Emma-Jayne Wilson Jockey
Wednesday February 15, 2006
If you were imagining the ideal rookie season for a Thoroughbred jockey, you probably couldn't envision the year Emma-Jayne Wilson had in 2005, when the 24-year-old Ontario native capped a sensational debut season on the circuit by winning both the Sovereign Award and the Eclipse Award as the year's outstanding apprentice jockey.
Highlights of Emma-Jayne's rookie year include a Woodbine-record 175 wins, stakes wins aboard Classic Stamp [Bell Canadian Stakes (Can-IIT)] and Our Madison [Ontario Lassie Stakes], and an overall record of 180 races won for purses totaling $6.3 million.
Having literally made a study of riding that includes everything from class work as an equine management student at Guelph University to hands-on experience working and galloping Thoroughbreds, EJ continues to view success at her profession as a work in progress and has spent the winter fine-tuning her riding skills.
Today, we have the pleasure of a real newcomer who has quickly become one of Canadian racing's brightest stars. Welcome, Emma.
How old were you when you started riding, and how long have you known that this is what you want to do with your life?
I have been riding since I was nine years old. I started out in summer camps and then progressed into weekly lessons. I was riding three to for times a week throughout high school, including horse shows and lessons. I have wanted to be a jockey since before I began riding! I loved horses and the races, when ever I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would always reply “I want to be a jockey!”
Cedar Rapids, IA:
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us, it's very much appreciated. I was happy to see you win the Eclipse Award and a wonderful year! Can you tell me what got you started riding and, being Canadian, were you a big Northern Dancer fan?
It is my pleasure to chat! I began riding because I loved horses. I always have and Northern Dancer was a horse I wish I knew. When I was a child, I loved racing for what it was - watching these powerful animals compete with such resolve. Unfortunately, I did not know the horses, jockeys, or even the trainers; I just loved to see the animals run. A few names did come up rather frequently, including Secretariat, Sandy Hawley - as well as Northern Dancer - and I was impressed with the success they achieved!
Marco Island, FL:
It has often been said the one attribute a woman jockey lacks is strength .What is the truth to such a notion and how much significance does it have in big time race riding? Thanks and the best of luck in your career.
Men and women are made differently. What each is able to do naturally, may take the other time, practice, and hard work to master. Some people are given talent in different areas; what one person is a natural at, others have to work for, be it strength in riding or communication with the horse. What makes a top rider is to appreciate your strengths and improve your weaknesses.
Emma, do you plan on riding frequently outside of Canada?
I would love to ride all around the world. This industry is amazing that way! I will be finishing my apprenticeship in Canada, and I am looking forward to spending time at other race tracks as a journeyman.
Arlington Heights, IL:
Have you thought about riding at Keeneland this April or Saratoga in July/August, or will you remain largely based in Canada?
To ride elsewhere right now is not in the plans. With the apprenticeship in Canada, I am able to “freeze” it during the off season, enabling me to get an extension. I will stay at Woodbine for this season, and once my bug is over I would love to compete at such prestigious meets such as Keeneland and Saratoga.
Lake Forest, IL:
If you come to the United States to race someday, what trainer would you most like to be first call for and why??
I would love to ride for as many trainers as I possibly could. I couldn’t pick just one!!
Congratulations on your Eclipse Award! Do you think there's a chance you might have a mount for the Derby or any of the prep races?
Thank you! I don’t think I have any Derby prospects, (unless anyone is looking!!) Staying in Canada this year, I have my fingers crossed for a Queens Plate mount.
Emma, I'm lucky enough to work in the backstretch at Woodbine and have watched you ride many horses and win many races. What impresses me most is your love of the game and the way you keep a level head. We are all proud of you and hope you continue to succeed in all you do!
THANKS, that is very thoughtful!
Is it tough to be a jockey, especially a female jockey? How were you treated in the backstretch and on the racetrack?
Yes, it is tough to be a jockey, and not because I am a girl. I think it is all about perspective. If I am thinking about it being harder for a girl to be a jockey, then it will be. Instead, I am concentrating on being the best rider I can be by being a student of this game. I haven’t noticed any adverse treatment on the backstretch or the track.
