The South African Jockey Academy Broadens its Reach

As we start gearing down to the end of our second year dominated by the new ‘normal’ COVID-19, as a nation, we reflect on the adaptations, sacrifices, and most importantly, growth we have experienced.

When we thought 2021 could not be worse, we were faced with further political, social and environmental volatility, forcing us to be more creative and smart about the way in which we navigate through life. We have had to completely reimagine ourselves and ensure that safeguards are in place to protect us from whatever has been thrown our way.

The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

These words easily signify attitudes that many of us have had to adopt to ensure our visions are not lost but instead put into action. At the South African Jockey Academy, in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, this is no different.

Training programmes for other equestrian fields

The Council of Equine and Equestrian Professionals of South Africa has identified 62 career paths available in the equestrian industry. As the South African Jockey Academy is the only academy in the world that provides both apprentice jockey training and schooling up to the Further Education and Training (FET) Phase as well as to Post Matric students, it elected to capitalise on its world-class expertise and facilities by offering alternate training programmes, and by opening the school to students from other equestrian fields.

This state-of-the-art horse training facility lies in the heart of the equestrianally prolific Summerveld area within the eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality. Operating as the South African Jockey Academy since 1958, it has until recently focused solely on apprentice jockey training. The Academy has produced no less than 13 champion jockeys in six countries, as well as its own annual South African champion jockey.

However, with the ever present need to adapt, the Academy has recently introduced accredited Work Rider and Groom programmes, designed to upskill and empower horse riders other than jockeys, equipping them with the knowledge, skills and experience required to successfully enter the racing and equestrian sector.

Furthermore, under the guidance of Academy headmaster, Graham Bailey, the Academy has elected to open its school to students outside of the purely racing domain. This allows equestrians to pursue a career in the equestrian industry while completing their schooling or taking a fully aligned Equestrian Qualifications Authority of Southern Africa EQASA gap year.

The Academy has accreditation with the Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training (Umalusi), the Culture, Art, Tourism, Hospitality, and Sport Sector Education and Training Authority (Cathsseta), and the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations(QCTO), and is a member of the Council of Equine and Equestrian Professionals of South Africa (CEEPSA).

Exciting new additions

The exquisite facilities of the Academy include an indoor arena, 36 stables, a 450-metre circular track, as well as a dressage and jumping arena with spacious paddocks. But whilst these facilities have been available to generations of aspirant jockeys, the Academy has chosen to return to its roots of providing fully aligned EQASA programmes to learners in the FET Phase as well as post matric students, while allowing them the opportunity to pursue their show jumping, dressage or eventing passions.

In a small and caring environment, the South African Jockey Academy is offering schooling in 2022 to learners, starting with Grades 10 and 11. Additionally, post-matric students have the opportunity to study towards their EQASA qualifications. The Academy is open to day scholars and boarders, with stabling available and offers students access to 22 acres of equestrian paradise.

Over the past 11 years the Academy has adopted a scientific approach to the training of their riders. Their team of experts, known as the rider support team, includes a nursing sister, dietician, sports scientist, biokineticist and sports psychologist, who work closely with the riding department ensuring each rider has individualised support structures in place to ensure the success of each and every student.

Horsemanship and academics go hand in hand

The Academic department consists of five dedicated teachers who are passionate about ensuring the academic success of each student while allowing them the opportunity to pursue their riding dreams. The subjects offered in Grades 10 to 12 include equine studies, English home language, Afrikaans first additional language, isiZulu first additional language, life orientation, mathematical literacy, consumer studies and business studies.

Since writing the National Senior Certificate examinations, the Academy has achieved a hundred per cent pass rate, with 80 per cent of its students receiving Bachelors’ Degree Matric passes. Although the focus is more on riding than academics, small classes receive individual attention, which allows students the opportunity to follow their riding aspirations while ensuring a sound academic focus.

Students are able to stable their own horses at the Academy if they wish, while having access to riding instructors to train them in the fully equipped indoor, dressage and jumping arenas. With onsite stabling and academic classes running from 10:00 to 14:00 for Grades 10 and 11, and from 10:00 to 15:00 for matrics, ample access to the stables and arenas is ensured, which gives students the opportunity to work at their horsemanship while ensuring they stay focused on their schooling.

In addition to FET, the Academy is offering full-time intensive courses for post matric individuals wanting to follow a career in the equestrian industry. The syllabus includes five modules which are examined by EQASA and are aligned with the NQF requirements.

The modules are: 1. Basic Stable Yard Skills; 2 Advanced Stable Yard Skills; 3. Horsemastership; 3. Preliminary Riding Instruction; 5. Horsemastership and Riding Instruction. All modules are examined at the Academy by the KwaZulu Natal Equestrian Qualifications Authority of Southern Africa where candidates present themselves for assessment of their horsemanship.

Opening doors for many young people

Although the focus of this school is to provide a small and caring environment that facilitates both academic and riding endeavours, the Academy is a melting pot of diversity that caters for individuals of all skill levels and academic backgrounds.

The work rider and groom courses, for instance, are courses that upskill and empower people who have very little riding ability and academic background. However, through accreditation and certification, grooms and work riders who have completed the courses become employable locally and abroad, ensuring a sustainable contribution and access to the equestrian industry and economy.

The same applies to the apprentice jockey programme which opens doors for many young people, who despite not having any riding experience prior to attending the Academy, are selected based on their height and weight, and are provided with the training and experience to become professional jockeys who are able to successfully compete locally and abroad.

Many of these young riders come from previously disadvantaged backgrounds and through sponsorship and bursaries are given the opportunity to realise their full potential as professional athletes.

This well-resourced, modern training facility prides itself on its experienced, dedicated and motivated staff members who assist learners in unlocking their true potential in both the classroom and in the saddle.

By focusing all their energy on building the new instead of fighting the old, this fine institution has faced its challenges head on and adopted an entirely different approach to its use of spaces, and its practices and skills. By reimagining itself the Academy has held onto its core vision and capitalised on its experience and expertise.