Kelsi Kelso Purcell has been riding for decades and since her last interview was so long ago, I thought it was time for a new one, and here it is:
FOTH: When I tell you, you’re close to having 4000 mounts, what goes through your mind?
KKP: Well it made me go and look it up, because I really never had thought about it. Including all the breeds I’ve ridden, that’s 4110 races. In addition, what goes through my mind is I feel blessed that I’ve been healthy enough to be able to ride that many.
FOTH: When you started riding, did you think you would be riding this long?
KKP: Yes and no. I thought maybe I would last 10 years or so, but now that I’m past that, I’m happy that I still feel good and love race riding. There’s a big difference from when I started to now. I was very driven to be successful and I put a lot of pressure on myself. I know it got in my way sometimes, and I might not have had the most amazing career, but I have always made a decent living. I traveled and moved a lot so that hurt my career, too. I have gotten to travel the world to ride, which has been amazing.
The wonderful people I have met along the way has made it so worth it. Now, I’m happy to ride a few good horses that I can light up the board for people and win on. I find I actually am a lot happier now and more consistent that I took the pressure off myself and go with God’s flow. Plus, I’m trying to ride more Quarter horses again. I love riding all breeds, but I have a passion right now to win a big quarter horse race.
FOTH: Looking back, was becoming a jockey easier or harder than you thought it would be, and what was the hardest thing about it?
KKP: Becoming a jockey wasn’t hard for me. I took the time to learn and be safe about race riding. I was blessed to learn from some of the best riders in the world. The hardest thing about it was after I got my license and not having a good agent to keep me off horses I shouldn’t have ridden. So I got the reputation of being able to ride unruly horses, aka a cowgirl. People have the opinion, if you ride bad horses, you can’t ride the good ones. So after my bug was over, I got a better agent and I miss him! He kept me off of those horses and I rode better horses and people started noticing I could ride a good horse.
FOTH: Do you remember your first race clearly and have you had the pleasure of being in the room when another girl rider was riding her first race?
KKP: Yes, I remember my first race, and yes, I have been in the room for another girl’s first race.
FOTH: How long do you think it took for you to have a particular riding style, or you don’t have one?
KKP: I have always been a very aggressive rider. That’s what I’m known for. I used to look a lot better before I broke my back. So now, definitely not pretty or stylish. lol I get the job done though.
FOTH: How did this back injury occur?
KKP: In an 870 yard race at Sunland Park. I was the favorite and 50 yards away from the gate 2 guys came over on me and pushed me over top of the horse on the inside of me. We tea kettled 3 times and then he landed on me and shatter one vertebrae in 26 pieces and another in 10 and fractured several others and broke my chest bone. My horse broke his neck and back. I now have 2 rods, eight screws, and four hooks in my spine.
FOTH: Ouch! How long were you out for?
KKP: 3 months. I heal fast. That was 10 years ago.
FOTH: Incredible. Now you ride both Quarter horse and Thoroughbred races. Which do you enjoy more, and why?
KKP: Yes, I’ve always ridden both and Arabians as well. In 2015, I won the North American title for Arabians and the World title. I don’t really have a preference for the breeds. I just like riding fast horses.
FOTH: Favorite racetrack, and why, and least favorite racetrack, and why?
KKP: Well, there’s 2. Retama, because it’s home, and Los Alamitos, because I loved being out in California, and I loved the track and people there. Least favorite race track is a particular bush track. It’s a death trap. Can’t say the name, because too many people would be butt hurt over it ðŸ˜‚.
FOTH: Got ya. Tell me about Retama, as I have never been there before.
KKP: It’s a nice track, and it has a grass course. It’s run down now, but it’s still home for me.
FOTH: What do you think horse racing as a whole needs to do to try to make it popular again, except for a couple of days?
KKP: That’s a hard one. It has so much competition with other sports here in America. You would have to get the younger generation more into horses again and more family friendly.
FOTH: I totally agree. If you were not a jockey, what do you think you would be doing with your life?
KKP: I’d be riding show horses, running a farm, training young horses, and teaching riding lessons. It’s what I will eventually go back to.
FOTH: Are you into any other sports at all?
KKP: Yes. I’m in the process of training my two OTTBs for show jumping and ranch work. And I do watch football and basketball.
FOTH: Take me through a typical race day for you these days.
KKP: I get up. I go to feed my horses, then I go to the track at 6am, gallop and breeze between 10 to 14. Then go get my dog, and take care of my horses again; then home to change my clothes, head back to the track to ride my races for the day. Then head back home, get my dog, and go ride my own horses. Feed them dinner, then go eat dinner myself. That’s my day in a nutshell.
FOTH: Is there any track you would like to ride or even visit or place you would like to visit?
KKP: I’d like to ride at Canterbury.
FOTH: If a young girl came up to you and wanted to become a jockey, what advice would you give her?
KKP: I would tell her it’s a lot of work and to make sure it’s what she really wanted to do.
FOTH: As far as the future of racing, do you see smaller tracks without slots closing and just big tracks being around in say 5 or 10 years?
KKP: Yep! It will be either at the very top, or the very bottom. There will be no more middle ground.
FOTH: Looking back, what are some of your favorite memories?
KKP: Winning my first Quarter horse stake for friends. Winning several times on a horse named Burning Fancy for one of the greatest Arabian Trainers, Jerry Parton. Sharing several great Thoroughbred wins with my best friend Alicia Flores at home at Retama Park.
FOTH: Do you have any sad disappointments?
KKP: That’s racing, there countless times of sad disappointments. I try not to think about them anymore and just move forward.
FOTH: How much longer do you see yourself doing this, I mean riding races?
KKP: Maybe a few more years. I have a couple more goals I would like to accomplish before I step away.
FOTH: Without prying too much, care to reveal those goals?
KKP: Oh yeah, I want to do a little more Quarter Horse stuff and maybe get one or two good Thoroughbreds again.
FOTH: Would you stay involved in horse racing after you retire?
KKP: Yes. I’m sure I’ll always be training babies for the track, or helping with sales.
FOTH: Kelsi, thumbs up for this new exciting interview, any last words to wrap this up?
KKP: Well, Footboy, go kiss some female feet, and to all the other female jockeys out there: keep hustling and stay safe.