Being a female jockey

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr +

Veronica Gwaze
WHEN death robbed Glen Norah’s O’Meara Chiedza Rusike of both her parents, she never thought she would recover to pick up the pieces and become Zimbabwe’s first black female jockey.

Rusike evolved from being orphaned at a tender age to be adopted by a loving couple that gave her a life she never dreamt of.

Her mother died in 2000 and her father nine years later, leaving her in the hands of her maternal grandmother.

In 2012, she was adopted by Perseverance and Joyce Ganga.

“It hurts that my biological parents never lived to see me become who I am today. On the other hand, probably if they were still here, I wouldn’t have become a jockey,” she says.

“My adoptive parents came just when I really needed them and they fit perfectly well in my parents’ shoes – they love and support me in every way.”

Rusike remembers how she fell in love with horse riding after her adoptive father showed her an advert in The Herald in December 2015.

Then, she knew nothing about horse riding and races. She says that when saw the advert, a voice whispered to her that this was to be her calling.

Immediately, she had a change of heart and fell in love with the stables. She was keen to research and follow up on local and international races.

Locally, she only knew of the country’s big race, the annual Ok Grand Challenge.

“I was actually surprised when my father excitedly showed me the advert because I never took it to be a serious profession.

“Surprisingly, I started picturing myself on the horses and in my research, I did not come across a local black female jockey. I knew, this was history in the making,” remembers Rusike.

In 2016, she started a five-year jockey apprenticeship programme in South Africa, where she is in her fourth year.

The class started off with 11 students — six boys, and five girls — but later downsized to three boys and one girl — Rusike. Bigger challenges were yet to present themselves. She endured falls, nursed injuries and worse, adjusted to an unusual diet if her history-making dream was to succeed.

Her special diet was composed largely of vegetables, fruits and lots of water to maintain the required maximum weight of 46-48 kilogrammes.

She had to adjust to early days and take a 2.7km jog daily.

“I learnt waking up at 4:30am daily, track from 5am to11am then concentrate on the stables, meaning brushing, walking and feeding the horses from 14:00 -17:00,” says Rusike.

“For breakfast, I take a slice of toast, an egg and black unsugared coffee.”

In December 2018, she participated in her first race with a horse named Supa. Rusike reckons she was both excited and nervous on the day. She finished the race sixth out of 13.

Since then, she has improved with each race and says she is ready for more challenging races. Mr Ganga is a proud man and reckons he may have already had great moments watching his daughter race but is looking forward to greater moments.

“There is no father, who would not be thrilled watching his daughter break the glass ceiling in a male-dominated field,” narrates the father.

“I knew Chiedza when she was still a little girl, staying with her grandmother and by then I was still single and at university, but I would take time to go and see her.”

Ganga would visit Rusike at her grandmother’s place, pay her school fees and cater for her needs.

After getting married, Ganga and his wife adopted Rusike whom they take as their first child.

He remembers a heart-breaking incident in 2018 when a horse Rusike was riding lost control, hit poles and she fell.

“When she fell, she wanted to quit. In fact, she actually said she wanted nothing to do with horses again. But being a father you ought to be there in times like these.

“After that incident, I saw a stronger character who would do anything to spend more time in the stables… to think that she has made history, just feels amazing,” he says, anticipating the day his daughter will get her Jockey’s Licence.