Instinctive. Accomplished. Seasoned. These are not words typically used when speaking about an apprentice jockey. They are accurate, however, when describing Amanda Tamburello, who despite spending her first year as a professional jockey in 2009 has been an experienced rider most of her life.
Tamburello is an accomplished eventer who began showing horses as a child and eventually progressed to the intermediate level in dressage, show jumping, and cross-country. Recently, she decided to change gears and ride Thoroughbred racehorses. On Oct. 1, at age 32, she guided her first winner—18-1 longshot Include de Uno at Turfway Park for trainer Andrew Valenzuela.
“It’s a little different riding racehorses than equestrian horses, but there is still that sense of confidence I have from all my experience,” Tamburello said. “There are things that come naturally for me from being on horses most of my life. I’ve always felt the most comfortable when I’m on the back of a horse.”
It is that natural ability to be comfortable on a horse that separates Tamburello from other new riders, said Joe Paulley, her agent at Turfway.
“I’ve worked with a lot of bugs, and I haven’t seen any better than her,” said Paulley. “Everyone is impressed with her. You can tell she’s been riding her whole life. It’s that experience.”
Growing up in Michigan, Tamburello was naturally drawn to horses as a child even though nobody in her family was involved with equines. She started riding when she was 8.
“I was kind of like the black sheep in the family; nobody knew why I loved horses so much,” Tamburello said. “But I remember running away every chance I could get to this nearby pasture just so I could stand next to a fence where there were horses. I don’t know where that love came from.”
Tamburello took riding lessons, began showing horses at age 12, and continued all the way through high school. Upon graduating in 1996, she decided to dedicate her life to riding and made the decision to move to Florence, Ala., to work with respected horseman Jim Graham, a member of a team that participated in The Hague World Equestrian Games in 1994.
At Graham’s Meadow Run Farm, Tamburello learned everything she could about eventing. She traveled all over the country to compete in equestrian competitions.
“I worked as a student for him at first, doing everything from mucking stalls to picking rocks out of the barns,” Tamburello said. “We worked hard for our training, but it was worth it. I eventually worked my way up to become an assistant trainer. I was competing at the national level, traveling all over the place.
“After that, I started training horses on my own and giving lessons. I moved to Georgia and then back to Michigan for a while. I was basically living my dream.”
The dream changed a few years ago when Tamburello, who was in need of extra money, decided to start galloping racehorses near Ocala, Fla. She began working for Four Roses Thoroughbreds in 2006 and last year got a job galloping horses for Ken McPeek at Keeneland.
Earlier this year one of McPeek’s clients, John Gerbas Jr., gave Tamburello the opportunity to ride a few horses at Arlington Park, where in July she became a certified apprentice there before moving back to Kentucky to ride at Turfway. A recent off-track injury set Tamburello back a few months, but she is ready for a return to the races in 2010.
“Being on racehorses is completely different for me,” Tamburello said. “I love it. The experience of being in a show ring has its own feel, but it is more about timing with your horse. There is nothing like going 35 miles per hour on an athlete that needs to run. It’s exhilarating.”