12 Mar 2018

Female jockeys: 'There is no room to be soft'

9:57 am on 12 March 2018

The number of female jockeys in New Zealand is steadily rising, and expected to overtake the number of male jockeys.

Samantha Collett.

Samantha Collett, 28, is leading the Jockey Premiership this season. Photo: Supplied: Racing Desk

Female riders now fill four of the top six places in this season's Jockey Premiership.

Over the past 20 years the number of female jockeys has risen about 14 percent to now make up 44 percent of riders across all categories.

NZ Racing chief executive Bernard Saundry, said in the next five to 10 years there would be more female than male jockeys.

"When we look at the number of young apprentices coming into the system...I can see female jockeys playing a greater role and having a greater presence than males in future."

Chief executive of NZ Racing, Bernard Saundry.

Chief executive of NZ Racing, Bernard Saundry. Photo: RNZ / Alexa Cook

New Zealand is a world leader with its high numbers of female trainers and jockeys, and Mr Saundry said that was evident in the Jockey Premiership this season.

"Based on the stats that come from not only Australia, but other parts of the world, it's something that is a world first and something that New Zealand should be very proud of in the way it promotes its female jockeys."

Samantha Collett, 28, is leading the Jockey Premiership.

Most of her family is involved in the industry and she often races against her cousins Alysha and Jim, and her mother Trudy.

It's no surprise that Ms Collett started jockey training in high school, given that her mother, Trudy Thornton, and father, Jim Collett, have won more than 2000 races between them.

But it hasn't been an easy ride to the top.

"To get into the industry itself has been a lot of hard work, i've been riding 11 years now and that's not long in terms of how long people do ride for...

"It's taken me all of a good five to six years to establish myself properly."

Having raced in China and Australia, Ms Collett said the racing industry overseas is a lot more male dominated than New Zealand.

"We are lucky here that it's becoming a lot more equal, you go into the women's jockey room and there's probably an almost an equal number of men at the moment.

"So you have to become quite tough, there is no room to be soft."

She said females do have the advantage of being naturally lighter, and although men are perceived to be stronger, this is not the case.

"If you take our top three or four riders (female and male) there's not much of a difference if we all have an arm wrestle."

Samantha Collett.

Samantha Collett. Photo: Supplied: Racing Desk

While all riders have to be fit, the technical aspect can be just as important.

"Riding is also a technique and an understanding, being able to get a feel for a horse... maybe a women's intuition, whether that plays a part a little bit more, a bit more compassion - maybe we can just get that little bit more out of them (the horse)."

There's always testing times in the racing industry and sometimes it can be hard for female jockeys to get rides, she said.

"We have a lot of overseas people who own the horses, a lot of Asian people who are still in that mind set that men are stronger, which is fair enough... sometimes it can be hard to convince them to put women riders on.

"When it comes down to weights and things like that obviously more of us (women) can ride a lighter weight, and we become more of a natural option then."

Ms Collett has won 86 races this season, and is nearly 20 wins ahead of her cousin Alysha in the jockey premiership, which ends in July.

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Alysha Collett and her father, Richard. Photo: Supplied: Racing Desk

Female jockeys around the world can struggle to get rides in races, but the more that the industry talks about opportunities for females, the better Mr Saundry said.

"We've seen in the last 10 to 15 years better representation of female participation across boards and committees, administrations, jockey rings.. but I think we just have to recognise that females have a great affinity with the horse.

"That message is slowly getting through. The more we advocate for that and the more we work on those pathway programmes, you'll see females dominate this sport in the future."