A new pilot programme to bring youngsters into a career in racing has brought New Zealand pony club members to the hallowed turf of Riccarton.
New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing’s ‘Ride to Time’ programme aims to teach young riders how to judge the pace of their horse.
The first Ride to Time day was held at Riccarton, in Christchurch, last Sunday under the guidance of apprentice jockey mentor and former leading jockey David Walsh. A follow-up session with the same group of 11 pony club riders will take place this weekend.
NZTR Industry Training and Education Consultant Chris Watson said the organisation wanted to do more to recruit young people into the industry.
“There is probably no better place than the pony clubs to start that recruitment and get them experience on the racecourse under instruction and in a safe environment.
“That could give them the confidence later on to pursue a career or part-time opportunity in the industry.”
Walsh said the first day went extremely well. “The kids had a blast and are keen as mustard to come back. The mothers also had a ball, which is really important.
“We had kids who came from 10 miles away, some from Rangiora, and even a few from Timaru, which is two hours away.”
The day consisted of a series of activities, ranging from fitness and exercise through to riding on a simulator and out on the track.
“We took them on the track and they went around in pairs,” he said. “They did a couple of laps of the track, trotting and cantering. It was just to get them used to what it was like to go around the track.
“This Sunday we are going to do it again and let them go a little bit faster. We’re just going to go step-by-step, with the next step trying to get them to understand how fast they are going and to go at a certain speed.
“The long-term goal is to have a dozen kids go to the races one day and try to go a specific time over 1000m.”
Guest speakers jockey Samantha Wynne and Godolphin Flying Start trainee Laura Roberston also addressed the students. They talked about their experiences in the industry and the opportunities for young people.
After this weekend, the programme will head south to Wingatui racecourse where a new bunch of pony club riders will participate in the course.
Otago Racing Club Operations Manager Noelle Supple said she was excited to host the event and is looking forward to promoting the industry as a career choice.
“Even if track work riding isn’t something these younger riders in the pony club are interested in then we can show them there are other career choices in the industry.
“For example, I work in the office here at Wingatui and also ride track work.”
Chris Watson said NZTR will be looking at rolling the programme out to other clubs in the near future, with North Island clubs next on the agenda.