Jenna Bray is a young jockey that rides up in Canada and I sent her some questions to answer and this is her story:
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
JB: I was born in Oakville Ontario, Canada. I was raised there until the age of nine when my family and I moved to a small hobby farm in North Burlington.
FOTH: Did you come from a big or small family and what sort of girl were you growing up?
JB: Big, I am the second oldest of five children! My nickname growing up was ‘Jenna Joiner’ I was involved in everything; sports, music, 4H, student council etc. If there was an event going on at my school or in my community I wanted to be involved in it.
FOTH: Did you have a love for horses at a young age or did that come later on and what did you want to be when you were growing up?
JB: I have always had a passion for horses. I can’t explain it as my family doesn’t have a history with them but for as long as I can remember I have been mesmerized by them. I never fully committed to being one thing growing up. I was constantly taking my life in different directions.
FOTH: The 1st time you saw a live horse race, what do you remember about it?
JB: I witnessed my first horse race at Fort Erie Racetrack, in the pouring rain. I remember feeling a bit jealous of the jockeys thinking ‘wow they’re so lucky’ and being completely taken by the sheer size and power of the horses. I remember watching them in the walking ring seeing them on their toes with their nostrils flaring and thinking how much fun it would be to ride one. I think I was ten.
FOTH: So at what point in your life did you get a job on a racetrack/farm? Did you know you wanted to be a jockey at this point?
JB: I was about sixteen when I first started working at Kelynack, a training farm located in North Burlington. I started on the ground grooming and learning as much as I could. I was riding other disciplines at this point but my family was not supportive in me riding race horses because of the danger. At this point in my life being a jockey was a ‘pipe dream’ I was more focused on my education and playing competitive volleyball.
FOTH: How long did you gallop/exercise horses before you took your jockey license out and did it feel natural getting up on horses?
JB: I started getting up on horses from a young age and it has always brought a smile to my face, I guess it was natural and now it’s my favorite place to be. I rode other disciplines but I only galloped for about 2 years before taking out my license.
FOTH: Did somebody teach you how to ride and what were some of the things that you were taught as far as riding goes?
JB: I took lessons when I was younger, I learned about leg and body position and how to get a horse correct. When I came to the track I mostly learned by watching the other riders and from tips that people would offer here and there. This past winter I had a very good friend of mine show me how to use a stick, switching and using it as an aid so as not overuse it. I remember when I took out my license the Stewards told me that the stick often loses more races then it wins.
FOTH: Tell me about your 1st race. What track was it at and were you nervous at all before the race and during the past parade?
JB: I rode my first race at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. It was a Wednesday night in November and it was FREEZING! Minus twenty five before the wind chill. I was nervous about whether I was doing everything properly as far as proper race etiquette but I was very excited to ride. I remember getting into the gate thinking “what have I done” it’s a very surreal moment when your dreams come true.
FOTH: What did you parents think when you told them you were going to become a jockey and have they seen you ride in a race yet?
JB: I didn’t tell my family until I was in the entries. I’m sure they knew it would happen sooner or later because I never stopped talking about it and I was always watching races. They come to almost every race dressed in the colors I’m wearing. They are my biggest supporters, and I am so fortunate to have them.
FOTH: What was the hardest part about becoming a jockey?
JB: Trying to succeed in a culture that wants to see you fail before you can succeed.
FOTH: Tell me about your 1st win. What track was that at and did you win by a lot or in a photo? What was it like getting your picture taken for the 1st time in the winner’s circle?
JB: Photo Finish at Fort Erie! It was my first time on the turf course there, I won by a nose and I remember looking over at the jock I nosed out and he had this massive smile on his face yelling “you got it, you got it”. I was so happy and flustered jogging back to the trainer it was so surreal, I had just won my first ever horse race. I don’t remember the picture much it was just too exciting!
FOTH: Did the jockeys get you good after the race and what did they get you with and did you know it was coming?
JB: They got me so good. When I was walking back I got a small bucket of water poured on me; I was walking with my valet he kept reassuring me that they wouldn’t get me. When I got closer to the room the guys came out with three large buckets of ice water! After that it was a powdery blur of pancake mix, eggs and syrup! It was so fun. When I won my first race at Woodbine I got the same treatment with some add-ons. I’ll never forget it, my fellow jocks made it memorable that’s for sure!
FOTH: You are currently riding at Woodbine Racetrack. For those who have never been there, describe what the track is like and what are some fun things to do in the surrounding area?
JB: Woodbine is an awesome place, for anyone who hasn’t been I recommend going. It’s a big track with lots of variety for trainers to exercise their horses on a variety of different surfaces. There are forty barns on the backstretch that can house up to two thousand one hundred and seventy horses. Our main track is a one mile track with a synthetic surface which holds up against the sometimes harsh weather. While the EP Taylor Turf course is a mile and a half course with a lovely long stretch home. As far as the public it is a user friendly track and conveniently located just an hour and a half away from the boarder. Toronto is one of the most culturally diverse places in Canada. There is something for everyone, food, shows, museums, sports teams anything you are interested in you can do here.
FOTH: Do you follow any sports at all and what are some things you like to do in your time away from doing horse related things?
JB: I enjoy all sports especially volleyball. I like to read and chill out some days but mostly I enjoy anything active and being outdoors. Most importantly I love to spend time with my family.
FOTH: Would you ever like to come to the US to ride in some races or have you already done that?
JB: Of course, what an opportunity!
FOTH: Is being a jockey what you thought it was going to be so far in your career?
JB: It’s better! I like how it challenges me every day and how there is always room for growth or improvement. I feel so blessed to get up and do what I love every day.
FOTH: Take me through what you do on a typical race day?
JB: I wake up and head to the track for five forty five (or aim for that) I always send my agent, Steve Roberts a morning text to let him know I’m on time. Most mornings I get on my first horse by six. This past season I galloped early in the morning for Peter Berringer he was really great at communicating with my agent and myself so that I could fit in all my workers. After finishing with Peter I would move around the track picking up the workers Steve had lined up for me. After that Steve and I usually meet up to discuss how horses worked or improvements that could be made. We try to get to the barns we are riding for that day to receive any extra instruction and check on the horses. Otherwise I head to the jocks room. From there I check my weight. I am quite tall for a jockey and as a ten pound apprentice I usually use the sauna to pull some weight before checking in for my riding commitments. If I have time to burn after that I like to read over the form again and watch earlier races to see how the track is favoring that day, it helps me decide how I am going to execute my next race. After I have ridden my mounts for the day I try to catch up with Steve and discuss each race then it’s a hot shower and home sweet home.
FOTH: Does the thought of getting injured ever bother you at all?
JB: Only when I think about the impact it will have on my loved ones. Otherwise I will deal with it when it happens.
FOTH: Do you see yourself riding as a jockey in say 5 years from now?
FOTH: If you were not a jockey what do you think you would be doing with yourself these days?
JB: Most likely I would still be in school, playing volleyball or perhaps travelling I’ve always wanted to pack a bag and see where I end up!
FOTH: Do you have any personal goals for yourself?
JB: Right now I am focused on trying to get the sovereign award next year.
FOTH: Jenna I am out of questions. Thumbs up for doing this interview any last words to wrap this up?
JB: Thank you for sending your questions, I hope this insight proves helpful to those future jocks reading it!