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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Meet Natalie Turner, Apprentice Jockey!

If you don't already know who Ms. Natalie Turner is then you must a) be living on some remote island that boasts zero satellite signal to relay internet or TV. (Hello! Why are you doing that? Think of all the good food prepared by fancy chefs that awaits you back in modern civilization. Think of the invigorating breeze only a herd of horses flying past you at 35 mph can deliver.) Or b) unfortunately, for you, no one has, yet, informed you of Ms. Turner's jockey fabulousness. I hope to erase the latter excuse in the following interview.
Loving, enjoying and caring for horses came to Natalie at an early age. She is a graduate of NARA, (North American Racing Academy), Chris McCarron's accredited jockey school. She is smart, full of energy, competitive and thinks horses rock. She's also talented and likes to push herself. She's got the right blend of strategic thinking (necessary for long-term professional jockeys) and technical chops, too.

But don't just take it from me...here's a Q&A about her road to becoming a jockey. 

Is there a minimum age requirement to get your jockey’s license? 

NT: If you are under 18 you need parental consent. Other than that go for it!

How long did you study and train for your jockey’s license? 

NT: I attended Chris McCarrons School for 2 years where they gave me the building blocks to begin my career. What was that process like? I took classes in barn management, riding, race riding strategies, lameness, breeding even a class on the mechanical horses called Equicizer to help perfect my form when riding races. Then we began to gallop horses in the mornings which led to breezing horses in the mornings. From there you can apply for your gate card when you break from the gates for the head starter. You must break in company and with a licensed jockey. Providing you get the approval from the gates you must have a meeting with the stewards. If they approve you from there you must ride 5 races and prove you are competent on the race track. After your initial 5 races they will approve or deny your request for an apprentice Jockey license. 

Am I correct in my understanding that a person MUST be an apprentice jockey for four years in order to meet the necessary requirements to become a full-fledged jockey? 

NT: That is a common misunderstanding. You are an apprentice jockey for a year after your 5th win or until you have won 40 races. Whichever comes last. Waving the bug is also an option but rarely taken because that’s how we get mounts is doing the lower weights compared to the journeyman.

What would you note as the primary differences between an apprentice jockey and a “jockey.” 

NT: Knowledge and riding ability are key differences as well as the 5-10 pound difference in weights.

How far along in your studies and training were you at NARA before you ran your first race? 1st year, 2nd year? 

NT: I progressed extremely fast and rode my first race a month after graduating from the 2 year program.  

How do you get to participate in the “Catch a Riding Star” competition? 

NT: That race is for the graduates of each year’s jockey class. It is set up to give us some racing experience and to show our family and friends what we have learned.

What was your favorite aspect of attending NARA? 

NT: The experience I gained there that I wouldn’t have gathered anywhere else. Without it I would not be a professional jockey. I also made some friends and memories I will have for life! Thinking back now to some of the experiences we had I still can’t help but laugh!

What was your least favorite aspect of your time spent at NARA? 

NT: I am not a morning person! But the horses start training at 5:30! For the  summer semester I was getting up at 3:30 am to complete my barn work before I went to my galloping job that started at 5:15!

What type(s) of horses did you train on at NARA? Were they retired racehorses, simply well-tempered horses from local farms, ranches or breeders or were they hand-picked for some other reason? 

NT: NARA has mostly retired racehorses. Most were extremely kind but as with anything you have a few stinkers! I remember Ease causing a few people to have the need for stitches. Toots could be a real handful as well!

I’m particularly interested in the activities and events you participated in during your second year at NARA. Races, informal competitions, official events scheduled by your instructor(s) to encourage honing your skills in a competitive environment? 

NT: Our second year at NARA is set aside for a freelancing job where we go out in the real world and get a paying job galloping and breezing horses. My class was fortunate enough to be invited to ride a mock race in the opening ceremonies of the world equestrian games! That was an amazing experience and our first real taste of what a live crowd feels like when we are riding.

The more traditional academic courses that a person is required to take to earn a degree…what are those classes like? Do you get the opportunity to interweave math with hands-on lessons or exercises out in the barn with the horses, for example? Or do the classes not obviously, directly related to the horses adhere to a traditional classroom setting and form of instruction, learning? 

