Career & Education

Runaway horse seals young woman's career decision

Runaway horse seals young woman's career decision

Career & Education writer

Sunday, October 07, 2018

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Abigail Able is a part of a growing number of young women becoming more involved in the unique sport of Thoroughbred racing, and at 22, she is determined to make it to the top of the profession and live out her lifelong dream of being a horse jockey.

Able is one of three females in a batch of 21 apprentices who successfully went through the 2018 Jamaica Racing Commission (JRC) Jockey's Training Programme last month, the others being Tamicka Lawrence and Samantha Fletcher.

“To be honest, what I am feeling right now is something that I don't know to explain. I am feeling happy, wonderful and amazing at the same time, as this is a dream come true for me,” she told the Jamaica Observer upon completing the course. “This is a something that I have always wanted to do and for it to have happened, I am grateful for the achievement.”

Able, who was not able to attend the graduation, said her love for horses was ignited at a tender age but it didn't blossom until she began to swim horses in the mornings in the equine pool at Caymanas Park.

“I have always had a love for horses from a very long time. I used to go to the racetrack to help out my big sister (Kerry Newell) in the early mornings as she at the time was working at the pool. It then happened that I started to help the grooms swim the horses.

“Swimming horses in the pool doesn't mean that you go into the water — which is very deep — with the horse. We hold the rope that is attached to the horse's swimming equipment and walk around the pool edges and the horses swim. That's where the feeling of loving horses got real,” she expalined.

But what sealed the deal for her was an incident which would perhaps have paralysed got the faint of heart.

“It all happened the morning when I saw this horse named Polly B going down the track with trainer Rowan Mathie. I asked Mathie if I could go on his horse and he told me yes. And so I went on Polly B while the groom was leading him.

“After Polly B worked out that morning and we were coming back, the groom told me that I could lead him in by myself but before that could have happened, the water truck was passing at the same time and Polly B got frightened and broke off with me on his back.

“People were shouting from all angles telling me what to do. But I was so scared that I didn't even hear what they were saying,” she recalled. “After a while, Polly B came to a stop and Mathie rushed to us and caught Polly B and asked me if I was okay and if I still wanted to become a jockey. I told him yes because, at that moment, that was what I wanted to do. That day was a magical day for me,” Able shared.

Magic notwithstanding, Able is acutely aware that, as is usually the case with male-dominated professions, making a mark as a female is no easy task. But she is ready to take up the mantle.

“Horse racing is a life-and-death sport. Being a female jockey comes with many challenges. You have to prove to everyone that you are just as strong as the males and that you're not going to be pushed around.

“For sure, the male jockeys don't want a female rider to beat them in a certain way, and so you have to be strong... To be a good female rider in a male-dominated sport, you have to be tough. A lot of people usually say girls cannot ride; they are soft, those kinds of things, and so you have to prove them wrong,” Able said.

Apart from riding well, Able says proving them wrong also involves maintaining professional lines.

“My biggest advice for young women in the business is to carry yourself the way you want to be treated. If you want to be treated as a professional, then do your homework, do the hard work, dress professionally and act professionally.

“You're not in the business to get a husband; you're there to do a job. That line gets blurred and that's why we're kept behind,” the 22-year-old said.

She also looks forward to the day when owners will judge jockeys based on their merit as riders without gender being a factor.

“Jockeys claim that there is still a lack of faith in women in the industry [because] most trainers and owners, if they have a choice (of who) to put on their horses, they will put on a male,” she said.

Able, Lawrence and Fletcher bring to eight the number of female jockeys in the island. Azel Cowie, Georgina Sergeon, who recorded 59 career wins, Mellisa Ward, Andree Powell and Natalie Berger are the others.

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