In the saddle: A chat with Danielle Johnson

20 Dec 2019
Auckland Thoroughbred Racing

Danielle Johnson has been riding horses since she was just a toddler and has been a professional jockey for twelve years.

We sat down & had a chat to the successful hoop to learn more about her career and what she gets up to when she’s not in the saddle…

Danielle with , Danny, at Auckland’s Mercy Hospice as part of the 2019 Auckland Cup Week tour


How did you become a jockey?

Right from when I could walk, I was on the back of a horse. Dad [Peter] was a jockey and mum trained horses, so it was in my blood.

I loved the outdoors and I was the kid that would rather be on a pony than in school.

Because I started riding ponies at such a young age, it was a natural progression to riding racehorses in training and I was 16 years old when I started racing. However, if you don’t grow up with ponies you are thrown in the deep end!

I did a four year apprenticeship, which consists of theory and practical work. For example, part of your training would be to look over race replays with champion jockey Noel Harris (National Riding Mentor for the apprentice school at New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing) then explaining what is a good ride and bad ride.

We also learned all about how to care for horses.

The word ‘jockey’ is Scottish for ‘boy’. Does that mean that the industry is male dominated?

To be honest, it’s not something I think about or talk about. The sport in New Zealand is so progressive, so the industry isn’t like that here.

Ultimately, if you’re good enough you will be successful, and I have had no struggles being a female.

In fact, it’s about 50/50 split between women and men in the jockeys’ rooms now.

Danielle (right) celebrating her recent Barfoot & Thompson Jockeys’ World Cup win with her Mystics Women teammates, Lisa Allpress and Sam Spratt


What does a typical work week look like?

It varies so much! Last week I had four days off, but this week I am riding Tuesday to Tuesday and it’s hectic; I can be riding up to ten horses a day.

Summer racing is the busiest time of the year, so I am currently starting at 5:00am training horses for a couple of hours. Then, after a little downtime, I’m back riding horses from 12:30-6:00pm.

What do you love about the job?

I love horses. You can get out of bed every day and hang out with horses, which is great as they aren’t as annoying as people! But in all seriousness, the thrill of winning a race is exciting.

Is there anything you dislike about it?

I’m not a fan of the early morning starts!

Can you describe your first win?

It was totally exhilarating. I was 16 years old and I had only done about ten rides before I had my first winner. It was here at Ellerslie, which is my favourite course and I was riding for my boss at the time who had just recently passed away.

Danielle flashing past the post first at Ellerslie in spring this year – a common occurrence


What are your future goals?

To keep riding winners and the more group one winners I can get, the better.

What are your hobbies outside of work?

Shopping – I am very good at that! I also really enjoy doing work on my farm.

If you weren’t a jockey, what would you be?

I can imagine myself as a real estate agent as I’m really interested in property and think I’d be a great fit as an agent for lifestyle blocks and farms, so that might be in my future one day.

What advice would you give someone hoping to get into racing?

If you’re prepared to work hard, there are plenty of opportunities.

Danielle on her way back to scale with Head Clerk of the Course, Ross Coles, following yet another win at Ellerslie

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