Maria R. Scaldaferri started off riding overseas and now she is riding as an apprentice in Florida. Here is her story:
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
MS: I was born at Pergamino city, Argentina, and I grew up there, near Douglas Haigh club
FOTH: I will. What sort of girl were you growing up?
MS: Well, I was pretty shy. I couldn't say I was really a tomboy, but I was very confused on my childhood. I used to wear pants and a hat all the time, and refused to dress like a girl. I was all the time saying I wanted to be a boy, then one day my dad asked me why, and I just answered "because boys can run and climb trees, and girls have to wear dresses". The only thing I really wanted was staying close to horses and away from people.
FOTH: So you were interested in horses at a young age. Did you know about racetracks and stuff? What did you think about a racetrack the first time you saw a horse race?
MS: Yes, my father always say I was a baby, so young even to walk. He used to put me on a pony and going away to take a nap. After 3 or 4 hours, I was still on the pony, holding its mane and crying when someone tried to take me off it.
So, my dad had some trainer friends, and I remember he asked me one afternoon "You wanna come with me to the barn? I wanna chat with Mr. Oscar" and I was like "No, that's so boring", so he replied "There are horses in there", and a smile appeared on my face as I said "ok, let's go". I used to stand all the time watching the horses galloping or just staying there on the stalls. So the first time I knew the word "jockey", I knew what I wanted to be. It was like a first-sight love, something stronger than me. All these happened on farms. I knew the big tracks when I moved to begin the apprentice's school at San Isidro racetrack. That was like paradise for me. More than 2000 horses just on the training center.
FOTH: So what was it like getting up on a horse for the first time?
MS: Well, the first one was an OTTB, 13yo as me at that time, called Rule Rey aka "Miguelito". I used to gallop him on a farm, simulating we were racing. It's funny, because there were another horses on the place, a thin but deep river and a lot of owl borrows. And my horse had a couple screws on his knee. Not the best idea, but every time I was putting the saddle on him, both of us enjoyed it.
FOTH: So who helped teach you how to ride and was it a goal of yours to become a jockey at this time?
MS: At the beginning my godfather helped me, Ricardo Retrivo. He was a famous jockeys on short-distance races (between one and four furlongs). It is something that makes me happy all days, the simple fact of wearing jockey pants and boots, and be up on a horse. It is a goal, but also I know it's just part of the way, and I always wanted more and more, and that gives sense to my life. I think the day when I have nothing more to give, to learn or to achieve, that day I'll simply die, hahaha.
FOTH: So how long did you gallop horses for before you got to ride in your first race?
MS: A year more less. I was at school while riding at small racetracks, that's how it works at San Isidro. Then I had my official license after 2 and a half years. Four weeks after that I rode my first females jockey international championship, at Peru.
FOTH: So what was your first race like? Were you nervous? Where did you finish?
MS: It was 4 furlongs, a race made only for apprentices. I remember everything happened too fast and that's it, hahaha. I finished 7th, nothing much to say.
FOTH: So let's move on to your 1st win. What track was it at and did you win by a lot or in a photo? What was the feeling like jogging the horse back to the winner's circle?
MS: Well, I was trying pretty hard and being a little upset when I was at apprentice's school until my first win. It came a little late. It was at Azul racetrack, a small track with races every 15 days. A top leader jockey gave a ride to there, he had horses an almost all races, but he went there specially for a favorite one that he liked. That day, as usual, I hadn't any confirmed horse to ride, and it rained, so I was waiting for a chance, maybe a horse that nobody wanted to ride or a lightweight one... As usual, haha. So, it rained pretty bad, the track was very deep, and a man came to the jock's room asking for someone that wanted to ride his horse saying he was nice, not the best horse on the race (he was 60/1), but he wouldn't do nothing bad. I said yes, so he told me the horse's past so I can understand what he was asking me for. He started saying the horse was found tied under a tree, starving, on his bones, and he felt so sad about him that he asked to the owner if he could take him home to give him some food. The owner agreed, so he took him. When the horse looked good, he began the training, and this would be his first race with new owner/trainer. He told me he wasn't expecting too much, because he was always dead last, even on unofficial races, so I shouldn't worry about anything but giving my best. Only thing, he said, "lead him to the best part of the track, where the tractors come and go, because track is too bad". It was a field of 16 horses, 5 furlongs, with a 3 furlongs stretch, so the gate was just on the turn, and I was number 16. We were behind the field, wide open, almost all the race. I lead him to the tractor path, and start riding, and he slowly goes and goes, I felt more aggressive each step as he did, and even when we were so far from the field, we won on the wire, at super speed last furlong, by 1 1/2... Second place was for the jockey that gave the ride... Then he told me "kid, I shouldn't bring you back home, they paid me for just for this filly and I was having some more if I win", hahaha. He was the best, being an older jockey he made some jocks and supported me as it was my first win ever. I was so excited, I couldn't believe my first winning it gonna be that way, and the race was called "Grand Opening", it was the first official race on the year. I always remember that day, and that chubby chestnut horse called Es Eugenio. it was a Tandil, with a 3 1/2 furlongs
FOTH: So what was it like jogging the horse back to the winner's circle?
