Women need to prove that they’re good enough to compete against the boys, says Kayla Stra, the lone female contestant in ‘Jockeys’

They love the speed, the adrenalin rush and the unpredictability of the equestrian sport. Jockeys, who begin their day as early as 4.30 a.m. to exercise the horses, don’t really know what to expect in a race. Fortunes change in a fraction of a second and hence, winning is that much more magical. Animal Planet’s new reality series, Jockeys, gives us an inside view of their lives capturing the cut-throat competition and the power jockeys wield over their magnificent horses. Among the contestants is Kayla Stra, the lone female contestant who has more than 500 wins to her credit in Australia. “Being able to work with such beautiful, strong powerful animals is magical,” she says.

The series is special, says Kayla, and reasons, “We don’t get the exposure that other sports get, and it’s such a fascinating business.” Kayla says it’s never been a big deal to be a woman jockey back in Australia, unlike in the US.

“In Australia, it was more accepted for women to ride as there were always one or two girls in each state riding. Also at times, there are trainers who may look at me with a little wink in their eye. If I were a guy that would never happen.”

That said, she herself has never let gender play a role in the sport. “When I first got involved with horses, I never really thought of standing out as a female in my career. I just enjoyed being with the horses, the competition and being able to ride for a living. We come across some hurdles where people are reluctant to want to give us a try. Women need to prove that they’re good enough to compete against the boys.”

Kayla’s interest in the sport began in the early teens. “I left school early, when I was 13 and worked with the horses for extra money to keep me going. I wasn’t a good communicator with people when I was young. So, to work with animals I thought would be easier. What inspired me were my passion for animals and my love for horses and racing.”

Being a jockey requires her to follow a strict diet. “If I don’t have my weight at the right balance, then I wouldn’t have a job.” She stays fit by exercising her horses every morning, going for long walks and bike rides. She unwinds by painting and spending time with family.

The 500-plus victories in Australia gives her the confidence to take on the guys in the series. She recalls one of her favourite wins: “There was this horse called Navy Shaker. This occurred during my apprenticeship when I was riding for my boss at the time. The owner of the horse didn’t want me to ride because I’m a girl; however, my boss pushed and we won a stakes race! Another incredible win was with a horse named Woman Eyes. My grandma died a week before and during that race, I commemorated her by wearing a black armband. It was a very symbolic win for me.”

Jockeys are made to be tough and it’s evident when she says, “There’s a saying that you’re never a real rider until you’ve fallen a hundred times, and I’ve fallen at least a hundred times. First fall, I got off, brushed myself off and got back on because that what you must do.”

(Jockeys airs every Tuesday at 10 p.m. on Animal Planet.)