In the first edition of a two part feature, we caught up with professional lady jockey Katie O’Farrell to find out about her introduction to racing and her life in the saddle. One of only two professional female jockeys in Ireland, Katie answers some of our questions to help us learn more about who she is.
What are your hobbies and interests outside of horses?
I’m really interested in millinery! I got involved in it around 2 years ago and I have done some one on one courses. My career as a jockey is my number one priority but I was always creative in school and when I finish riding I would love to have my own millinery business. I also love swimming, keeping fit and I really love music and going to concerts.
If you weren’t a jockey, what industry would you love to work in?
I would have to say fashion. I suppose that’s where the interest in millinery came from. I love riding and I love what I do but if I had to choose something away from racing then it would have to be working in the fashion industry. I have a degree in Irish and Geography as well so teaching might be something that I could go in to after I finish riding but I think a career in fashion would be a bit more glamorous!
Describe a typical day in the life of Katie O’ Farrell
As a freelance jockey, no two days are ever the same for me. Depending on where I’m working I will be up at 6.30am, sometimes earlier. I start work at 7.30 and will typically ride out four or five lots, school horses also and do whatever else needs to be done! As a freelance, I could ride out at different yards in the same day – I could start at 7.30 in the morning in one yard and then travel to another yard in the afternoon for more work. I ride out for Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott, Enda Bolger & Shay Barry so I’m always busy. If there is no racing or schooling races in the afternoons then I will go to the gym. I try and get to the gym four or five nights a week to keep my fitness up. I go to the Hotel Minella gym in Clonmel – I do all my gym work there and if I’m injured then my rehab will be done there also. The staff there are great and they’re all really good to me, the Hotel Minella is a great facility.
Growing up, who was your favourite jockey?
When I was much younger it was Charlie Swan. He rode horses for my dad so I was used to seeing him up close. He had a lovely quiet riding style and he was just a great horse man. Charlie is long retired now and in the last few years I’ve looked up to quite a few jockeys since I’ve started riding. If I had to pick one I would say Ruby Walsh is the one I look up to most out of all the current jockeys. He is such a brilliant rider, I admire him a lot and I try and learn as much as possible from watching him as often as I can.
How did you first become interested in horses?
I was born into it! My parents always had horses and since I was very young I have been immersed in everything to do with them. Dad always had horses so I was always around them. For as long as I can remember I’ve been surrounded by horses and from the very beginning I became interested in them but it was never something that I was pushed to do by my parents or family, I just grew to love it.
When did you realise that you wanted to become a jockey?
I was involved in eventing and pony riding growing up so I was always competing on horses but as I was getting older I started riding out in the mornings before school as my dad had horses in training. My older brothers, James and Conor, were jockeys so that was always going to shape me to a certain degree. I was always working away on Dad’s horses – riding out, schooling them and whatever else was required. Then when I was in college, I had a midweek job with Gordon Elliott and I worked at Willie Mullins’ yard at the weekends. During my time in college, I quickly realised that I was far more interested in riding out early in the morning than I was going out at night as a student. I think I was just gradually drawn towards becoming a jockey over the years. Even though I didn’t have a licence I think I always considered myself to be a jockey and always had a jockey’s mind-set in so far as keeping myself right and having a good work ethic. In my time in college I think I really began to take my passion and interest seriously and put serious thought into a having a career in the saddle.
Your brother Conor has enjoyed great success riding in England, has he had a positive influence on your career?
Conor has been a huge influence on me, we have always been very close and he is a great help to me. A standout moment for me would be in 2011, Conor rode a horse called Buena Vista to win the Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham Festival for David Pipe. I went to Cheltenham every year and I love it but that day Conor rode a winner was just incredible. The buzz that I got seeing him riding a winner was amazing. I can only imagine how it felt for him. Seeing him win that day really inspired me because I took out my amateur licence later that year! Conor is a great help, he always offers advice and he looks after me just like a big brother should!
In part two of our feature with Katie she will be discussing her transition from amateur to professional and what she hopes to achieve in the coming year.