undertook seven months of training before graduating from trainee to apprentice.
As an apprentice, a rider is allowed to take part in 25 races out of the 35 in a season. The other 10 are preserved for the professionals.
The rider’s physique also matters a lot. Horse jockeys need to maintain a certain weight so as to ease the burden on the horse and also so that they can compete at a professional level.
The recommended weight for a jockey is 45kgs to 55kgs, but when one starts as an apprentice there are given an allowance of five kilograms.
“In a race, horses are allocated weights between 50kgs to 62kgs. Therefore, for an apprentice’s first competition they need to weigh at least 45kgs to ride a horse that is allocated to carry 50kg. This is because they are still inexperienced so it will be harder to navigate if they are heavier but as they continue to gain more wins, the allowance weight is reduced. For 10 wins, the allowance weight is 3.5kgs, 20 wins is 2.5kgs and once one gets 50 wins they are considered a professional thus no allowance weight is included.”
Kimani has 23 wins.
Among other duties at the club, grooming of horses, taking them for walks and exercises, feeding them and general clean-up of the stables is part of the apprentice’s job.
Kimani’s day begins at around 5am, since he lives near the club he does not need a lot of preparation time to get the club by 5.30am every day; when he is expected to report at the jockey Club. From 5.30 am to 6am, he prepares the horses for their riding and walking exercises, which he conducts until 10am.
“The reason we conduct the horse exercises that early is because of the favourable weather conditions at that time minimizing sweating. From 10am we take a break until 3pm, it gives the horses’ ample time to rest and the apprentices also before their feeding time at 3pm,” he said.
“After they are fed, I spend at least 30 minutes with each of them, cleaning and grooming them before taking them back to the stables at around 4.30pm. I then ensure that their stables are comfortable enough in terms of temperature before leaving at 5pm. This is my daily routine.”
A professional jockey earns Sh1500 per ride and an apprentice earns Sh900 per ride. On a good day an apprentice can Sh2700 from three rides. They also get 10 per cent of winnings and a monthly salary from the stable that retains them.
The minimum age for one to become a jockey is 16 years old. Horse riding competitions take place on Sundays every two weeks.
“Depending on the stable that one is retained in, an apprentice’s salary can range from Sh14000 to Sh20000. Therefore this can be a good career choice for someone with an enthusiasm for this sport and a love for horses. Additionally, as one becomes better and better, they get more rides and their chances of winning become higher,” said Kimani.
On health, one needs to be in top shape and not have a cardiological condition because the up and down movements, the forward and backward thrust on a horse can cause heart attacks.
Therefore Kenyan teenagers looking to venture into the job market just after highschool, horse jockey provides an opportunity.