Aparna “Abby” Das Battula fell off the first two times she ever rode a horse, but that didn’t stop her from becoming a top-notch jockey. After learning the basics of riding racehorses, she journeyed all the way from India to the North American Racing Academy in Lexington, Ky., to improve her skills. Then she became the first female from India to earn a jockey license in America and she’s been riding winners ever since.
Abby had never even been close to a horse until she went to college. She had always loved going fast on go-carts and skates, so when she saw riders on speedy Thoroughbreds, she knew she wanted to give riding a go.
Young Rider racing correspondent Liane Crossley caught up with Abby early one morning at the racetrack to learn more about her life in India and her new career in America.
How did you become interested in being a jockey?
My dad saw an ad in the newspaper for riding lessons, but I thought they would be really expensive and I didn’t want to bother him for the money. But I called and it turned out the riding lesson were at the racetrack. I watched the racehorses and they were going so fast. I thought it was really cool.
The first time you rode, how did it go?
The horse trainer tried to lecture me and told me girls could not be jockeys in India. He thought I was cocky but he found a horse for me. I had never even touched a horse before, and the trainer didn’t tell me how to do anything. The horse took two strides and bucked me off. I got right back on and he bucked me off again! I wanted to get back on, but the trainer told me to come back the next day.
What made you want to keep trying to ride after that?
My dad told me it is just like skating—only if you fall do you get better.
So how did it go when you went back to the stable?
The trainer got me a nicer horse the second time and he taught me how to sit and how to ride. Then he admitted that no one could stay on the first horse I rode! He said they called that one the bucking bronc.
I learned the basics of riding in India and then I found the North American Racing Academy on the Internet. As soon as I got accepted, I moved to Kentucky.
Did you finish college in India first?
Yes. I have a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology.
How did you get your nickname?
At home, everyone calls me Appu. When I came to America, people sort of changed it to Appy. Then other people would say Abby. So now my name is Abby!
What do you when you are not riding horses?
Lately I have been doing bike rides.
No, motorcycles! I don’t have one, but I hang out with some people who do have them.
What is the biggest difference between India and America?
Life is more convenient here because everything is organized. Here, if you shop for groceries, you have big stores like Wal-Mart. In India, we have stores like that but people still prefer to go a market to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables. In India, we have a lot of malls coming. Restaurants like McDonalds and Taco Bell have opened in India, but people still prefer the traditional method of going to the market for food.
What is your favorite food when you’re in India?
On the roadsides, there are vendors that make snacks called chaats. They’re a little bit like pretzels with spices in them. And I also like biryani rice with spices and meats cooked together. You can get it at restaurants or make it at home. Whenever there is a festival, biryani rice is a main dish for us.
What music do you listen to in the car?
I have a mix of everything from Bollywood music to rock and hip hop.
You represented the United States recently in a special race in France against jockeys from all over the world. What was that like?
Racing in France is totally different than in America. To race ride there was the best experience I have had. We walked the course a day before the race. That was new to me because we don’t do that here. We got to see where the track was steep and where it started to slope. In America, the courses are all flat.
What were some other differences?
The starting gate was different. There is no one in the starting gate with you. They just lead you in and each jockey has to figure out how they want their horse to stand. Everyone was talking in French, so I wasn’t sure when the race was going to start. I was looking around when the starting gate opened!
I was offered a contract to stay in France to ride. But I have to learn to speak French first!”
What is your favorite horse movie?
What is your favorite television show?
I don’t watch too much television but when I’m flipping channels I generally watch comedy shows like “The Big Bang Theory.”
Where can people spot you in the saddle?
I’ve been riding horses at Indiana Downs and Turfway Park in northern Kentucky.