Thanks to http://www.femalejockeys.com/ for the article
Isabelle Wenc is an apprentice jockey riding at Northlands Park (she is now riding at Woodbine in 2021) and here is an interview with this young rider:
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
IW: I was born and raised in Saskatoon , Saskatchewan Canada.
FOTH: What sort of girl were you growing up and did you come from a big or small family?
IW: I was born 3 months premature, weighing only 2 pounds at the time, doctors weren’t convinced that I would make it but against all odds I made it through. I’ve always been told I was a fighter right from the word go. I was my parents little miracle baby or so they called me. Growing up my parents also always referred to me as their little worry wart. I was always concerned about what everyone else was thinking and constantly worrying about every little thing. I’ve always been a bit of an over thinker I guess ha ha. I was also very shy and almost sort of dependent on having somebody with me at all times, whether that be one of my 2 brothers, my sister, my mom or my dad. I am the 2nd oldest in my family. I have an older brother, a younger brother and then a younger sister. Decent sized family. Once I got a little older I started to come out of my shell a little more than my younger less independent self but always remained a bit of an over thinker who was constantly worrying about what others thought of me but then another part of me was very also very determined. Determined in the sense that I always had to be successful at whatever it was I was doing and I was never known to quit anything no matter how many times I may have thought about it. People constantly underestimated me growing up because I’ve always been smaller than average and so I constantly felt the need to prove myself to people and let them know that just because I was small didn’t mean they could push me around. When people have said “You can’t” or “You won’t” I always used it as motivation to be successful. To sum it up I was and to this day still am my parents little fighter. I may not have always had the odds working in my favor but one way or another I always try to show people the long shots can bring it home too.
FOTH: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
IW: Growing up I wanted to be an Equine Veterinarian or any kind of career that involved horses.
FOTH: Now did you have a love for horses at an early age or did that come later on in your life?
IW: I’ve always had a love for horses as long as I can remember. I never grew up riding or anything of the sort but every little girl sort of has that “Horse girl” phase and I just happened to never grow out of mine. Despite not having regular riding lessons or being around horses much I spent most of my free time drawing pictures of horses and watching Black Beauty a thousand times over. It’s sort of silly but when I would ride on the bus to school I would always imagine myself and wondered what it would be like to be galloping through the city or in the field of the parks on the way to school. My parents around Christmas and Easter time would enroll me in Horseback riding camps while we had our breaks from school and that only made my passion for horses and riding grow fonder. I always thought it would be neat to be Jockey like the ones you would see on T.V sometimes but never in my wildest dreams did I think that it could be my job. Had I known that as a kid, I likely would have picked being a Jockey over an Equine Vet any day of the week ha ha.
FOTH: What did you think of horse racing the 1st time you saw a live horse race?
IW: The first time I seen horse racing live I was probably about 13 or 14 years and old. I had seen it on T.V before of course but seeing it live with my own eyes, the jockeys, horses and trainer and feeling the trill of it all and getting to be right at the center of it all, well I just thought it was the greatest thing in the world. I fell in love with the sport right away and despite my lack of knowledge at the time about this game we call Horse Racing, that very same day, I knew that one day I wanted to be a jockey.
FOTH: Now tell me all about your 1st job on a racetrack. Did you know at this time that you wanted to become a jockey?
IW: My first job at the track, I was working as a groom. I definitely knew at that point that I wanted to work my way up and become a jockey.
FOTH: What were the first few days like of working on a racetrack? Is it what like you thought it was going to be?
IW: The first few days of working at the track was probably the hardest I had ever worked in my life but also the happiest time in my life and it’s remained that way to this day even now that I am a Jockey. The racetrack is a different place and it was a lot harder than I ever imagined it would be to work on the backside of one. Regardless of the job whether I was working as a groom, exercise rider or even now as a Jockey at the racetrack one thing you learn is it’s a make it or break it kind of place. It’s a 7 day a week job sometimes with minimal pay considering the amount of effort that is put in and no days off but despite all that I personally think it is one of the most satisfying jobs and I couldn’t be happier.
FOTH: So who helped teach you how to ride and how long did you ride for before you became a jockey?
IW: The first time I ever got on a horse I Immediately fell in love with it. Horseback riding is either something you love or hate. If you’re ever nervous about it, it’s not something you should be doing.
