Saddle up with Korea’s first female jockey

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Saddle up with Korea’s first female jockey

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Lee Sin-young

Lee Sin-young shocked the nation when she became Korea’s first female jockey. She conquered prejudice and gender stereotypes again when she became its first female horse trainer, earning the highest score on her licensing exam. Now, she is hoping to help aspiring young female jockeys.

“I don’t think being the first female jockey should be a burden,” Lee said. “It’s something to grab hold of, and I enjoy the process of working for it.”

Her passion for the sport started when she visited Seoul Race Park with her family in 1998.

“That was the first time I had ever seen a horse race. The jockeys left a lasting impression on me,” Lee said. “It was also a time when I was worried about my career and I thought it wouldn’t be too difficult to do because I was pretty athletic.”

Lee decided to apply to be a jockey with the Korea Racing Authority during her freshman year at Dong-A University in 1999. After being admitted, she immediately dropped out of college, went through two years of training and debuted as Korea’s first female jockey in September 2001.

“There weren’t many chances for me to ride because I’m a woman. I had a difficult time due to prejudice,” Lee said. “Even if I won, others would say ‘anyone can win with that horse,’ or when I wasn’t ranked high enough I heard ‘the horse was fine, the problem was the woman riding it.’ Once, I even punched a guy for insulting me.”

Lee is now known as a successful jockey, but she hasn’t stopped there. Just last month, she became Korea’s first female horse trainer - earning the highest score on the licensing exam and beating the 35 other applicants, all male, was just the cherry on top.

“I’ve been preparing for this exam ever since I became a jockey,” Lee said. “It’s only natural for players to become coaches when they retire.”

Lee admits that she had a head start on her career as a trainer, which one can apply to do only after eight years as a jockey, earlier than the others.

“I took the test the year I was given permission to apply, but I passed,” Lee said. “I wanted to get my trainer license first and then continue my career as a jockey, but I didn’t want to miss out on a great opportunity.”

The job of a trainer is to sign up with a horse owner, train the horse and choose which jockeys ride the horse. He or she has to deal with the owners while also directing and coaching a team of jockeys.

“The job itself is more difficult than that of a jockey but I’m ready for anything,” Lee said.

She went on to talk about the difficulties she faced as a jockey.

“Not being able to eat everything I want in order to keep in shape is agonizing,” she said. “And accusations of fixed races are always hard to deal with.”

Despite the hardships, she said she has appreciated the benefits.

“Being a jockey gives you a lot of personal time. Excluding Saturdays and Sundays when there are matches, weekday training sessions begin and end early ... Also, I love animals and it is a blast to work with horses.”

One of Lee’s main concerns is that the Korean racing community is far behind international standards. There is very little chance for Korean jockeys to be active in foreign countries and high-quality horses and jockeys don’t often come to Korea.

“Being a jockey and a horse trainer is a very attractive job,” says Lee. “Although I had a hard time since I didn’t have any female jockeys to look up to, I will do my best to be an excellent example and I hope that my female peers can do even better.”


By Son Jeong-min [estyle@joongang.co.kr]
Related Korean Article

금녀의 벽에 거침없이 하이킥, 한국 첫 여성 기수·조교사 이신영


이 여자. 체구는 작지만 당차다. 한국 경마 최초의 여자 기수이자 여자 조교사 1호 이신영(29)씨.

‘1호’니 ‘최초’니 하는 것은 자랑스러우면서도 한편으론 부담스러운 타이틀이다.
“아뇨. 전 부담스럽다고 생각하지 않아요. 쟁취할 만한 거죠. 그걸 즐기는 편이에요.”

역시 첫인상 그대로다.
부산 동아대 체육학과 1학년이던 1999년, 한국마사회의 기수 모집에 응모해 합격한 뒤 2년간 후보생 시절을 거쳐 2001년 7월 국내 최초의 여자 기수로 데뷔했다. ‘금녀의 벽’을 깬 이신영 기수는 이후 수많은 ‘최초 기록’을 세워나갔다. 8년간 남자 기수와 맞붙어 거둔 기록은 855전86승. 승률 10%는 결코 우습게 볼 게 아니다. 2위도 66회(복승률 17.8%)나 했다.(국내 경마 베팅에는 1위를 맞히는 단승식, 순서와 상관없이 2위까지 두 마리를 맞히는 복승식, 1·2위를 순서대로 맞히는 쌍승식 등이 있다. 국내 경마팬들이 가장 많이 참여하는 방식이 복승식이기 때문에 복승률은 기수의 능력을 가늠하는 잣대다.)

여자로서 핸디캡은 없었을까.
“참 많았죠. 우선 남자 기수에 비해 말을 탈 기회 자체가 적었어요. 선입견 때문에 고생 많이 했어요. 1등으로 들어오면 ‘그 말은 누가 타도 1등 할 말’이라든가, 등수에 들지 못하면 ‘말은 좋은데 여자라서 그랬다’는 얘기 많이 들었죠. 한번은 동료 남자 기수가 욕을 하기에 주먹을 날린 적도 있어요. 어릴 땐 혈기에 넘쳐서 사고도 많이 쳤는데 이젠 그러지 않죠.”


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