Brittany Scampton is a young jockey riding in Maryland, and here is a recent chat I had with her:
FOTH: Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
BS: I was born in Maryland and grew up on the family farm in Bel Air.
FOTH: So did you come from a big or small family, and what sort of girl were you growing up?
BS: I came from a big family. I was the typical dirty barn child. I loved riding my ponies around, and I also loved spending time with my brother on 4-wheelers and riding around in the tractors, tomboy all the way.
FOTH: Yeah a tomboy is like most other female riders I have interviewed. What did you want to be while you were growing up? What were your dreams?
BS: I always wanted to be a jockey like my mom (Amy/Mary Ruff) and I also wanted to be a doctor. I’m working on both.
FOTH: So I know being a jockey takes a lot of free time, how are you balancing trying to become a doctor and riding races?
BS: I’ve taken some time off school. I only have 2 more years of clinical left until I’m a nurse, but I wanted to ride. I don’t find the balance too difficult. I still use my anatomy all the time when talking to the other jockeys about things to improve and how to work certain muscles.
FOTH: So obviously mom was supportive when you decided you wanted to ride. Now I am sure you knew it was going to be tough, but looking back now, was becoming a jockey tougher than you thought, and what was the most difficult thing?
BS: Actually my mother did not want me to get into race riding. Since she was a jockey, she knew the struggles of being a female in a male sport as well as the typical not wanting me to get hurt. I would have to say the most difficult thing would be having to show trainers as well as other riders that even as a female, I can do everything needed to ride the race properly. I can hold the same horses and even get along with some of the silly ones, and it never seems to be enough. Yes, many trainers have given me a shot and believe in me, but it still stings every once in a while when they say, oh you can’t get on that horse, he’s too tough for you.
FOTH: That has to be frustrating at times. So what was your first job on a racetrack/farm, and how long did you do it for?
BS: My very first job with racehorses was with Alex White in Monkton at her farm, and I was mucking stalls and riding joggers or babies.
FOTH: So how long did it take till you were used to getting on horses and what was the best piece of advice you were given?
BS: It didn’t take me long to get used to the feeling of how to ride a race horse.The best advice I got was from Bethany Beaumgardner. She told me to just trust myself and my body and once I find my style, go with it.
FOTH: How long did you ride babies before you decided to ride races?
BS: I was galloping for about 6/7 years, then I went to Australia to learn the flat and came back to the states in May (2018) to get my license to ride races.
FOTH: Tell me a bit about your Australia experience? Was it what you thought it was going to be? What are the crowds like there for the races?
BS: It was everything and more than I expected. I got to work for Chris Waller and see horses winning, being trained and racing in person, which is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see that caliber of horse. Every time I went to the races, it was packed. Everyone was excited and everyday people even knew of the horses and would regularly attend racing.
FOTH: What are some things you learned over there that you brought back to the US with you, and what is the biggest difference in racing there and racing here?
BS: I would say the biggest thing that was different is they go a lot slower. The fastest I would work horses was 15 seconds per furlong until the last 200 meters and then you can let them go on a bit, but never much. I learned a lot of different riding styles from older jocks who took me under their wing, but I also learned a lot on the horsemanship side as well. I learned to swim horses and massage them and laser horses as well.
FOTH: Did you ride actual races there? If so, how many tracks, and did you win any races while there?
BS: No I wasn’t able to ride there. They have different licensing requirements.
FOTH: So when you finally came back to the US, were you pretty much ready to get your jockey license?
BS: I felt so. It was the main reason I actually came home from Australia. I wanted to ride in my own country.
FOTH: Tell me all about your first race. What track was it? Were you nervous in the jock’s room and then in the paddock and going into the starting gate?
BS: My first race ever was a steeplechase flat race for Elizabeth Voss. I was extremely nervous because I had to wait around all day. I just kept thinking about it. But it all kind of went away when I started to saddle my horse. I had ridden him since I started working for Voss and loved him to death and trusted him with everything. Then Elizabeth told me to go have fun and follow Gus. After that, once I sat on his back everything melted away and I felt like I was just going for a glorified breeze.
FOTH: What track was this?
BS: It was on Voss’ farm for the annual Elkridge Harford point to point.
FOTH: How about your first actual thoroughbred race? What track was that? Were you nervous at all?
BS: My first thoroughbred race was at Delaware Park for Hubert Gaffney. I was nervous like crazy until I sat on the horse in the paddock, then all the nerves washed away.
FOTH: Where did you finish in the race, and what were your feelings like in the jock’s room after the race?
BS: I finished, I believe, 5th and I was just happy I didn’t mess up or interfere with any other rider.
FOTH: Now, at this point, was your mother supportive of you being a jockey, and what sort of advice did you get from her?
BS: She’s now super supportive in that she’s given me loads of advice that has carried me quite a bit. I’d have to say the story of her winning her first race on a long shot is very important to me. She told me, “ride everything like it’s a champion, because you never know how a horse will try for different riders.” I just won on a horse that went off 60-1, and I rode many long shots at Delaware. Honestly, I rode my heart out on all of them and several of them surprised me and even the trainers with how well we did.
