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Anna’s amazing apprenticeship: Whip-free riding, Dubai, Sardinia… and chocolate runs

FROM riding whip-less in Norway, to saddling up horses in Dubai, to being Sardinia’s first female jockey, and wearing silks into supermarkets for mid-meeting chocolate runs, Anna Jordsjo has experienced more than most young jockeys.

The 24-year-old’s apprenticeship will end after Saturday’s meeting at Morphettville Parks and the Adelaide-based rider’s journey to senior ranks has taken a winding and often unpredictable path.

“I’ve never been scared or worried to be by myself,” Anna says.

“And I get to ride horses for a living, what more could I want?”

Anna’s career path was set in motion in her home country of Norway, where – as a 12-year-old – she “jumped the fence at the race track” and volunteered to help feed the horses.

She was soon riding track work, before securing her picnic licence at 15, and riding a couple of years on the picnic circuit, often weighing 45kg while her horse carried more than 70kg.

She occasionally rode track work in England, before securing a job breaking in yearlings at a Norway stud. At 17 she became an apprentice in Norway, then moved to Dubai on loan for eight months.

“Riding around in Dubai I thought to myself, ‘I don’t really want to go back to Norway, they’ve only got one racetrack and racing is nearly dying over there’,” she says.

“In Dubai I bumped into a couple of people who led me towards Australia and I came here in 2015.”

History shows that Anna became indentured to leading Adelaide trainer Gordon Richards in 2016 and has ridden here since. However, she seemingly already had a lifetime of experiences to draw upon before hitting Australian race tracks.

“Norway is actually the first country in the world to ban the whip completely,” she says.

“So there’s no whip use, either in track work or at the races. Obviously you need to learn how to ride hands and heels, but we have other tools.

“We have flexible blinkers… you can start the race with no blinkers and pull the blinkers down mid-race. That’s our way of asking the horse to go faster, because we can’t really hit them.

“In Sweden you can hit them three times in the whole race, but in Italy (Sardinia) I asked them about the whip rules and they said it depends who you ride for.”

Anna notes the contrasts in professionalism between Australian racing and some of the European jurisdictions.

“It can be very casual over there,” she says.

“Jockeys are allowed to have their phones in their rooms and you get all the saddles ready before the first race. So, if you have seven rides, you have seven sets of saddle and gear ready to go, already weighed out before the first. Then you can leave the track.

“If I was riding a horse in the race, I’d just ride it from the stable over to the mounting yard, then just take it down to the barriers

“And if I had a break of a few races, I would – in my silks – go to the supermarket in between and buy chocolates or whatever.”

As an apprentice in Norway, Anna travelled regularly to Sweden and Denmark, “because that’s like going to Bordertown and Naracoorte, three or four hours down the road”.

However, she found her one-meeting experience in Sardinia particularly memorable.

“I flew over there and rode a few races at one meeting and it was interesting, because I think I was the first female jockey to have ridden (in races) there,” she says.

“I got a little write-up in the newspaper, and a few people wanted my autograph when I made it to the track.

“They didn’t have a female changing room or anything like that and it was a pretty big deal that I was a girl.

“I didn’t get to ride a winner, but it was a really cool experience, because I was an absolute nobody, a 4kg-claiming apprentice.”

Anna rode mostly track work in Dubai, plus “a few races”, but describes saddling up horses for Group 1 races as “a huge thrill”.

“I got to work with some amazing jockeys too and I learned a lot from them,” she says.

Anna’s next experience outside of her comfort zone is riding without a claim, as of next week.

“I’m just focusing on maintaining all the support I’ve achieved over the last 12 months at Murray Bridge,” she says.

“I’ve been working really hard… to build up a clientele and I’m on a really good roll at a moment.

“When I come out of my time I want to keep working exactly the way I am and ride for all these trainers, who are being amazing to me at the moment.

“It’s a bit scary to come out of my time, as any apprentice will say… but I want to see how far I can take it.”

Anna – who speaks with a surprisingly strong Australian accent, given her relatively short time in this country – says since moving to Adelaide she has been grateful for the support of local trainers, including Murray Bridge-based Michael Hickmott over the past year.

“Michael’s been my boss for the past 12 months and he’s been wonderful to me, I’m truly grateful,” she says.

“I’ve also had amazing support from Dan Clarken and Oopy McGillivray, and Heather Lehmann.”

Anna has 121 career wins, including 47 at metropolitan level. She now has her sights set on an elusive black type winner.

“I’ve been very close a couple of times, on longshots, which seems to be my go,” she says.

“To try to tick off those black type win is probably the next goal in my career.”

Note: Anna will ride at Monday’s Darwin Cup meeting.

PHOTO: One of Anna Jordsjo’s first rides as an apprentice, back home in Norway at Øvrevoll Racecourse, in 2014.

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