Good afternoon, Emma, I am a Canadian whose family moved to Japan a few years ago. I so miss Canada and hope to get back one day. I love horse racing and having been following your success from abroad. There is a young female jockey over here named Chang Shin. Have you ever heard of her? I think she is going to be a star one day. She is a fan of yours, as well...a big fan. They interviewed her on Japanese TV the other day, and she mentioned your name. What a small world.
This truly shows how large this industry is, and it makes me feel good that other female riders around the world have the same opportunities that I have had. I also know of a few other girls that are succeeding in this game in other countries, such as England and Ireland.
A big part of my personal handicapping is how the track is playing any given day. I've placed many wagers on horses you've ridden and you seem to pick up on track 'bias' very quickly. My question is: Do you think most jockeys consider track 'bias' to be important?
Track bias is a difficult angle, but it is definitely something I watch. The problem with the track biases is that the track can have a different advantage throughout the surface. For example, Woodbine's home stretch gets significantly less sunlight than the backside or the turn, thus leaving it in different condition. The times that I use the bias is when I have a choice that is equally fair to get my horse to the circle, but the only variable is the path I take. If I need to go around a horse and the rail has been great all day, I will be more inclined to take it. On the other hand, if the rail is dead, I am stuck behind horses and there is no way to get to the outside, I will have to take my chances on the fence.
Little Britain, ON:
Emma-Jayne, We are big fans of yours and can't wait for opening day at Woodbine. My "horse crazy" teenage daughter is contemplating her future education and career plans. How did you make your way towards your career goals, and how did you find your "mentors"? Did you find your time spent at Kemptville College (U of G) beneficial?
My parents told me to keep all of my options open when I was a teen. That is why I went to Kemptville. I think that it was very beneficial in many ways. I learned the business side of equine management as well as the practical health and chores for the horses. This knowledge has helped me make better business decisions as well as given me a fallback plan to being a jockey.
Jerry Bailey talked about how he liked the cerebral nature of turf races. Do you have a favorite surface or distance you've ridden?
I am a fan of all races, at different distances and different surfaces. It gives a horse a chance to excel at the preferred style that they each have. I enjoy riding a horse that is good at what they are doing, and it is fun feeling the confidence each animal has in their niche on the track!
San Antonio, TX:
How much talking goes on during a race? I used to watch the races on the backstretch where I grew up, and I could hear the jockeys hollering at each other. Does that affect you or the horse?
It depends on the situation. Most of the talking that goes on is to be safe. If someone is dropping over on you, and they don’t know you are there, you holler to let them know. I don’t think it really affects the horse directly, unless a jock changes the direction according to the hollering.
Horses are around substantially less time than people, who often spend several years or even decades in this sport. Do you think the promotion of the human element of horse racing (jockeys, trainers, etc.) is lacking and, if so, do you think that could be a new way of reaching the public?
I would love to see more promotion done for the trainers, jockeys, and even the people on the backstretch. I think it would be good for the industry to bring the stories of the race track, both human and equine, to the living room of every fan. When I was in Keeneland, before I was race riding, I saw the morning training Q and A sessions they held. I thought these were great to show the public what went in to training a Thoroughbred. Woodbine recently started doing a similar idea including interviews with trainers and jockeys. It is an excellent way of showing the “behind the scenes” of the industry.
Are there techniques from other disciplines that you feel would benefit racehorses but aren't typically used by racing trainers?
Training horses is not my area of expertise, I can answer that more from a rider’s perspective. I started riding show horses before I ever came to the race track. I was solely riding English. I then went to college, and we were taught both English and Western styles of riding. When I came to the track, I was learning another discipline, Thoroughbred galloping. I feel that each one of these styles has given me many different tools and approaches to riding horses. The more diverse your tool box is, the better your ability to handle many situations.
Do you feel that coming to New Orleans and getting on some of the best horses every winter made you the rider that you are today? I always knew you were going to make it your hard work and your will to win is special.
