Kelsi Harr is an apprentice jockey who recently rode at the now completed Oaklawn Park meet and here is her story so far:
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
KH: Born in Little Rock Arkansas. Grew up outside of Stuttgart Arkansas in a map dot called “Slovak” Arkansas on my Father's farm. (Rice, soybean, wheat, corn, horses and cattle)
FOTH: So what sort of girl were you growing up?
KH: Hmm.. Tom boy is the best way I could describe myself. 🤷🏻♀️ Grew up raised by my father and older brother (2yrs) we were farm kids. Horses, four wheelers and freedom to roam! Started rodeoing (running barrels and poles) when I was 5 my brother was riding bulls as well. Dad carried us around to every rodeo we could make. In school I was big in sports cheerleading and basketball.
FOTH: Now did you have a love horses like say around 13 or 14 years old or did this come a bit later on?
KH: Horses are all I lived and breathed from a baby through high school ... only my brief time in college did was stray away for a bit. Left college and was working with racehorses the next day. Never looked back.
I grew up on a pony named “Biscuit” my dad bought for me and often joked he was my “babysitter” because dad was always busy around the farm and as long as I had biscuit I was content and happy till dark! 👍🏼
FOTH: First time you went to racetrack and saw live racing what did you think?
KH: My grandpas on both sides were big into the horse races. They both took me as a young child. I was always in awe with the BIG beautiful horses (I was used to ranch horses and quarter horses). Don't recall much from other than that from being so small but started going to Oaklawn around my jr year of high school (my mother was walking hots & helping around the barn for trainer Rick Jackson when he had “superior storm”) I would come on the weekends or any holiday out of school to “help” around the barn anyway they would allow and I decided then I wanted to gallop and realized the money I could make doing the one thing I loved the most —riding horses! From then on I was hooked was at the track any chance I got and got super involved in the races and keeping up with my favorite horses! Watching them run and feeling a part of it was phenomenal!
FOTH: So now how long was it until you seriously thought about being a jockey?
KH: I galloped for a few years before I started getting the itch to ride races. I knew I didn't want to start until I was 100% comfortable and confident. I guess it was more like 7 or 8 years of galloping! Always also working alongside my fiancé who trains and staying busy helping do everything else that needs done. Finally, just decided it was now or never I wasn't getting any younger and had nice horses I was used to galloping to start on. Got tired of being on them everyday and for all their works and then watching while someone else got to ride the race. So I got my license and here we are.
FOTH: So what was the hardest thing you had to do becoming an actual jockey? How many people helped you along the way?
KH: There really wasn't anything hard about it once I decided to go for it other than the nerve to walk in the jocks room amongst all the veterans and hall of famers and try to fit in and not choke! Lol 😂 I just had to get the ok from the outrider and the stewards had to watch me break and work from the gate and Robert Cline (my fiancé) named me on my first afternoon mount. I rode my favorite horse and we won! Breaking his maiden as well! So many people deserve credit but I'd be writing you a book! 🤣 so I'll just say I have had a tremendous amount of support. Trainers Al Cates, Tim Martin and Rick Jackson deserve credit. My fiancé helped me the most from the time I met him in 2011. He is a fantastic horsemen and I highly value his opinion. He has always given me tips and constructive criticism. He was born into the racing world, father trained as well. It is all he has ever done. He & his stock have definitely been influential in helping me get my start.
FOTH: So what was the feeling like jogging the horse you won on into the winner circle for the first time?
KH: Wow! Surreal. Like a dream I had dreamed a million times but this time it was real. I was told by a retired jock friend of mine before I started racing that whenever I did win my first race to “take my time getting back” “take it ALL in” and that is exactly what I did. I can still remember every detail of that day! Getting back to my family waiting for me and seeing their emotions was the best! My first mount and a win on Father's Day and my dad had drove from Arkansas to Minnesota to be there! It was just story book perfection! 😊
FOTH: So now did the jockeys get you after the race and did you know it was coming?
KH: I should have known. I've witnessed it before and knew they do that but the adrenaline and emotions and family made me totally forget. & yes they got me good. Baby powder and water only though so I felt fortunate! No eggs or anything gross thank goodness!
FOTH: Ha Ha. So what tracks have you rode at so far and what is your main track you ride at?
KH: Oaklawn Park & Canterbury Park I currently ride their full meets I've also ridden at Will Rogers Downs, Churchhill Downs, & Prairie Meadows on ship ins. Main track I would say Oaklawn I ride the most horses here, more earnings, and it's my home state so it's my favorite lots of people I know come to the races here.
