Jockeying in India is a predominantly male-dominated sport, usually because it is believed that men have the necessary stamina and physical strength to control a horse. But there’s one name that’s been ringing through the hallways of late, making the country proud; and it’s not a man’s name. Rupa Singh is India’s first woman jockey at 33 years old, and she’s a rising champion.
Her latest win was the Annamalai Plate in Ooty on April 14, one of the 720 other wins she’s had so far. She has also won seven championships, won in international races, and aims to collect more trophies.
But the journey to the top was tough from the start, marred by constant rejection, all because she wasn’t a male rider.
It wasn’t just the owners of horses who seemed hesitant to take her in; even other trainers felt that she wouldn’t make it anywhere. She had to resort to racing with average horses for three years. “My horse kept getting poor odds. The chances were few and it was demoralizing at times,” she said to Times of India.
She had to prove herself by winning more than 50 races with average horses before she was finally noticed.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Rupa had been riding horses since the age of four. Her father and her uncle are both trainers and jockeys themselves. Her grandfather trained horses for the British Army. With the passion for riding in her blood, she got all the encouragement to become a jockey from her father.
Inspired by India’s first female jockey, Silva Storai, an Italian-origin jockey who came to India in 1978, her father had set his mind on seeing his daughter become a jockey.
“Riding a horse is risky and I broke my collarbone and ankle after I had taken up racing as a profession,” she says, adding with a laugh, “But in my childhood, I was more scared of my father than the horse.”
Her win at the 2010 Madras Classics put her into the limelight, and she knew there was no looking back. In 2014, she won the Shikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Championship Cup in Poland, racing against the other female jockeys, some of them famous and previously unbeatable. “I had raced in Germany , Abu Dhabi and the Netherlands but the Poland race was really special.”
Singh knows that males have an upper hand in jockeying, compared to women, only because they are naturally stronger.
“We don’t have the stamina and physical strength that our male counterparts have. We can get the strategy right but it takes immense strength to control a horse and a race,” she says. While jockeys have to be light weighted (around 49 to 54 kilograms), they should have the strength to control a 540-kilogram horse that’s running at a speed of 60 kilometres per hours.
But, it’s not impossible for women to achieve that level of strength. “It is only through rigorous training that I have increased my stamina. I have always undergone the same training as the male jockeys,” Singh adds. “Once I started racing, my passion for the sport grew. As I won a few races, I wanted to show the world that women can be as good as men.”