By Ray Hickson
There are four horses on Kathy O’Hara’s five-acre property that mean as much to her as any trophy sitting in her cabinet.
They represent both the reason she was able to develop into a Group 1 winning jockey and what will be a large part of her future beyond horse racing.
From around the age of 12 Kathy, and her sister Tracy, started out in eventing and show jumping and a zest for riding was born that would eventually lead both sisters into the racing industry.
“It’s a real passion of mine, I love doing it and the reason I got into race riding,’’ O’Hara said.
“None of my family was involved in racing, it was only through the horses that came about.’’
Prior to starting her apprenticeship, with eventing and show jumping well and truly in the forefront, O’Hara bought two mares to compete on.
When she turned 15 and the life of a jockey took over, the mares were rested until some years later she made the decision to breed from them.
Each produced two foals and those four horses now form O’Hara’s passion and, since she resumed eventing about five years ago, are part of what drives her on the track.
“We waited a while to breed with them. One is seven now, two are four and one is five,’’ she said.
“It’s been a long process getting there. I put the mares on the backburner a bit and didn’t really do anything with them (when I started riding) because I was here, there and everywhere.
“They are all quite young, they don’t sound young but in terms of showjumpers four-year-old is very young.
“Seven is probably the prime age to start going through the levels but I’m pretty excited about two of my young ones.’’
Those two horses are called Ziva and Emma and compete under the names of Vespa Martini and Emmasary Lass.
When she’s not committed to the races, O’Hara spends as much time as she can putting the horses through their paces and taking them to competitions.
Sometimes she’ll sneak in a ride between trackwork and the races – primarily in the summer months – and has a desire to see her horses realise their full potential.
“People say to me ‘why do you want to go ride horses when it’s your job?’,’’ she said.
“But it’s entirely different, it’s hard to explain to people that don’t do it. To me it’s a stress release, something I go out and really enjoy.
“It’s personal. With racehorses you get on and off and rarely stay on them for a long amount of time.
“You feel like you achieve a lot when they make the grade. I’m really lucky because the two young ones I have could go a long way.
“If I had the time to do it outside of racing I’d love to take it as far as I could, just for the horses’ sake I’d like to see them reach their full potential.’’
Plenty of thoroughbreds find careers off the track in the equestrian sports.
O’Hara’s horses aren’t thoroughbreds but one was sired by a World Cup show jumping champion stallion that was a thoroughbred.
On the racetrack O’Hara was Sydney’s champion apprentice in 2004-05 and has been a part of the highly competitive Sydney scene for close to 17 years, winning well over 800 races.
She’s won two Group 1s, the 2012 Coolmore Classic on Ofcourseican and the 2016 Vinery Stud Stakes on one of her favourites Single Gaze who she also rode into second place in the 2017 Caulfield Cup.
Like horse racing, competition in equestrian sports is a great leveller.
“You’re definitely spending more than you’re earning, you’re doing it basically for a ribbon,’’ she said.
“But I have a lot of friends, within the racing industry, that do it too.
“The aim of the game in show jumping is to keep the poles up, that’s pretty simple to understand even for non-horsey people.
“They either stay up or fall down, that’s it. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’re on, if you can get around the track and keep the poles up you can beat anyone.’’
It’s clear once she does hang up the saddle there won’t be a day that goes by when O’Hara isn’t involved with horses.
She’ll probably be even more involved. Perhaps she’s a future Olympian.
But that doesn’t mean she’s anywhere near finished with horse racing yet.
“It’s an open-ended question for me. I’m healthy and things are going well,’’ she said.
“I don’t have a timeframe on it but I’ve been like that my whole career. While I still love it and enjoy it I definitely want to keep riding.
“I started young, a lot of girls don’t start as young as me and my sister.
“Longevity for a female is not something that happens a lot and it’s something I’m really proud of.’’
*Article originally appeared in the August edition of the Racing NSW magazine