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By Ben Saunders | Friday, September 6, 2019

In this edition of Ben’s Beat, the personal blog of Ben Saunders, Ben answers questions he has received from HRO readers about how he goes about handling his role as a jockey mentor. He also gives further insight into the requirements that apprentices have to fulfil in order to progress through the various stages of their training and he gives a reason, and shows a clear understanding, as to why a jockey apprenticeship might not always be smooth sailing. This is Ben’s Beat, which appears exclusively on HRO.

As a jockey mentor I make myself available to help apprentices whenever they need some assistance.

I have a rough run through what they are riding beforehand at any given meeting so I can have some background knowledge of the day that lies ahead for them so that, if they have any questions, I can help them out. They should have done their own home-work, in which case I would just be clarifying some points for them.

I spend the day in or near the jockey’s room so that makes it very easy for them to come and talk to me … and they do. Most days most of my time is taken up by conversations with the apprentices.

I do make the approaches myself sometimes. For example, after a race I might have seen that somebody has cut somebody a bit short and I’ll ask them if they were aware of what happened.

I bring something like that to their attention for two reasons.

Firstly, obviously, so they can learn from the experience and go away with an idea of what they can do better in similar circumstances if it comes up again and, secondly, to make them aware of the fact that the stewards might want to ask them a question or two so that they aren’t caught cold.

For the most part, if they are called in, they have to prepare their own defence and I want to make sure their minds are on the incident so they can fully focus on what is required of them.


Generally, the apprentices like to talk to me individually. As a group they all willing to learn but they are keener to learn on an individual basis where they are discussing matters related to their own particular, personal improvement.

That is a good thing.

Each has their own mindset. Each person is a competitor. It’s you … and the rest are rivals so they don’t want to give anything away in general conversation whereas in a private conversation they can cut right to the chase.

Having said that there are occasions when, when they do meet as a group, the whole group can all learn from one individual’s idea. There are times where views are exchanged in open company for common good.


Apprentices have to attend one Apprentice School a month … that is mandatory. That's normally one Monday a month and they've got to attend where-ever they are closest.

I do go to those meetings. Kim Daly comes up from Brisbane and runs it. He is on the steward’s panel but he is also a qualified school teacher. He has got a lovely temperament and he has just got a great nature with the apprentices.

He can be authoritative without being overbearing which is exactly the type pf person the youngsters need. At their ages they don’t necessary relate well to being stood over so Kim is the ideal person to handle the job. He is a nice man.

There is core subject matter that has to be covered … handling horses, barrier practise, jump-outs, trials, race riding, presentation, media and then there are other different modules covering life skills … how to handle your finances, your tax etc … a whole gambit of things.

I think overall the apprentice course comes in about twenty-six modules … written and practical … and they have to tick off specific modules all along the way before they can take their careers to the next level.

If you are very keen and more academically inclined … and some jockeys are more than others … you can get ahead of the standard rate of going through the modules.

You can’t get years ahead but you can speed it up in places to a degree where after a certain stage you might not be obliged to attend every apprentice school meeting.


The system gives a good all-around grounding if the apprentices go about it correctly with an acceptance that it involves things that have to be done … and, obviously, if their progress is monitored correctly.

It’s got to be freely accepted by the apprentices … and I mean all aspects of their training have got to be freely accepted.

The apprentices are there because they want to work with horses and so they will all be more than happy to hone their horse handling instincts so there is normally no problem there but, at times, the academic side it is a bit of a struggle for some of them.

They don’t all have the same educational background so some will be slower than others … but the point is they need to pass the academic (or mental) side of things as much as they need to master the practical (or physical) side of things.

They do need both … and to be successful they have got to have their personal lives wrapped up as well. It’s all part of the package. Their personal lives can become part of how they are received publically if they are not careful.

They have got to be listening to the right people and not having their head filled with a whole lot of confusing ideas.

We were all young once. We know the story. In fact, maybe that is the most difficult part for them at this early stage of their careers.


People are sometimes judgemental of some apprentices.

You have got to remember how times have changed and that apprentices are no longer strictly under the thumb of their master day and night and subject to old school discipline … a situation which used to guide them along a clear-cut, no-nonsense path.

Now, what they do next is largely in their own hands.

I’m not saying that is a good or a bad thing. I am saying they are subject to flaws, as we all are, and there will be negative moments along the way.

As for me, I prefer to stay with the positive aspects of working with apprentices. It gets me out of the house. It keeps me thinking. It keeps me young.

My biggest thrill in the job is not the ‘coaching’ part. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy that … but I just love it when I can go up to an apprentice and say, ‘Gee, you are riding so well’ and to see their happy response.

That makes my day!

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