Woodbine jock: I’d take them all if I could

Emma-Jayne Wilson and retiree, Gus

Emma-Jayne Wilson hardly looks like a softie.

The 29-year-old jockey, wiry strong and pound-for-pound powerful, appears deeply focused and unfazed by the rush of horses and riders around her.

But during her six years as professional jockey at Woodbine in Canada, Wilson admits she has been so deeply moved by two Thoroughbreds in particular that when their careers ended, she personally took them in.

“I have a connection with them,” she says. “They just pull on your heartstrings.”

Belle Gully, now known as Gus, is a stocky chestnut who was a “champ in his own class,” she says. “He raced at his own level” which wasn’t in the stakes classes, “and he would try every time.

Race name: Belle Gully
Barn name: Gus
Sire: Marias Mon
Dam: Belle Dancer
Career earnings: $98,653
“I have a picture of me with him in the winner’s circle after one race—he’d won by eight lengths!”

She rode him for several years before he moved to another track. But Wilson kept tabs on him through friends and on the Internet. “At one point a friend checked into his situation and was told he was retired and spoken for,” she recalls. “That was good enough for me. I knew he’d started to get badly beat in bottom-level claiming races, and that didn’t sit well with me. So, I was happy when I heard he was spoken for.”

But in 2009, about nine months after Gus was to have retired, Wilson learned Gus had been raced again, and failed miserably.

“Now I was on a mission to get him,” Wilson says. “When he showed up again in the races, that really bothered me, since he had shown no interest in continuing to run. At this point, I felt I had to take a more aggressive stance to get that horse.”

Wilson aboard Just Rushing

In July 2009, Gus became the first horse the longtime equestrian and jockey would own outright. And Gus, now ten years old, is enjoying the life of a retired athlete, sleeping a lot in his stall, eating all the food he wants, and loving pasture romps and his favorite hobby—stripping other horses of their blankets.

“I don’t worry about him now,” says Wilson.

Nor is she concerned about her other favorite racehorse, Just Rushing. About two months ago, she decided to buy the million-dollar stakes winner, a horse she rode to 16 of his 18-wins.

Although Just Rushing was in the upper echelons of the sport, and in that sense couldn’t be more different from Gus, both horses affected her deeply.

When she found out that his owners were thinking of retiring him, Wilson did a little dance of happiness in the paddock.

Because contrary to what people may think about jockeys and the horses, there is actually a deep bond connecting horse to rider, she says.

Race name: Just Rushing
Sire: Wild Rush
Dam: DayByDayByDay
Career earnings: $994,761

“In this game, it seems to a lot of people that horse racing is just a competition between jockeys,” Wilson says. “It’s not like that. It’s a team sport as far as I’m concerned. And the team includes everyone from the grooms and hot-walkers to jockeys and the horses.”

Growing up as a horsey kid who took weekly lessons starting at age 8, Wilson was eventually drawn to riding racehorses as a way of combining her love for the animals with the necessity of getting a job. After completing an equine program at Kemptville College in Canada, she started work with a horse breeder before training as a jockey.

“For me, I wasn’t drawn to it for the racing. It was the horses. That’s what I loved. To find a job that revolved around horses was ideal.”

She helps horses retire

She has spent the bulk of her career at Woodbine, where the culture is very strongly infused with Thoroughbred retirement awareness and programs.


“There are a lot of jocks who have done similar things, by either taking a horse, or helping to find a home for one,” she says.

If ever there was a time when she might chastise herself for not doing enough, she remembers the encouragement she got from horse-welfare advocate and Barbaro book author Alex Brown. “He told me that if everybody just does a little bit, it will be a lot,” Wilson says.

“I would take every one if I could. But, I think by doing this little bit, we can all travel far. We can cover a lot of ground” to help racehorses retire.