Thank you! I think riding at different tracks with different trainers and horses was a great experience. Learning to handle many types of horses before I started riding races helped prepare me for the many different personalities these animals have.
I've noticed that Woodbine has a great deal of national TV coverage in Canada and that is certainly a plus for racing fans. You are often interviewed after races, especially on Wednesday nights when the races are on prime time. Is this something that you enjoy doing, and do you feel these shows are important to get non-racing fans into the game?
I love to do interviews! It gives me an opportunity to share my thoughts regarding a particular race and gives people at home another perspective on what happens during the races. This definitely helps to teach non-racing fans what this game is all about!
Congrats on your awards. I know you deserve it. When you study the racing form before a race, what signs tell you the horse is going to run a biggie? Or what body language do you look for in the paddock? Thank you and enjoy your success.
I like to look for patterns in a horse’s performance when I look at the form. It gives me ideas as to what works the best for a particular horse. In the paddock, I will see how the horse is behaving, and if I will need to calm them down or pick them up! In most cases, I like to keep the horses calm, but one horse I like to ride loved when I rubbed in between her ears! If she would start bouncing and squealing, I knew she would run well!
Atlantic Beach, FL:
First, I would like to congratulate you on the monster campaign you had in 2005 at Woodbine. My question to you is what does it mean to you to have become the very first female jockey in the history of racing at Woodbine to win the riding title?
This title is important to me because it is a symbol of how far the industry has come. I am not one to dwell on being a female jockey; I feel that this is a sign that any rider, male or female, has the opportunity to compete and excel in this game.
St Catharines, ON:
How worried are you about losing your bug? Do you still think you'll get a decent amount of mounts once that bug is gone? I think you did an excellent job as an apprentice last year so, hopefully, your trainers will be loyal when that bug's gone.
I like to keep a positive perspective. Traditionally, business drops when the bug is lost. If I am convinced that I only won races because I had a weight advantage then it will be hard to succeed. If that means working twice as hard to prove it wasn’t the five pound advantage that got the horses to the winners circle, then I will!
Do you believe that there needs to be more done to improve the safety and well-being of horses and jockey at the track? And if so, what areas need the most attention?
Technology is improving every day, and so is the safety for horse and rider. I still hear about when helmets and vests were optional! The industry is improving the safety aspects of this game with the times - the safety rails that are being used as well as the kinder surface like the Poly Track. This is a dangerous game, but innovations like these help to make it better.
I ride at Turfway and many other tracks. I, too, did equine studies, and I feel that all the knowledge that we gain can really help the horses we ride win races. Do you feel that way? Are you planning on riding for a while and finishing school? Also, are children in your future! I have a son he is going to be 4 this month! I love kids, but it's hard to race and raise children though it can be done.
The only plans that I have right now are to ride as long as physically possible. As far as a family in the future, I don’t have a “plan” for that, but it isn’t to say that it won’t happen!
Thank you, Miss Wilson, for talking to us. I was wondering - what went through your mind when you realized you had won the Sovereign Award and Eclipse Award for best apprentice jockey? How surprised were you?
You’re very welcome! I was very excited and surprised about both awards. As much as people told me I would win them, I was unsure. In both cases, I was against excellent competition including Channing Hill, Justin Stein, and Corey Fraser. I am glad that I was able to reach these goals, as they will be a highlight in my life forever.
Do you think your accomplishments will draw more women into becoming jockeys after they see that women can succeed in a male dominated sport?
Yes. I hope it shows people that anyone with the desire to work hard and be a student of this game has the ability to succeed.
I don't know that this is a creative or exciting question but, as a woman, I was curious how exactly does it work for female jockeys in the jockeys room in terms of setup, etc? And as far as camaraderie goes, do they treat you like 'one of the guys' or is there a change of atmosphere when a woman is around?
That is a great question! The set up is both a plus and minus in the Woodbine jocks room. I assume with most others, the girls section is separate from the guys. This enables you to have your own space, along with any other girls, to do your handicapping and such. Unfortunately, the guys do a lot of chatting throughout the day and I feel that I miss out on many learning opportunities by not being in the room to listen to conversations or advice! The guys at Woodbine are great, they treat me no different than they would any other apprentice, with respect and the guidance young riders need.
