Our Sporting Life SA

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The Libby Hopwood Story - Part Two: The journey to becoming a jockey

Image Peter Argent/OSLSA

Libby Hopwood remembers growing up on a farm in country Victoria. She loved going on Camel treks near Lake Eyre and racing Camels and would stay at a camping ground 180kms north of Roxby Downs called Coward Springs in outback South Australia. Living out of a swag, she would stay there for six months of the year to escape the winter, “To get away from the winter down there we would take all our camels up north where it was a bit warmer,” Hopwood explained. “We would take tourists on camel treks near Lake Eyre and Maree.” “I did camel trekking, racing camels and I stopped doing that when I got to year 11 because schooling got a bit hard,” she said. “Then I moved to Mt Gambier to do year 12, and that’s when I started my apprenticeship. “My boss was down a track rider one day and I hopped on, to help him out and he offered me an apprenticeship and I thought I’ll do this for a year and see where it goes. “Eight years later I’m still here. “I grew up with horses so I joined my first boss as a stable hand. “Then I wanted to step it up a bit, so I came to Adelaide.” Hopwood is now studying an interior design course but grew up wanting to be a psychologist before she was accepted for archaeology and forensic science. The attraction to becoming a jockey was Hopwood's love for horses and no doubt the money that could be earned in the sport. “That was a big factor because it was either an apprenticeship or study at University for four years,” she says. “I came out of my apprenticeship with a car, a house and ‘setup’. “I could of went to Uni for four years and come out with $70k debt. “So the money was a big factor.” Hopwood loves horses and enjoys the people she works with within the racing community. “I love horses and I’m not a very pretty rider so I could make money doing other stuff,” she says. “I can just ride fast so I get to chase horses around in circles and get paid for it. “I enjoy my work and I enjoy the people I work with. “It’s a pretty good job until something goes wrong. When working as a jockey there are no 9am to 5pm office hours, their working hours are much different. The early starts at around 4am are often rewarded with an early finish by approximately 9am. “That’s the other beauty of it, on trackwork morning you’re finishing at 8am or 9am,” she said. “Like I used to get home later than Alexia because I trained at Murray Bridge and even driving out to Murray Bridge and coming back from Murray Bridge my work day is finished at 10am.” “So whilst everyone is slaving away at the office we can go down the beach.” During the week, race days will change a jockey’s daily working hours. South Australian jockeys are fortunate in this regard as they only have a couple of race meetings a week. Racing in other states such as Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland rarely miss a day of race meets. “Race day is like, go to trackwork, come home and you might have time to have a bit of a nap” she explains. “Then I have to get everything ready and head to the races. “You also have longer days like a race meeting at Port Lincoln or Pt Augusta which is a big day it’s a four hour drive there and also back.” Hopwood is certain the money is almost too attractive to not let go. “I think jockeys fall in to the trap of how much you earn,” she said. “They have to pay for what they have got, even if they don’t want to ride any more. “They have to pay for their houses or the car. “It’s good base money." Jockeys have the capacity to earn 5% of winning prizemoney and also receive $160 for each ride, even if the horse is scratched they will still receive the wage. Hopwood suffered a minor stutter during the next sentence, this was the first time she displayed any affects from her injury during the conversation, when the word, politics, took a couple of attempts. But she laughed it off. “I do it, because I love the horses, I hate the politics, I’m not good at any of that, I don’t play the politi, politi, political games very well… F… my head,” she laughs. RACING INDUSTRY SUPPORT FROM THE FALL The racing community has always been a close knit industry in South Australia and the support for Hopwood since the fall has been touching. “My friends moving in with me it’s been great support, everyone has been really good, lots of phone calls and messages friends getting in touch again,” (as she looks at Claudia) Hopwood said. “Even having gifts sent to me from owners, I got a gift from an owner that I rode for about five years ago, they sent me through a book and a photo of when I rode that one horse for them and things like that.” Styles added, “She doesn’t remember but a lot of people tried to visit her but because of how bad her head was she couldn’t have lots of visitors for a week or so there was about four on the list,” she said. “Like my mum who knows Libby really well they wouldn’t even let her in, they were really strict. “Her room was like a florist.” “Even when I got home I had to respond to messages then because I was getting all these messages through and - I didn’t remember them and I wasn’t really in a place to be responding to messages,” Hopwood said. “Jockey’s visited me, I remember Matt Nielsen came to visit me in the repat, he came to one of the balance sessions I was at and I was on the board.” HOPWOOD’S PREVIOUS FALLS Hopwood’s fall in October was one of three in her career and definitely her worst. “I think it was about my third fall,” she said. “My first fall was at Naracoorte and that was completely my fault “I had four rides in the day it was a cup meet, I won the first three and the fourth ride was in the cup and I was the only horse travelling and I was going to win and I just got cocky and got too close to the horse in front of me and clipped heals and fell. “I had another fall at Strathalbyn, I was running about 13 lengths last I was sitting on it,” “It was all by itself on the fence just getting to the end of the race so I could pull it up and it fell over its own feet it, literally just fell over I could have run faster than what it was running it just tripped itself over.” THE HOLLY MCKECHNIE SAVE APRIL 19, 2014- Hopwood made headlines back in April when she made a daring decision to help a falling Holly McKechnie. As horses jumped during a race at Oakbank, McKechnie appeared to have lost balance and was destined to fall before Hopwood lent over and helped her regain balance and continue her ride. “It wasn’t that big a deal, she was just falling and it was just continue racing,” Hopwood said. “You see someone in trouble and you try to help them its just instinct. “I didn’t think it would blow up as much as it did. “It was hilarious in the stewards room because they were coming down on me quite hard and Holly lost it.” ENJOYABLE MOMENTS & FUTURE AMBITIONS “Umaluka is my favourite horse, I’ve been riding him for three years and he is a beautiful horse I love him,” she says. “I’ve got a few, you find a horse that you like and you like them for their personality. “I’ve had some nice wins.” One of her favourite horses is, Justify That, a seven year old, that she has won on seven from its 11 wins throughout its 54 start career. “Justify That, is a memorable moment of mine he is an old war horse,” she said. “I won a Melbourne Ladies race, I remember that because I was excited to get an invite. “Singapore I loved, I would love to go back to Singapore I would really love to do that, I love Singapore. “I had a really great time over there because I was staying with two girls I had the time of my life and I would go back there in a heartbeat. “I would like to win races in Victoria, Moonee Valley at night is just amazing."

Images: Peter Argent - Copyright Our Sporting Life SA