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Gen Y Speaks: How I defied the odds to become S'pore's only female apprentice jockey

It has always been my childhood dream to be a jockey ever since I watched the show “On the track or off”, a Hong Kong television drama series about the equine industry, at a very young age.

Gen Y Speaks: How I defied the odds to become S'pore's only female apprentice jockey

Gen Y Speaks writer Jerlyn Seow shares how she defied the odds to become the only female apprentice jockey in Singapore.

It has always been my childhood dream to be a jockey ever since I watched the show “On the track or off”, a Hong Kong television drama series about the equine industry, at a very young age.

I was fascinated by the development of the story plot and saw how exciting being a part of the industry could be.

Jockeying is widely-known to be a male-dominated sport, so I’ve had to defy the odds and physical limitations to become the first and only millennial female apprentice jockey in Singapore today.

It is a dream come true for me in my challenging and tumultuous, yet fun-filled five-year career so far.

After graduating from Ngee Ann Polytechnic in 2014, I came upon Singapore Turf Club’s Star (Singapore Training Academy for Racing) programme whilst I was working at a pet café and helping out at my parents' yong tau foo stall at Jurong wet market – the latter due to my mum’s rheumatoid arthritis.

I got accepted into the academy in 2016 and that was how my journey began.

Unfortunately, three months into the six-month course, I had to drop as I was falling off the horses every lesson due to a lack of balance and physical strength.

I was dejected, cried a lot and my self-esteem dived, but I did not want to give up mastering riding and was determined to pursue my passion.

Jerlyn Seow said that it had been a childhood dream of hers to be a jockey since she watched a Hong Kong television drama series about the equine industry. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

Thankfully, I was blessed to have the support of my peers and industry mentors including J Saimee and Damien Kinninmont who guided me through this extremely challenging period.

Mickey Locket, a senior track rider, took me to the Bukit Timah Saddle Club to assess how I rode.

Once he saw that I had potential, Mickey introduced me to the Steven Burridge stable the following year. I learnt the ropes under the guidance and mentorship of former jockeys Richard Lim and L Kamehal, on starter hacks – horses that had retired and were calm in demeanour.

Riding on starter hacks boosted my confidence and helped to slightly reduce my fear of falling. I also worked extremely hard to be fit, going to the gym or jogging after work almost daily.

Eventually, I got my official track rider licence and was able to ride racehorses on the track.

The real challenges then began; I found the going tough because racehorses are extremely strong and energetic.

I continued to fall – though not as much as before – and have lost control of horses too.

One year on, in 2017, I suffered a major setback when I fell off a horse in heavy rain, resulting in me breaking my ankle.

It was an injury so bad that I had surgery to insert plates and screws in my ankle. My family grew extremely worried; my mum cried and tried several times to convince me to stop riding altogether.

My peers also advised me likewise as they believed that it was too risky.

The three months of recuperation that followed were tough. I gradually developed a fear of heights and became anxious over my fitness.

Jerlyn Seow taking a horse for a swim after a practice. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

On top of that, people around me disregarded my hard work and passion following the accident. I was in a period of darkness and felt suffocated, especially since I was constantly being told to leave jockeying.

After only being able to do groundwork for another three months, I decided to move on to my current trainer, Mark Walker, in 2018.

He not only had a bigger yard but also gave me more opportunities.

Mark provided me with plenty of horses to ride during trackwork, averaging seven to nine horses, and sometimes more, daily. This hugely contributed to the improvement of my strength and riding skills.

He soon started to plan barrier jump outs for me, and that was the time when I started getting bumped off horses again.

There were times when I was on the verge of giving up, but Mark did not give up on me. He continued to push me and soon enough, I was jumping out smoothly.

I started my first official trial in 2020. Mark helped me with applying for an apprentice jockey licence, which allowed me to ride with and compete against professional jockeys.

I managed to clinch my first win on a horse named Axel in April this year, after finishing second 11 times.

I have since gone on to win three more races, thanks to the support and encouragement from my trainer and the horse racing community.

Recently, I also had the rare opportunity to ride on Top Knight, one of Singapore’s top horses.

Jerlyn Seow with a horse named Federation, whom she rode with in her most recent win. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

So, what does a typical day for me as an apprentice jockey look like? I wake up at 4am to get ready for work. By 5am, I’m at the stables getting the horses ready for trackwork which begins at 6am.

We ride different horses on different tracks by following our trainers’ workout plans. By 10am, we’d be cleaning up the gear and keeping things organised for the next day.

Between 2pm and 4pm, we would walk the horses, bring them for a swim and clean their boxes before grooming and feeding them.

Work finishes at 4pm for us; after which, I would go for a jog, or head to the gym, or work out at home.

I treasure my time with horses, especially their silly and funny antics off the track.

I remember riding a horse named Sacred Rebel which made sniffing noises due to the unfamiliarity of being on a new track.

It suddenly got down on his legs, spurring me to jump off before rolling around happily on the ground with the saddle still on his back. That really got me laughing!

I also fondly remember the hilarious moment when another horse named Axel, which is overly sensitive to sounds, got startled by its own fart while on the way to trackwork!

Like us humans, horses have moods and feelings. They can have a great run one week, and a disappointing one the next. They could be bucking around one day, and then be docile the next.

While I still experience challenges with certain horses due to their sheer strength and keenness, I’m driven by the desire to give it my best and stay in control when riding them. After all, jockeying is a competitive sport that requires an immense amount of grit.

Since I started riding competitively, I have achieved four race wins and plenty of placings. I am extremely proud and happy to be able to race with the professionals and do well as the only female apprentice jockey in Singapore.

Today, despite not having any connections or riding experience when I started out, I continue to improve on my horsemanship and fitness.

My goal is to get in more rides and win more races while I work towards being a claim-3 apprentice jockey.

Theoretically, that will still be four levels and a few years away from being a professional, though winning more races will help me to speed up the process.

Jockeying is a mentally and physically demanding profession.

Having a regular fitness regime has helped me strengthen myself physically and mentally, but sometimes, my emotions, stress levels and the pressure continue to pose barriers to me doing well.

Among other things, I fret about the horse’s condition, the jump barriers and how to ride a good race.

What I have learnt over the five years is that I must not dwell on my mistakes and instead embrace the challenges ahead.

I truly believe that if I can prove your worth and passion through a tenacity to succeed, being a woman in a male-dominated sport is not going to hold me back from pursuing my goals and dreams.

With fewer people joining the jockeying scene in Singapore, I wish to encourage newcomers, regardless of age or gender, to explore this career path less travelled by Singaporeans.

While a career in jockeying starts with a basic salary that ranges between S$1,600 and S$2,000 a month, I assure you that the experience and earnings that you receive as you climb your way up, from getting your track rider license to the day you turn professional, is both rewarding and fulfilling.

We need millennials and Gen Zs to keep this industry alive, and I hope to one day welcome my peers on this journey.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jerlyn Seow, 27, is an apprentice jockey. She is the only female jockey based in Singapore as at July 2021.

Related topics

horse-racing jockey career

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