Home Lifestyle and Leisure ‘Being a jockey is hard work’

‘Being a jockey is hard work’

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Loving horses, no matter how many times they throw you off, takes a special type of person

ALL IN A DAYS WORK: Flamingo Park Racecourse is bustling ahead of the upcoming event.Picture: Danie van der Lith

A love of horses, endless patience and hours of dedication are non-negotiable for anyone wishing to make a career on horseback.

This is according to Gauteng-based professional jockey, Lukas Bester, who said earlier this week, that loving these animals no matter how many times they throw you off, takes a special type of person.

Bester competed in five of Monday’s nine races, at Flamingo Park, with his best finish seeing him claim fifth place on filly, Iron Maiden..

This achievement came in his eighth and final race, in seven days, each on a different horse, at three different venues.

While professional jockeys regularly saddle-up on several animals, Bester said that it was near impossible not to develop a special bond with each, adding that a passion for horses was, without a doubt, the most important factor for anyone considering pursuing his chosen profession.

After competing in his final race in Kimberley earlier this week, Bester recalled the very start of his career, as a teenager, when he was accepted to the South African Jockey Academy (SAJA) in 1996.

The SAJA is a state-of-the-art training facility, located in KwaZulu-Natal and is the only institution in the country that offers youth an academic and practical apprentice programme to qualify as professional jockeys.

Apprentices begin their initial training in at the Academy situated at Summerveld near Durban and are fed through satellite campuses, in Port Elizabeth, Cape Town, Gauteng, once they competent at riding in races.

Many international racing clubs and jurisdictions look to SAJA for training of their apprentices as our quality of training is rated as one of the best in the world.

“I was at that age where you need to choose which direction you want to follow, so I went for an interview with the South African Jockey Academy and got accepted,” he said after his events on Monday. “Usually, jockeys are spotted between the ages of 14 and 16 and start working towards their professional career from a very young age.”

“It really comes down to a passion for horses. We get bitten and thrown off more often than you think and through it all, we still love them.”

According to the seasoned equestrian, it is precisely this challenge, of working with a living and often enough, spirited animal, that makes competing at Kimberley’s Flamingo Park.

“This is the only dirt track in the country, which really sets it apart,” he added. “Falling on grass just doesn’t hurt as much.”