So, you want to be a jockey when you grow up? How does one go from “up down” lessons on a portly Shetland pony to whizzing over hurdles and under the wire at full speed on a Thoroughbred? The answer lies in the handful of organizations that foster racing for young and amateur riders.
If you are a young rider with race riding aspirations and live in the Mid-Atlantic, you have a major advantage!
While steeplechase racing takes place mostly along the Eastern Seaboard, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia host the bulk of what are called Point-to-Point races, which typically host races more suitable for amateur riders and races that serve as prep races for the sanctioned steeplechase horses. These point-to-points also often host pony and junior horse races, where race riding dreams start to become a reality.
In the last 14 years, junior racing has taken a huge surge thanks to the vision of former amateur steeplechase jockeys Mason Lampton, George Strawbridge, and George Sloan. These three amigos came together and formed a non-profit called the North American Pt-to-Pt Association (NAPPA) in 2001, which set out to promote and preserve the sport of steeplechase racing by creating racing and educational opportunities for young and amateur riders. With programs formed by NAPPA, junior racing gained a slow and steady momentum.
In 2000, pre-NAPPA, the Maryland Steeplechase Association spring series of races attracted 33 junior entries. This year, that same geographical area attracted a resounding 210 pony and junior horse entries! If you can straddle a pony, chances are there is a racing opportunity for you! Opportunities typically carded for young riders consist of multiple divisions of flat and jumping races for ponies and juniors on horses, and there is even a Lead Line Trot Race for pint-sized jocks who aren’t quite ready to do it on their own yet.