Gary Stevens and Jerry Bailey are going the broadcasting route post-retirement. Do you have any aspirations to do the same after your own (hopefully long and successful) career? Do you see yourself training one day?
I haven’t put much thought into retirement to be honest! Although I am interested in many different aspects of this industry!
I really wanted to adopt an ex-racehorse, but it would be my first horse ownership. I'm concerned since I've really only ridden hunt seat twice and most of my riding experience is saddle seat. Is it too much trying to learn a new style and own a Thoroughbred for a first horse?
I think that it depends on how you get the horse. A good trainer or owner would know their animal’s personality quite well and would be able to help you get the right horse. Race horses have been taught to grab a hold of a bridle and run as fast as they can when asked, but some can be quiet and enjoyable with proper feeding and training!
In many of the articles written about you, there is often mention of your agent. How important is the relationship between rider and agent?
My agent and I have a great relationship, and I think it has had a great impact on my career. I feel that he is more than an average agent because of the extra things he does. Mike enables me to concentrate on riding and JUST riding, that way I am in full focus and peak performance when I am competing. Thanks, Mike!!
It's an honor to talk to you. I am a 13-year-old from Louisiana who dreams of becoming a jockey one day. I follow all the lady jocks daily to see how they have done. I feel I have what it takes to ride. On my father's farm, I ride mules all the time. I know I can make it, just don't know where to start. If you were me, what would you do first to get started?
I think that a good education is essential these days, so I would recommend a good equine course of some sort. Chris McCarron has started a school specifically for the aspiring jockey, called the North American Racing Academy. You can get info from: email@example.com
Does horse racing give you much time for a personal life?
Yes, if you can manage yourself properly! As with any career, you will need to make sacrifices for success, time is something this game demands a lot of, but I still have time to go out with friends and family.
Lou Turks, PA:
Emma, What do you think your greatest accomplishment is so far? And your biggest disappointment to date?
That is a great question and a hard one to answer. When I started down this road to become a jockey I told my parents this, “I don’t care if I ride 5 races and finish last in all of them, at least I followed my dream.” I am very pleased with the success I have had, and my greatest accomplishment to date is achieving a life long dream. As for disappointment, I can’t say I have had one.
Congratulations on your recent awards both in Canada and in the USA. My question has to do with riding horses on the proper or improper lead. How important is it and what do you do if a horse is on the wrong lead?
I think leads are important, and each situation should be assessed differently. If a young, green horse is on the wrong lead, versus an older horse, I would be more inclined to make a point of making the horse switch. Knowing the personality and history of the horse is also something I would take into consideration. There are horses out there that when the switch will have a second gear and kick home stronger. Adversely, some horses don’t feel as comfortable on certain leads and thus may not run as well.
How accurately can you time a furlong in your head??
That is something that takes tones of practice, and to this day I am sometimes off! Different horses travel differently and this is why it can be difficult. For example, a very nice, stakes capable horse, will travel five furlongs in 59 seconds with much more ease than a lower, less talented animal, and can deceive you as to the actual time you breezed.
What would you make of an all-female jockeys competition akin to the current competitions around the world to showcase female talents from around the world. I would love to see it happen especially with so many women doing well here in Ireland!
I would love the idea of any all female jockeys’ competition!! It would be a great chance to meet and compete with fellow girls that love the sport as much as I do!!
I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has asked questions here today; it is always a pleasure to converse with fans! Also, thank you to the Blood-Horse for making this possible!! I hope everyone had as much fun reading these as I did answering them!
Editor's Note: BloodHorse.com moderators retain editorial control over Talkin' Horses discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests; guests may decline to answer questions. Opinions expressed by guests of Talkin' Horses are those of the guest and do not represent the opinions of Blood-Horse Publications, its employees, associates, or affiliated organizations. Guests, dates, and times of Talkin' Horses discussions are subject to change.