FOTH: We will get to that race in a bit, but tell me about your 1st win. What track was it, and did you win by a lot, or in a photo?
BS: My first win was on 11/17 at Charlestown where I won by about 7 lengths, wire to wire.
FOTH: Nice, did the riders get you good after the race, and did you know it was coming or did you know it was coming and forgot all about it in the excitement of winning a race?
BS: I honestly wasn’t expecting it because it was my first time ever riding at Charlestown. The video went viral for a bit.
FOTH: I know. I shared it on my Facebook page, ha ha. I know the jockeys got you good. What did they get you with, and did you know it was coming?
BS: I didn’t know it was coming. They poured buckets of ice water on me and then hit me good with the baby powder.
FOTH: And they got it all on video too. Has your mom come out to see you ride, and is she worried about you getting hurt?
BS: She comes every once in a while when I’m riding a few that day. Luckily, she got to see my first win. I think she’s getting more confident with my riding, but as a mother, she’s always concerned especially since she’s been through it all.
FOTH: Tell me a bit about what it is like riding Charlestown, as the turns are tight, aren’t they?
BS: The turns are very sharp and those riders rush and chase pretty quick out of the gate. Luckily, I was on a horse who went to the front and lead the whole way, so I didn’t have to deal with the traffic.
FOTH: Tell me about this 60-1 shot you won on recently. How surprised were you winning on this horse, and what track was this at?
BS: I was very surprised. I worked him earlier in the week and he went well but the trainer and I agreed he will be a turf horse. Once I realized they sealed the track, I knew he would be up there. But I never thought he would kick on and run as much as he did and especially fight for first. This was at Laurel Park.
FOTH: For those who have never been to Laurel since they are doing so much fixing up, tell me a bit about the track?
BS: Not too much to say, everything is clean and nice.
FOTH: Take me through what a typical day is like for you these days, on a racing day?
BS: I get to the track at about 5:30am and go to my main two barns and get on as many horses as they have for me. Some gallop, some jog. On weekends, I ride mostly breezers. My agent then meets me, and we go to all the other barns to get on a few more horses for other trainers doing whatever they need me to do. I also go in just to talk to trainers and remind them they can get 10 pounds off and to keep me in mind. Then depending on how early or late I ride, I’ll go to the jock’s room, grab a shower, and hopefully take a nap. Then I ride my races. Today is going to be long because I worked all morning, have the last two races to ride here at Laurel then I drive to Charleston to ride the horse I won on last time.
FOTH: What are some things you like to do when you’re away from the racetrack?
BS: I mostly sleep. When I’m not, I love hiking. I go kickboxing whenever I can, or fishing, or I’ll take my pony or one of my horses out for a trail ride and enjoy that since I don’t really get to do that much anymore.
FOTH: Do you have any goals for yourself?
BS: To finish school and to become a better, stronger rider
FOTH: How do you deal with the cold?
BS: Lots and lots of layers, the only skin you can see on me in the mornings are my eyes peeking through my mask
FOTH: Now if some young girl approached you about being a jockey, what advice would you give her?
BS: I would tell her you can be as good as you want to be. If you’re willing to dig in and go through what it takes, then go for it, and never let someone tell you, you can’t.
FOTH: Are jockeys underappreciated in the world of professional sports, and if so why?
BS: I would like to say yes and no. Yes, everyone knows that jockeys must be fit and diet, and they know how dangerous their job is, but I think unless you were a jockey, you don’t know exactly how much you put into this sport. Dieting for normal people isn’t as strict as some of the things I’ve seen. I know jockeys who work out every day even after riding all morning and riding several races in the afternoon. Many of them are out there every morning doing all the work they can. There’s traveling and dealing with jet lag, dealing with trainers, stable hands, and even fans always blaming you if the horse doesn’t win. You have to be careful of everything you do, say, and even be careful of people you associate yourself with. Their lives are this sport, and I don’t believe people realize the pressure jockeys put on themselves. I’m not even speaking about myself but knowing my mother and being lucky enough to have had many jockeys look out for me, every single one of them sure will tell you of their winners, but they can also tell you of the ones where when it was actually their mistake and not a horse just getting tired, they remember and take it to heart.
FOTH: Was becoming a jockey harder than you thought it was going to be?
BS: Getting the license no, having people give me a shot is something I still work hard for every day.
FOTH: What advice, if any, does your mom give you?
BS: There’s a couple things she always said, “Ride everything like it’s a champion, never be discouraged by a long shot, and keep on riding past the wire. She always tells me before a sprint race to ride like I’m driving on 95 and I got somewhere to be.
FOTH: Brittany, thumbs up for doing this interview for my website. Good luck with everything going forward. Anything you want to say to wrap this up? The floor is yours.
BS: I guess just always follow what makes you happy, I work hard and wake up crazy early hours because I love this sport and what I do. I hope anyone who wants to pursue this profession never hesitates because of anyone telling them they can’t do it. Anything is possible. Thank you, Footboy, for allowing me to share a little bit of my journey. It’s been a long road and it’s still going. I was lucky enough to have a lot of great riders guide me, and I am forever grateful to them all.