A woman by the name of Maria Stanford first showed me how to ride on a thoroughbred in the arena at the racetrack in my hometown of Saskatoon. I never had much other riding experience so I basically learnt everything I know on a racehorse. I first started learning when I was 14 and held on to the thought of wanting to become a Jockey all through High School. My parents rule was that I had to finish school before I could run off to ride horses so I had to wait till I graduated to start galloping. I galloped for about 3 years before I got my Jock’s license. A man by the name of Don Senebald kind of took me under his wing the summer I got my Jock’s license and helped teach me everything I needed to know for when the day came. I was approved by the Steward’s for my license on a horse of his and I rode my very first race for him as well.
FOTH: So when you actually got approved to become a jockey and had your jockey racing license in your hand what was the feeling like for you?
IW: The feeling I had when I was approved for my license was a combination of feelings: I felt accomplished, excited and of course nervous because the hard part was just beginning. The day I got my license I was told that was going to be the easiest part of this journey and at first I never understood why but now that I’ve gotten some experience and learnt more, I’ve learnt exactly why that is. As a Jockey we are constantly trying to better ourselves and learn with every horse we get on. The day I got my Jock’s license is a day I will hold near and dear to my heart forever. It is one of the first steps and milestones we have as Jockeys so I think it’s a feeling we all remember.
FOTH: What was the hardest part of becoming a jockey and was becoming one what you thought it was going to be?
IW: The hardest part about becoming a Jockey is the fact that there is a whole lot more to being a Jockey than just riding races. We are constantly under pressure from owners, trainers and even other jockeys. We are constantly obsessing over our weight. We have to remain fit both physically and mentally as well which can be challenging at times because the pressure of it all will take its toll on a rider. We go through a roller coaster of emotions in a day. One minute you’re on top and then the next you’re not. You have to be able to handle the fact that regardless of ability or opportunity as a race rider you will always lose more than you will win. As a rider persistence is key and no matter how hard the previous day was or even how great it was you have to remain humble and hard working. It’s not an easy game but it’s worth it.
FOTH: Tell me about your 1st race. Where was it at and where did you finish? Were you nervous at all in the jocks room before the race?
IW: My first race was in my hometown of Saskatoon. The track is called Marquis Downs. I rode a horse by the name of Lasting Cash. It was the last race of the night so I had to sit in the Jock’s room like a nervous wreck all night and think about how it would all play out. I was so nervous I don’t even remember post parade. Everything from getting legged up in the paddock to the minutes leading up to post time was a blur. I remember being in the starting gate and thinking ” Omg this is happening “. The gates opened, I lost my pedal first jump out and got it back a few strides later, thank god ha ha. She was a mare that liked to come from out of it so all I had to was let everyone else break and tuck in behind them and wait to make one move. She was the perfect horse to ride for my first time. She was very kind and did everything right. She came running at the end but the distance was a little short for her so we only ended up 5th I believe. Where we ended up didn’t matter to me I was just so happy to have experienced the whole thing and that it all went well, I couldn’t wait till my next mount and do it all again.
FOTH: Now tell me about your 1st win. What track was that at and did you win by a little or a lot? What was it like jogging the horse back to the winner’s circle and getting your picture taken?
IW: My first win was at the same racetrack: Marquis Downs. I won by a nose on a little grey horse named Misty’s Last Storm, he was a maiden at the time. My friend Courtney owned and trained him. She was new to the training game just like I was new to the riding. It was a maiden breaking win for the 3 of us. I will never forget it. Jogging the horse back I was in disbelief cause we weren’t expecting it at all and we literally got up just in time for the photo so at that point I wasn’t even 100% sure that we had won for sure. When it was a made official and we got to take our picture it was probably the happiest moments of my life. It made all the blood sweat and tears worth it. I was always told my first win will be on a horse you least expect and that’s exactly what happened.
FOTH: Did the jocks get you good after the race and did you know it was coming?
IW: When I got back to the room the horses we’re already saddled in the paddock for the next race, which I was riding. The results from the photo took so long that I didn’t have much time to celebrate or think before I had to quickly change for the next race. That didn’t stop the riders from dousing me with ice water. I wasn’t expecting it because I was in another world from winning all while panicking that I was going to be late for riders up in the next race. Safe to say the feeling that I won really sunk in when I had to ride all of post parade in the next race thinking about how soaked my Jock pants were from the ice water.
FOTH: Tell me about Marquis Downs and where is that located? Did you have a fun time riding there?
