Career & Education

Mellisa's Ride

Mellisa Ward making a name for herself in the racing world

BY RUDDY ALLEN
Career and Education writer

Sunday, July 16, 2017

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Mellisa Ward's unique position in the male-dominated sport of horseracing as a female apprentice rider doesn't go unnoticed. The ability to position horses and judge pace is allowing her to make a name for herself as a tough and spirited competitor.

Since starting her career on September 25, 2015, Ward, who is one of three female apprentice riders, has ridden 10 winners and was the leading female rider last year based on winners. The other female riders are Andree Powell and Natalie Berger.

However, being a female jockey isn't an easy task, as any who has managed it will agree, but with drive and determination, women can make it in a male-dominated sport. Ward decided to follow her passion for the sport, despite the long odds.

It took her less than a couple of hours to realise she wanted to become a jockey. She wasn't even into the sport at the time, but as soon as she touched a horse for the very first time, she was hooked.

“One morning I went to the racetrack with my father, Rohan, to visit a friend. We stopped for a while to watch the horses exercise on the track and I was amazed by what I saw, as I never actually saw racing horses before; only the ones at carnivals.

“After a while we then headed to my father's friend's stables and on the way I saw a groom holding a horse and I asked the groom if I could touch the horse and he said yes. That was the first time I was touching a race horse in my life,” Ward recalled.

“The way that horse responded to my first touch I knew that there was something special between me and the horse. I ended up playing with it all day. After some more visits to the track and being around these beautiful animals, I fell in love with the sport,” the Camperdown High School graduate told the Jamaica Observer.

While Ward loves what she is doing, her career path has certainly not been an easy one.

“Being a female jockey comes with many challenges. You have to prove to everyone that you're just as strong as the male riders and that you're not going to be pushed around that easily. I like the challenge, because proving the doubters wrong is a huge reward and it also helps in my development as a female rider.

“There are also challenges getting winning rides as most believe that because you are a female, you can't manage certain types of horses in certain types of races and so we as females have to deal with that. You must turn off all emotions and accept the things you cannot change, but just keep believing in yourself that you can do anything,” she said by way of advice to her colleagues.

In addition to being a strong rider, the 23-year-old Ward recognises the hard work that's required to follow her dream of racing and says it has challenged her in every way possible.

“No male wants a female to beat them in any race and so they are going to ride harder, double times harder when they are locked in a battle with a female rather than how they would ride against their male companions. And so, it is going to require hard work and dedication for us females to make our presence felt and I am committed to doing the hard work.

“Chasing this dream of being a jockey has been a difficult one in life. However, I would not want to be doing anything else. The support from everyone has been phenomenal and I thank them for their input,” she said.

The petite apprentice added:

“I don't just want only to become a jockey; I want to be an educated, professional jockey. I want to elevate myself as the sky is the limit for me. I want to pursue a career in this profession as every opportunity given to me I will grasp it with both hands,” she said.

Ward, Powell and Berger graduated from the Jamaica Racing Commission's Jockeys' School in 2015 and will lose their bug and become jockeys by September this year.

They will take the number of female jockeys in Jamaica since 1980 to five, the other two being Azel Cowie and Georgina Sergeon, who recorded 59 career wins when she retired from the sport in 2015.

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