NT: NARA offers two ways of completing the school; one is just attend for the certificate allowing you to take just the barn and” horsie” classes. The other is combined with BCTC a local college and involves taking regular math, science and history classes like a regular college student on top of the barn and horsie classes. With the last option students graduate with an Applied Assoc. Equine Science Degree.

Could you briefly describe the mechanical horse you used to learn and hone riding skills in the classroom? What it’s physically like to practice on one of those contraptions? 

NT: Yep, the Equicizer...

...it is extremely difficult!!! To put it in perspective if you can ride it perfectly and not cheat or slack off on form; riding for a minute is considered golden! It makes muscles you didn’t even know were there burn and sore for days until you get use to it!

How much free time did you have Monday-Friday on any given day? The weekends, did you stay at the school, barn, track and spend that time with the horses as well? Did you ever regularly leave the facility’s main properties? 

NT: We don’t get much free time. Thoroughbreds are a 24/7 job. They always need food, water, baths, grazing, cleaned stalls, exercise, vet care and the tack or barn always needs cleaning. It’s a never ending job.

Did you have roommates while attending the school? How many? 

NT: I lived in apartments meant for the University of Kentucky students where I had 2-3 roommates.

Can you share a few details with me about your career since you graduated from NARA? What was the first thing that you did upon graduating? Secure an agent (if you didn’t already have one?) Find a trainer to work with? Hit the ground running in search of races that you could find on your own just to maintain your time spent consistently training with the horses? 

NT: I completed my internship with a trainer that let me ride his horses as soon as I graduated so I just went with that and represented myself as an agent until I found one I wanted to work with.

How does the jockey licensing work? Do you have to get licensed for each state that you wish to professionally ride or race in? Or can you acquire a regional license? 

NT: Once you are certified in one state it will transfer to the other states. You just have to go to the racing office at each new state and pay for that states license.

When you won your first race…I’m curious about what your thoughts were while you were engaged in the competition? Were you strictly focused on the horse, thinking about your body’s form, paying attention to the poles that identify a distance marker for you? Did you, at any point, actually allow yourself to enjoy the initial moment of realizing that you’d just won? 

NT: Well… my childhood pony Leos Painted Piston was the pony for my first day of racing. Chris McCarron had been using him at the school for the months prior and we shipped him up with the Thoroughbreds I was riding that day so Chris could take me to post on him! Honestly… I was more worried about my pony (lol). It was his first day at a live track working the afternoons and I just wanted to make sure my mount, Princess Langfuhr, didn’t hurt him! That was just me being overprotective though everything went just fine and Princess was a pro with the pony!! Since I won my second professional life time start I did it in a daze because I was so new I had a million things going through my mind! How is my form? Am I clear of traffic? When should I make my run? I just missed winning my first race; it would be so cool to win this one!? Just anything and everything! It was like slow motion but it all went by so fast if that even makes sense. My instructions were to ride her the whole way so when we entered the top of the stretch I cocked my stick and went to riding. Thankfully, Princess responded!! We drew a few lengths to the lead and started to slow down. At that point, I was thinking I'm going to get second again!!! NOOOO!! But thankfully the wire came at the perfect time and we won by about a length! As I galloped out I remember almost convincing myself I didn’t win because it just didn’t seem possible. As the outrider came to grab me I asked him, did I win?!? (To avoid looking like an idiot celebrating when I did not actually win the race). He informed me I, in fact, was the winner and took me to the winners circle. From then on, I started soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying my victory!!! From then on, it was all smiles, pictures and thank yous!! I was fortunate enough to debut in my home town and have the support of all my friends, family and new fans.

Can you tell me a little about what it's like being an apprentice jockey?

NT: The apprentice ship works in stages. Stage 1 is before you even get your license, you must ride 5 races to prove to the stewards you are competent in a racing setting. From there, you receive your official license and the 10 LB Bug status. Stage 3 would be after your 5th win and you receive the 7 lb weight allowance. From there after 40 wins or a year after your 5th win, whichever comes last you turn all pro. With no weight allowance and the title of a journeyman rider instead of an apprentice/ bug rider.

Thank you so much, Ms. Natalie! I appreciate your time. 

Follow Natalie on FB. When she's not tearing up the racetracks, she's making people laugh by sharing horse antics, as well as helpful information on the Thoroughbred racing industry. 

Visit these links for more information on the jockey life and horse racing industry. 

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