Kelly Gate, the winning jockey of race three.
Kelly Gate, the winning jockey of race three. Brian Cassidy

Giddyup and get ready for a great spring racing season

It's many a little girl's dream to someday own their very own horse. When their passion is strong and the dream turns to reality, they may well live out those dreams by winning races on the track.

 

Jockey Kelly Gates with horse Valorie
Jockey Kelly Gates with horse Valorie Troy Jegers

Growing up on a sheep and cattle property in South Australia, jockey Kelly Gates had the opportunity to chase those dreams.

But it was a solo effort as no one else in Kelly's family was equine inclined.

Kelly said her mum and dad were both busy working in their butcher shop, and her brother preferred the keyed horsepower of a motorbike.

Kelly participated in the equestrian sports, particularly eventing which comprises dressage, cross country and show jumping, in either one or three-day events. The discipline is full-on and requires both horse and rider to be in excellent physical shape and to be brave and trusting of each other.

Early on Kelly was known to tackle some big challenges which would later pay off in competition, as well as on and off the track.

 

"I would take in thoroughbreds from the track and re-educate them so that I could compete. I love that they are high spirited. It's where I got my grounding and understanding of horse nature, so it helped me a lot to learn to read a horse and how to control them better.

"When I was 12, I started working at a spelling farm. I was handling and weaning young horses. Every Christmas holiday I'd go out to the farm and do the yearling prep for the Adelaide Sales. I did it for about five years," Kelly said.

Knowing she was riding the right path in life, working with horses was always her goal; so Kelly left school at 16and secured a job as a track rider for trainer, Stuart Padman in Murray Bridge.

 

After a few more years, Kelly moved to Queensland and by 19 rode track work at the Caloundra race track. Here she met trainer Paul Facoory who acknowledged her potential and identified a unique characteristic necessary for a career as a jockey.

"I was at my lightest weight and he saw that I had it. He used to say that I should be a jockey because I had a bit of mongrel in me," Kelly said.

Life for an apprentice jockey is intense and requires tenacity. It includes daily early morning starts of race track work, stable duties, practice riding and continuous theory with the Racing Queensland Apprentice School.

The program takes four years to complete and can be extended depending upon the apprentice's extra-curricular commitments and injury which causes an inevitable hiatus in completion. Units include self-management in racing, preparation for race riding, setting goals to improve performance, media interviews for racing, protests, inquiries and appeals, conflict resolution and principles of sport science for jockeys.

The list is almost as long the hours they put in, so a career as a jockey is not for the feint hearted.

Kelly, who started her apprenticeship in her 20s said most jockeys start as school leavers and that her maturity and life experiences helped her to cope.

"I was used to the track work and stable duties. It was pretty easy. I was lucky that I had a lot of experience."

Life for the 36-year-old jockey still looks the same as it did all those years ago and she loves it. Early starts are a part of her routine.

"I leave home at 2am to get to Caloundra at 3.30am and I'm on my first horse at 3.45am. I ride about 10 to 15 horses. They generally do two or three laps and it takes about 20 minutes to ride each horse from stable to stable," Kelly said.

After she completes track riding it is back to her spelling property at Sexton, a 20-minute drive north of Gympie where she takes in horses who need to be fed and rested. For the past couple of months Kelly, whose work injury was a broken rib and collarbone had been resting along with the horses. And now she's fit and ready, back in the saddle, briefly riding morning track work in Gympie before returning to Caloundra.

Kelly will ride at races most weekends, year-round, apart from the Christmas period when horse racing eases off during the warmer weather.

"I ride every weekend. Normally at Gympie, Nanango, Wondai, Kilcoy and Bundaberg," Kelly said.

Kelly said there wasn't a gender disparity when it comes to being a jockey.

"I think there is an even playing field. I don't think male or female has a lot to do with it. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses which you work on."

Kelly's dream is to ride in the traditional Adelaide Hills Oakbank Easter Racing Carnival's steeple race where she could once again put those early years eventing skills into practice. The thrill of flying high on her mount is an exhilarating dream which may never be realised.

"I'd always loved to race over the jump, but I'm too lightweight," Kelly said.

You can't blame Kelly for living the dream and continuing to dream big. It's how this passionate horse lover became a successful jockey in the first place.



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