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Making Hay While the Sun Shines

Unlike most professional athletes who have off-seasons to rest, relax and recuperate, professional jockeys aren’t afforded that luxury. With a fairly short career-span, working on a pay-per-ride basis as opposed to set salaries and without large corporate sponsors to boost their income, most jockeys have to race as frequently as possible to sustain their livelihoods. Enter the Covid-19 pandemic and level 5 lockdown and, like many South Africans, most of the jockeys lost their income overnight. Except for those who have harnessed their skills in other areas.

One jockey, who spent as much time in an aeroplane travelling nation-wide as he did on-course this past season, is Sherman Brown. The dedicated 46-year-old, Rhodesian-born jockey relies on large quantities of rides to make up his monthly income, with stake cheques being an added bonus. As racing, and all related income, came to a grinding halt just over a month ago, Sherman has been working on a few “side-hustles” to keep himself occupied:

What has been the hardest part of lockdown for you so far?
Homeschooling!!!! Kidding.
I think, like many people, the hardest part for me has been the ‘unknown’. Firstly about the virus itself and its impact but, as time has passed, more so in terms of the future. Economists and strategists have warned that life will never go back to how it was – which isn’t a bad thing as I don’t think it was sustainable for much longer – but I worry what future lies ahead – for my daughter especially.

What are you looking forward to most after lockdown?
One would think a month-long enforced holiday would come as welcome break for us jockeys– many of us don’t get anything more than a few days holiday within the year as public holidays and the festive period are prime racing periods – but to be honest I think we’re all itching to get back in the saddle. It’s not just about the income and trying to retain fitness, I think we’ve all realized how much we enjoy the social aspect of racing – the friendly banter in the jockey room, the smiling faces of race-goers lining the parade ring and the general buzz of anticipation and excitement on-course. I have managed to spend quality time with my family though which has been very special.

How have you managed to stay occupied?
Anyone who knows me can testify that I can’t sit still for long so the last few weeks have been fairly productive in terms of home maintenance and DIY. I love woodwork so spent some time building our bar at home – including all the cabinetry. I began custom making saddles and kit a few months back, which I fitted in between races and flights, so this has given me much-needed time to catch up on orders and work on some new designs.

Tell us more about your kit production ventures?
I’ve always had the ability to ‘fix’ things – I have a fascination for diagnosing what the problem is and seeing if I can repair or refurbish items. After being given a faulty industrial sewing machine – which I refurbished – I started repairing my own fittings and it eventually evolved to making fittings and now saddles. I custom make the saddles so many of the jockeys have chosen their preferred colours and designs – it just makes it a little more personal considering how much time we spend on them! I’ve even had a few orders which have gone overseas so it’s nice to see how word-of-mouth has spread.

What is your personal Post-Covid advice?
We participate in a fast-paced, high-risk sport which can provide as much anguish as it can exhilaration. We always known that it’s important to look after our finances but I think Covid-19 has confirmed that mentality. My advice would be to better manage finances and investments for long term benefit. It’s also taught us to value family and health more than material items – everything else is replaceable.

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