Careers in Racing – The Apprentice Jockey

The Australian Racing industry provides many exciting careers to those with a passion for horses.  One of the most demanding, glamorous roles is a jockey.  But before you become a professional, like most careers, you must start off as an apprentice.

Apprentice Billy Owen with his boss and mentor, Nick Olive and fellow jockey Kathy O’Hara

In New South Wales, the minimum age to become an apprentice jockey is 15-16 years and like most apprenticeships, it endures for 4 years.  You will already be able to ride track work to a high level and have a good understanding of the industry.  Ideally you will weigh less than 54kg’s (the lighter the better) and have a small frame that allows you to maintain this light weight with the right nutrition and fitness.  An apprentice jockey is a tough but rewarding career.  For the 4 years you’re an apprentice you will be assigned to a trainer who will become your mentor and whose job it will be to guide you through the beginning of what everyone would hope to be a long, successful career.

Self motivation and discipline is vital, as you’ll need to maintain a physically fit, healthy body while working long days that often begin with your alarm clock going off at around 3am and not finishing your day at the races until around 5.30pm-6pm.  Despite the long hours, you must still ensure you’re well presented and maintain good communication with trainers and owners.

Apprentice Jean Van Overmeire training with Dr Jennifer Hewitt while in Dubai

While riding track work 6-7 mornings per week for your master, you will also attend barrier trial meetings, work afternoon stables, attend race meetings and be present at all lectures organised by Racing NSW at the Australian Racing & Equine Academy (TAFE NSW) to ensure you succeed in gaining your Certificate IV in Racing (Apprentice Jockey).  Your theory and knowledge of the sport is just as important as the physical side!

Apprentice Jockeys are paid a set wage from their boss/mentor per week which increases each year during the apprenticeship. In addition, race rides and barrier trial rides are paid extra, as well as a percentage of any prize money earned by horses you ride in races.  Earnings from race rides, barrier trial rides and any prize money are held in trust by Racing NSW until the apprentice jockey turns 21 years of age, or longer if you choose.

Apprentice Robbie Dolan signing photo cards for fans at Canterbury race nightThoroughbred Events Australia spoke to some of Sydney’s best apprentice jockeys and asked them all one question:  What one piece of advice would you give someone that had their heart set on becoming an apprentice?

“Work hard, set goals each season and work towards them!” –
Jean Van Overmeire (Bjorn Baker Racing)

“Be tough mentally, appreciate every opportunity that comes along
and learn to let go.” – Mikayla Weir (Todd Howlett Racing)

“You’ve got want it more than anything in the world!
If you’re doing it for any other reason then you’re wasting your time!” –
Robbie Dolan (Mark Newnham Racing)


Inspired to become Sydney’s next leading apprentice?  Check out the following links to help you get started…

Words by Kiersten Duke