FOTH: So what is a typical day like, a race day, like for you?
KH: Race days, those are fun! 🤪 I start out my mornings getting up about 5 am getting myself and my daughter ready and out the door I have an hour drive to the track. My daughter gets on the school bus on the way in and I go on to track. Opens here at 7. I'm galloping or breezing until the track closes. Change clothes or gym before heading to jocks room for the afternoon. When I'm finished racing I get my daughter and we head home to tend to horses, dogs, & chores at home, homework ect before falling exhausted into bed! And we do it all over again.
FOTH: Now do you ever have any problems with your weight?
KH: Not really. I'm naturally light eating pretty much whatever I want. If I get in a race super light, I have to eat wiser & occasionally hit the box but it's not been too much of a problem.
FOTH: Any idea how long you would like to ride for?
KH: No idea. No limit.
FOTH: Do you think jockeys as a whole aren't given the respect as athletes in other sports?
KH: Outside the racing industry yes. I think we are conceived as just being a co-pilot “sitting atop the horse” however I know this not to be true. Jockeys are among some of the truest athletes I know. Always on a workout regimen, watching a strict diet. It takes so much dedication.
FOTH: Now with this whole coronavirus going on how are you handling things being a jockey?
KH: Well the world is crazy 😜 but personally handling it ok... helps that I'm at Oaklawn and we are still being allowed to race. Quiet without any fans. Miss that atmosphere.
FOTH: Now putting aside this coronavirus, what would be some things you do in your spare time?
KH: Spare time? There is such a thing?? Hahaha between working at the track raising a daughter and helping Robert (my fiancé) with his gang of horses (we have mares, foals, stud, ponies, racers—always something needs done) we don't find much spare time. When we do we love to fish, hike/rock climb, really anything involving outdoors, family & friends.
FOTH: Is being a jockey what you thought it was going to be?
KH: Oh I suppose! It's a fun gig! I'm enjoying it for sure!
FOTH: Now Oaklawn is not a full time year round racetrack so where are you gonna divide your time up riding?
KH: Harder question to answer than usual, with the Co-Vid ruining everything. A normal year would have meant finishing up at Oaklawn and already being at Canterbury Park in Minnesota racing right now. Unfortunately, we are on hold until they decide their racing days. Had mounts to ride at Will Rogers after Oaklawn but they won't allow any riders that haven't been there because of covid... hopefully be back in action at Canterbury soon!
FOTH: If a young girl came up to you and said she wanted to be a jockey, what advice would you give her?
KH: I would tell her to get ready to be tough. Get ready to be eat up, used, up and spit out! Learn to roll with the punches and not take everything to heart. I would tell her to keep her riding craft sharp and make sure she was totally comfortable in all scenarios on the track in the morning before ever considering riding races! Would tell her to work lots of horses and work on her clock! Make lots of connections and be kind to everyone...you never know who you might need down the road. It's much easier to find mounts if people genuinely ‘like' you! Stay fit, eat healthy and GET ON MORE HORSES!!
FOTH: Do you see yourself being involved in horse racing in same way shape or form even after your done say being a jockey?
KH: I do! I believe I will be involved in racing until I am old and gray. I can't imagine a different life!
FOTH: Do you think that jockeys, male and female are not respected very much by the general public as being hard working athletes?
KH: I'm sure opinions vary. Most people i talk with respect us very much as athletes. How many basketball, baseball, soccer, football players you know go out to play their sport and every play have the chance of a life threatening event happening? Most people respect that if nothing else.....We have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world and all the fun and thrills comes at a cost. I'm aware lots of people will never know the work ethic or dedication it takes but anyone who takes the time to find out or takes a walk in a jock's boots I'm sure would have plenty respect.
FOTH: What is favorite thing about being a jockey?
KH: My favorite thing about being a jockey is the simple. The blessing of riding these amazing athletes as they compete! I love the horses! Plain and simple. If they took away all the fans forever and all the money, I would still enjoy riding horses and a good race even if it was across a field with a friend... that's a joy that will never get old. Being a jockey just means I get to do it for a “living” and on the daily for money!! 🙂
FOTH: So Kelis, thumbs up for doing this interview and good luck with the rest of your racing career. Any last words to say to wrap this up?
KH: I thank you for taking the time to interview me! I really do appreciate it! I know I was not the best subject. It gets crazy in Kelsi Land. Thank you footboy, now go and kiss some female feet lol.
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