SA Horseracing recently took time out to find out more about Rachel Venniker who is a 1st year apprentice at the South African Jockey Academy. She has work rider experience and a work rider win under her belt.

1. Do you have any family connections to racing? If yes, please elaborate.
My entire family has always been involved with horses, but more on the show jumping side.
Both my parents competed at a high level of show jumping and I started out show jumping too, before I was bitten by the racing bug. My parents did own a few racehorses before I was born and so they are quite friendly with a number of trainers.
2. How did you get involved in becoming an apprentice?
I started riding work when I was 14 and I worked as a work rider until I completed my matric in 2020. Three trainers I have worked with have helped me a lot with my riding and have helped me get to where I am today.

3. How long have you had aspirations to become a jockey?
I have had aspirations since I was very young. The first time I ever went to races I stood near the finishing post and watching the jockeys and hearing the sound of the galloping hooves gave me shivers and I dreamt about becoming a jockey. But I really knew it was what I wanted to do when I started working in a racing yard, where I began to turn my dreams into reality. There is nothing that feels better than working and riding these magnificent animals!

4. Are there any special traits especially or requirements one needs for the profession?
One needs to be mentally tough and hard working as well as passionate about the game. Physically the academy has set standards for their apprentices, such as age, weight and height requirements.

5. How do you keep fit physically and mentally?
I run 3-4 days a week and do the academy gym sessions twice a week that includes recovery, as well as spending half an hour working on the equicisers to hone my pushing technique daily. Mentally I practice my concentration skills at track work, making sure that every horse I take I am fully aware of everything to do with it. I also read a lot of novels to keep my brain fit and sharp. And of course, keeping oneself relaxed and in the best mental space is very important so I will often spend time sitting somewhere quiet in the gardens watching the sunset with a cup of tea to clear my mind. We are incredibly lucky to be living on such a beautiful property!

6. Who, if anyone, has inspired you in racing?
Many people have inspired me. I can’t not mention the three trainers who have taken me under their wings and really helped me so much to get this far, being Mr Wright, Mr Puller and Mr Roberts, without their encouragement and support I wouldn’t have got this far. Mr Delpech has also inspired me greatly. He came and spoke to us at the academy a few weeks back, and his words have given me a lot of confidence and courage to take on the game. It is always encouraging to have a true champion like him to be able to speak to as he has many insights into racing that I can really benefit from. I am very lucky to have people like this, it really helps one feel inspired to keep fighting for one’s dreams.

7. Who is your favourite jockey and why?
Lyle Hewitson is definitely my favourite jockey. He is everything I strive for; he is so professional in his work. I try to emulate his riding style and attitude towards the horse (he has such a calm and relaxed demeanour). He has also given me advice and it is really an incredible thing to have such a top jockey give help and advice along the way.

8. What are the qualities and attributes that an apprentice needs to have in order to be successful in this game?
An apprentice really needs to have passion for the horse, it can be tough sometimes and one often needs to take a step back and remember why you are doing what you do, and that is loving the horse. You need to be tough, both emotionally and physically. It is very demanding having to keep up the hard work, the early mornings, the pressure, the workload and everything that goes with this career. But one also has to be mentally tough to keep your head in the game and not let the difficult times overrule the good times. A good work ethic is one thing that never goes unnoticed, and it is so important to be able to really work hard. A positive attitude is also very important as it keeps you in the right mental space and also makes people want to help you and give you opportunities as Mr Puller always says.

9. What race do you aspire to win, both locally and nationally?
Every jockey aspires to win the Durban July and so do I! Nationally I would love to win the Queens Plate, it is just such an incredible race meeting and atmosphere. Then of course I’d love to step onto the international field and join the few females who have ridden winners on Royal Ascot Weekend!

10. Where is your favourite racetrack?
I have only ridden at Scottsville and I’ve had a winner there as a work rider, so of course for now that is my favourite track, but that will change once I’ve experienced more tracks.

11. What would you like to see changed in racing?
I would love to see more public involvement and to have jockeys elevated to the level of celebrity that they deserve. It would be lovely to see a bigger social following for our jockeys with less negativity.

12. Give us an example of what you have learnt about race riding (or work riding) specific to your technique or weakness that you have worked on successfully?
I work a lot on working in a professional manner, keeping horses relaxed and enjoying their work. Mr Wright helps me a lot with working the horses on a good rhythm where they are relaxed and happy. I’ve been taught to focus on each and every horse as an individual and give attention to detail even if a horse is just going for an easy canter, one must give it one’s full attention.

13. Where do you see yourself in the future in this racing industry?
Hopefully high up on the jockey’s log!

14. What do you think of the SASJ and the work they do for you?
I am so grateful for the work, help and opportunities they are affording me. I am a heavier rider and my weight needs to be managed, but the Academy provides all the support I need and I will do my utmost to make them proud. The riding masters have been incredible and helped me so much in perfecting as much of my technique as I can to become the best that I can become. All the staff are so kind and always have our best interests at heart, it really awesome!

15. What advice would you give someone keen in getting involved in becoming an apprentice?
I would say be prepared for the hard work, and if you want to do it give it your best shot, there are no half measures here. You need to be passionate and have a fiery determination to succeed. Its easily one of the best jobs out there!


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