MS: AI was super happy, but also I felt I deserved it, the horse deserved it, and the owner/trainer too. As you can see, there was a lot of hard work behind this. I wasn't galloping that horse, but I've been travelling all weekends far away from home, sleeping on the bus station at night when it was freezing a lot of times, only eating some saltine crackers and cereal bars so MAYBE I could ride a horse...
FOTH: Now did the jockeys get you good after the race or they don't do that where you ride?
MS: Well, to girls they only say "congratulations" with big smiles and things like that. To men, they usually make some gross jokes... Not really good. Uhm. I hope one day it might end these kind of things.
FOTH: Oh that stinks. So what is a typical race day for you like?
MS: Yes, I know, much more civilized and nice, not like being punched by the whole jockey's room.
Well, at my country it was like galloping from 6:30 to 11:45, 20 horses on a hard morning, all of that for free, trying to get a chance to ride, which is pretty difficult for a girl on there. Then have a shower, lunch, take a nap, and races start at 3:00 pm until 9:30 more less. Come back home, have dinner and sleep.
On here I gallop less horses, there's not much time on the mornings, and I get paid for doing it. Then I take a shower and go to the track again. People in here is much more respectful about the job a person does, they recognize your work. And even being new in here and trying to get known by trainers, I think it gonna be easier once they do. It's like starting from zero, like when I was a bug at school, but I'm sure it will be much better.
FOTH: So far how many tracks have you rode in your career?
MS: I rode on the three biggest tracks from my country: Palermo, San Isidro and La Plata, and small racetracks like Azul, Tandil, 25 de mayo, Lobos (all of them on Buenos Aires), Hipodromo Independencia (Santa Fe), Gualeguay, Gualeguaychu, Concepcion del Uruguay, Camba Paso (all of them on Entre Rios), and Cordoba (Cordoba).
I also rode at Crystal (Porto Alegre, Brasil), Monterrico (Lima, Peru) and Hipodromo Miguel Salem Dibo (Guayaquil, Ecuador).
And now here at Florida, on Calder and Gulfstream Park.
FOTH: So I guess Florida your going to be at year round correct?
MS: By now I gonna stay here. I know it would be easier on some others tracks, but I just came here, I got used to the way things work in here, and I don't wanna leave before succeed in here. Once I win some races, maybe I'll move, I'm not sure. I'm just letting things be, not trying to force anything, and enjoying everything I can. By now, I really love this country, and how respectful people is in here... Also, how much people at the track love and respect horses rights. I really admire that.
FOTH: What would you say is the main difference with the overseas horses you rode early on in your career to the ones you ride now?
MS: Well, the difference I find is this: USA has more good horses on quantity, you breed to succeed. Only the good ones with the best ones. At Argentina, our culture says if something doesn't work one way, we try another twenty different ways to make it. I knew big and sound horses that just didn't like to train and walked all the afternoon instead... Then ran and won. Usually, our horses are brave, even maidens 5yo or 6yo. They fight head to head until the wire. If a horse doesn't win, it's just because hasn't too much speed.
We have good and classy horses, but sometimes they don't do good on here because there was a lot of work behind them so they can run. Grooms spend too much time on horses, and they have a percentage of each race, so it's an incentive to make them work harder.
Anyways are just little differences, good horses are the same everywhere. But here, you can find the best ones, because even the bests from another continent come to try their luck on this country. Well, you can see the same with professionals: jockeys, trainers, exercise riders...
FOTH: Now if a young girl came up to you and said she wanted to be a jockey, what advice would you give to her?
MS: Well, if a girl asks me that, I would immediately help her on her whole way... Just like nobody did with me. But if you wanna know what I would say at first, it would be: enjoy horses all the time, don't worry if you don't get it at first, you'll get it soon. It doesn't matter how fast you learn but how good you do things. The only competence you have is against yourself, try to be a little bit better each day. Don't feel bad if some other jockeys made it faster, you're not them and they're not you. Don't try to be like anybody but you. Learn about all jockeys all their good things, but have your own style, at the wire people gonna scream your name, not the name of the jockey you wanted to be like. And be strong. Well, you already are, you're a girl 😉
FOTH: Is being a jockey what you thought it would be?
MS: It is. Since I was a little kid I always lived my life as a great adventure... And you can know for sure it is. Horses are my life, and by watching them, hearing them and feeling the same they feel, it's living on a dream. Not even movies could describe what I lived thanks to horses. There always was good and bad moments, but them make it worth it all the time.
That, and the fact that I met different countries and different people, it's a plus.
FOTH: What can you see yourself doing after you retire? Will you still be involved in horse racing do you think?
MS: I still can't see myself not riding a horse. But I know for sure I'll be all my life involved on this. If I become a trainer on the future, I always said my team-work will be just girls and some bugs. To try to help them. That would be nice. To give a chance to female jockeys, riders, grooms, hot-walkers. But I don't know. That would have more sense if a do it on a country where rights are not equal... More like my country. Who knows.
FOTH: Maria thanks for doing this interview with us. Any last words to wrap this up?
MS: Footboy, thanks for the interview and here is to you puckering up and kissing the soles of many more female feet especially in the summer and in the future. You’re the best and I love the website too as I have been following it for years and now I’m part of it!