IW: Marquis Downs is located in Saskatoon, Saskachewan. I had a lot of fun there and learnt a lot. It’s a great place to start out and learn the ropes and get some practice but the purses aren’t much and the meet isn’t very long so evidently if you want to make it as a rider you need to move on to bigger and better things.
FOTH: Now tell me about Northlands Park and Casino. What it is like riding there and where is that track located?
IW: Northlands Park is located in Edmonton, Alberta. I love riding here and have felt very at home since day one. I have learnt and improved a lot since making my move there. They always have a very strong Jockey colony so that makes things very competitive but that’s not always a bad thing. Making my move here was one of the best decisions I’ve made to help improve my riding career and I’m looking forward to getting back.
FOTH: Do you feel tracks almost need casinos to survive these days and have you ever gone into the casino at Northlands?
IW: I have been in the Casino at Northlands, I’m not much of a gambler but they have simulcast and everything so obviously I’m into that. I believe that these days Casino’s play a big role in keeping horse racing alive and are one of the main reasons why we are still going unfortunately.
FOTH: Now take me through what a typical race day is for you these days.
IW: A typical race day for me usually starts out with me getting to the room about an hour or sometimes 2 hours before the first race. I’m naturally pretty light so I don’t have to spend time in the box or nothing like that. Once I get to the room I usually check my races for the night over and organize my helmet covers and tack to hand off to my valet. Once I’m all organized I will change out and have a little snack while I watch replays and plan out my strategies for the night. Once I’m confident and feeling a little more ready to go I usually throw on some music and ride the equalizer to get warmed up then I usually just chill out and relax until it’s time for me to get ready for whichever race I’m riding. I’m a bit of an over thinker so my biggest focus when I get to the room is just staying relaxed and focused on myself and my horses I will be riding that night. The room can be a very hectic place and times and it takes awhile when you first start out to get used to it all but once you can get into a routine it makes things a little easier.
FOTH: If a young girl came up to you and said she wanted to be a jockey what advice would you give her?
IW: If a young girl came up to me and told me she wanted to be a rider I would be nothing short of encouraging. I would tell her that no matter how many times or how many people tell her “you can’t”, that you can do anything you set your mind to, as cliché as it sounds. I would tell her to be persistent and never let anyone discourage her. I would let her know it’s not an easy game or lifestyle but if it’s want she wants she will know right away and do whatever it takes to get to where she wants to be. I would most likely tell her all the things I wish someone would have told me when I first started out and let her know that if she ever needed it, I would be there for advice.
FOTH: Does the thought of ever getting hurt ever enter your mind and have you ever been hurt in your riding career so far?
IW: I think getting hurt is something we all have in the back of our minds but at the same time most of us don’t really think about it too much or we wouldn’t be doing it. Horses can sense fear and most people will tell you that if you’re ever scared to be out there it might be time to hang up the tack. I am actually just coming back off my first major injury. I broke my T5 to T8 vertebrae in a morning workout in September. It’s been a difficult experience to say the least but if anything for me personally, it’s really brought things into perspective and made me appreciate everything so much more. It’s made me stronger and more determined than ever. Some days are tough but it’s something we all go through so I have been blessed with lots of support from my racetrack family and I am nothing short of thankful that I am able to return to the saddle.
FOTH: What are some things you like to do when you’re not doing racing related things?
IW: Well this question always makes me feel like a loser ha ha. Outside of race riding I’m very boring, being a Jockey is very stressful so when I do have a minute to do non race related things, I enjoy things like watching Netflix, being on the farm back home and just hanging out with the horses there and being outside, working out, going for runs, I also really enjoy cooking for my family and getting to spend time with them. I’m very laid back when it comes to everything else that isn’t race riding so I live a pretty boring life outside of it. I get enough thrills from my job that in my spare time I enjoy just being!
FOTH: Are there many other female riders at Northlands Racetrack?
IW: Currently there is only one other female rider at Northlands Park, her name is Shannon Beauregard. She’s usually right up there in the rider standings and has been doing it for years so she tries to help me out and give me pointers.
FOTH: Now you have been riding since 2014. Do you have any idea how long you would like to ride for?
IW: I would like to ride for as long as I can. It truly is my passion and I can’t imagine nor do I think about doing much else as of now. My heart is set on riding and I hope it stays there for a long time.
FOTH: Isabelle I am out of questions and thumbs up for doing this interview. Any last words you would like to say to to wrap this up?
IW: I just want to add that you’re a great promoter for female jockeys and I appreciate you taking the time to interview me!