10 responses to “Woodbine jock: I’d take them all if I could”

  1. Cheryl Smith-Bell

    Judging by these comments, I never realized anyone would not think there was a deep connection between the jockeys and the horses. I rode for twenty years, mostly Quarter Horses and they were all special to me. I wanted them to win, not just for me, but for them. They knew just as well as the people around them if they were winners!

    Great story. Both of my horses were retired off the track, and my old boy is 22 this year, and a great model for my art work and a pasture ornament!
    My first retiree was going to be put down for founder, but I kept him in ice for 48 hours and saved him and the owners wanted nothing more to do with him. I never let him rotate, thanks to a great farrier, and he was my best and most dependable trail mount for years. He was 22 when I had to put him down because of a tumor behind his eye that began to interfere with swallowing. I still miss him every time I go to the mountains to ride!

  2. Vicki Pappas

    Regarding your story about Emma Jayne Wilson, what she modestly fails to mention is her support of our organization, LongRun Thoroughbred retirement Society, which is located at Woodbine. Not only has she sponsored some of our retirees (read Dawn Watcher’s story on our website) but she also works tirelessly with us at fundraisers and LongRun’s Day at the Races. She is a great lady! You go, Emma!

    Vicki Pappas
    Chairperson – LongRun

  3. Olivia-Daisy Collins

    You rock Emma!

    I wish I could take more OTTB’s in. I just love my guy”With Courage” who I believe you rode back when he was back in training with Mark Frostad. He is 12 now and loves his new job. He has an easy life now and even though he wasn’t a top earner (he only won one race, ever!) he still worked hard for the first 5 years of his life. 🙂

  4. sylvie hebert

    I retire and place a lot of horses,but five-six years ago i was standing in the paddock at LA downs watching claimers being saddled.One of them just oozed class,Inti Raymi,an old warrior,splendid mover,calm and composed,a pro.I was too late in buying him,he was snatched out of that track…a few years later(2008),my daughter is picking up horses for rescue at Beulah;she looks up the form to see that horse running there.She went to the trainer and bought him for me.A wonderful gift.He is now teaching kids in a riding school close to me.He will be 13 this year.

  5. Sarah@Miles on Miles

    I really loved this story. Thanks to Emma, and everyone else in the business who does what they can (no matter how much or how little) for the horses that keep the sport going. They are truly at the front lines and can effect so many lives, and prevent horses from slipping through the cracks.

  6. Louise Ferro Martin

    It is wonderful to hear a “jockey’s” story about their feelings for their horses. I haved always hoped there was a connection between the horse and rider. No matter what equesterain sport I attend I find myself watching the interaction between the rider and his horse. I am always looking to see if there is that caress prior to the race, the jump off, the polo match, etc. and then at the finish of the competition. I am always hoping for that connection for the horse. Thank you Emma-Jayne for your love that you give not only to the horses that you saved but the ones you ride.

    Thank you Susan, each new story you bring to us gives me the encouragement to continue on to help our thoroughbred race horses. As Emma-Janyne says, we can travel far with each little thing we do to help retire race horses with dignity and the love they truly deserve!

  7. Tweets that mention top Canadian jock Emma Wilson, and doing her bit! -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Alex Brown. Alex Brown said: top Canadian jock Emma Wilson, and doing her bit! http://offtrackthoroughbreds.com/2010/12/28/woodbine-jock-id-take-them-all-if-i-could/ […]

  8. Charles E. Brown (Brownsford Thoroughbred Farm) Anderson, Indiana

    I’m not a Jockey, just a owner/Breeder/Racer.
    We feel in love with a horse named Swift Road. Hard knocking low level Claimer who always ran as hard as he could. Loved to kick soccer balls with people. Swifty got a large chip in his knee and the owner was going to have him put down. We bought him for $1,000.00. Shipped him to Lexington to Rood and Riddle in Lexington. Had the Chip removed costing $1,800.00. Brought him home and rehabbed him for a year. Then gave him to a great couple in Kentucky just for a companion to her and her husband’s other horse.

    I’ve been called stupid for a lot worse things than this..

    Charles Brown

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