Nicknamed Miss Consistency for her nearly 1,000 wins, Australian jockey Kathy O’Hara is also a keen show jumper and breeds quality horses.
Q: Where were you born, and where do you live now?
A: Born in Singleton and now in Londonderry – four acres with two horses and a pony for my niece.
Q: What got you into horses?
A: I started riding when I was around four. Mum had a pony for my sister Tracy and I, and we used to potter around on her. When we could ride a bit better we got a pony each, and then from ponies it was horses.
Q: At what point did you want to become a jockey?
A: I was about 12. No one in my family had anything to do with racing, but I used to get into trouble on cross country for going too fast! Mum thought it might be a good idea for me to work at a racing stable during the Year Six Christmas holidays so I started with Danny Williams. I worked six weeks for him and loved it!
Q: Who helped you in your apprenticeship years?
A: Mum got a job transfer so we moved to Dubbo. Tracy and I were still in school and the racecourse was right across the road. I was apprenticed to Peter Nestor and rode there for two years before moving to Gwenda Markwell’s at Kembla Grange. The last two years of my apprenticeship were there.
Q: What was a breakthrough moment in your career?
A: I was riding work for Guy Walter at Warwick Farm. I rode a couple of winners and then Guy put me on in the Caulfield Cup as an apprentice. I won the apprentice title which helped put me on the map. I was the first female jockey in Sydney to do that.
Q: Do you have a favourite win?
A: That would be my Group One win on Single Gaze.
Q: What was the biggest career obstacle you overcame?
A: When I started out, particularly in Sydney, there were no girls riding. So it was a bit gender biased. Originally girls weren’t allowed to race but obviously it’s easier now. People are a lot more accepting of female jockeys.
Q: A jockey’s diet can be tough. Any tips?
A: I’m naturally light, bit I have to watch what I eat when I’m riding in handicap races at 50kgs. I think the biggest thing is cutting out sugar. Sugar is in everything! Sugar and salt hold weight on you.
Q: What are the key attributes for a top jockey?
A: You have to be level headed. It’s not an easy game. Obviously injury is part and parcel of being a jockey and everyone has quiet times and lulls. It’s being mentally stable enough to ride that out.
Q: How do you balance a busy racing calendar with show jumping?
A: It’s amazing what you can make time for! It’s what I was doing before I was a jockey. I’ve got a passion for it. It’s something away from the numbers and statistics of racehorses, and training horses yourself is a different kind of atmosphere.
Above: Kathy and her homebred mare Ziva making short work of the 2020 Sydney Summer Classic yellow brick wall (Image by Oz Shotz).
Q: Who’s your show jumping coach?
A: Tom McDermott. He’s very gifted and comes from a gifted family. I rode for his father down in Wagga when I was apprenticed in Dubbo. Obviously Tom’s riding speaks for itself, and I find we click. He’s easy going and his training is easy to understand.
Q: Tell us about your current team.
A: I have two, both bred out of my own mares. When we finished the season before the last lockdown, we were jumping at 1.30m.
Q: You breed quality horses. What factors contribute to that?
A: A lot of luck! The two on my team are both by dressage stallion 00 Seven because I wanted to do some eventing, which now I don’t have time for. But I ended up with two that can really jump.
Q: What are your competition plans?
A: It’s tricky because I have to plan around racing. I went to the Sydney Jump Club recently and they went around the 1.10 easily. Pretty much all I’ve done with them is stuck with the training and they keep progressing. I’d like to consolidate them both at 1.30m before stepping them up.
Q: You’ve just bought a farm in the Hawkesbury. What infrastructure have you put in?
A: We set up the base for an arena with product Warwick Farm was replacing on their pro-ride training track. We just paid for the haulage. We also have four stables, and we put in a horse swim. It’s been really good for the big, fat Warmbloods, especially when it’s really hot and you don’t feel like riding. It’s great for their fitness and they seem to enjoy it.
Q: When you’re not riding, how do you relax?
A: If you ask anybody who knows me, there’s not a lot of downtime or relaxing. I’ve always got jobs, lots of jobs!
Q: If you had to stop riding completely, what would you do?
A: I’d probably be involved in racing in some capacity. I do enjoy the industry. It’s always exciting and ever evolving.
Q: Is there anything you are looking to improve in your own skill set?
A: I’m always looking to develop as a rider. You never stop learning with horses. I’m lucky as I get to ride so many different kinds of horses. It tests your patience and resolve.
Q: What advice would you give a young person starting out in the industry?
A: Keep a positive attitude, keep turning up, and work hard. You won’t get far if you don’t work hard.
Q: Do you have a particular motto?
A: Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.
Feature Image: Delighted after winning the Festival Stakes on Ranier at Rosehill Gardens (Image by Steve Hart Photography).