Aspiring jockey trains

Recent Cal High graduate Cassidy Burg is training to be a professional jockey

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Aspiring jockey trains

Joyce Ho, News Editor

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Senior Cassidy Burg climbed on her first horse at six months old and has loved riding ever since.

Burg, president of Cal High’s National Honors Society,  graduated one semester early to focus on riding. She formerly competed in equestrian events and is currently training to become a professional jockey, a rider that races horses around a mile-long track.

Burg also works as an exercise rider at the Alameda County Fairgrounds race track in Pleasanton.

As an exercise rider, Burg spends her mornings, from 6-11 a.m., at the fairgrounds training the horses in anticipation of their races.

“I get on six to eight horses a morning and gallop or jog them,” said Burg.

Burg also takes lessons at a ranch in Martinez in order to learn the technique necessary for becoming a jockey.

Though extensive training and experience are required, Burg’s love of horses and riding motivate her.

“It feels like you’re flying when you really get [the horses] moving,” said Burg. “You have so much power.”

The difficulty in riding is keeping the horses under control, she says.

“They love to run,” said Burg. “My biggest problem is keeping them slow. You can’t out-muscle them, so you have to learn the technique.”

Both Burg and her employer, former rider Melanie McDonald, stress that experience in working with horses is also the key to improvement.

“First of all you have to love horses and be able to ride and be able to communicate with the horse,” said McDonald. “Then you have to have miles and miles of experience.”

Each horse is also different and riders must relate to them.

“They really do have personalities,” said Burg. “They have good days and bad days. You have to get along with them for the day. If they get mad, they’ll fight you.”

In addition, a good sense of balance, quick thinking, and a lightweight, strong upper and lower body are all among the essential traits a jockey must have, said McDonald.

But while Burg only recently began jockey training, she has been riding horses from a very young age. Burg’s grandmother breeds Irish Draft horses in Washington state, and her aunt also used to compete.

At six months old on a visit to her grandparents’ house, Burg received her first tiny glimpse of horseback riding when her parents placed her on a horse.  She enjoyed the experience so much so that she resented getting off the horse.

“When we took her off, she screamed,” said Burg’s mother, Amy Burg.

She had her first official lesson at age two, and continued to ride whenever possible.

“We’ve moved a lot, but everywhere we’ve gone she’s taken lessons,” said Amy Burg.

Burg later competed in three-day eventing, a type of competition that includes dressage, show jumping, and cross country jumping. Dressage consists of the horse performing certain skills within an arena, while show jumping and cross country jumping consist of jumping either within an arena or out in the open.

Of the three, Burg’s favorite was cross country jumping.

Burg competed until fifth grade, when she quit due to logistics, such as finding a barn to compete with after each move proved to be difficult. She began to focus on other sports, including soccer and track, and didn’t decide on becoming a jockey until later.

“Growing up, I always thought I’d be too tall,” said Burg. “Freshman year, I was watching the derby, and realizing I hadn’t grown in six years, I realized I had a shot.

“I walked to the track and asked if any trainers would give me a job.”

Burg found a job that day with McDonald, who identified strongly with Burg’s situation.

“When I was her age, I did the exact same thing at the exact same place,” said McDonald.

At the end of the summer, she started Burg off as a groom to care for the horses, something that she emphasizes is an important aspect of interacting and learning about the horses.

“The best riders are the ones that start at the bottom and learn how to take care of a horse and do the menial tasks,” said McDonald.

By cleaning, bandaging, and caring for the horses, grooms can begin learning the horses’ needs in order to communicate with them, said McDonald.

Burg held the position for a year before becoming an exercise rider.  She first started out galloping alongside an experienced rider and later progressed to galloping the horses on her own.  McDonald also found another trainer who let Burg gain more experience on other horses.

Last summer, Burg attended the Frank Garza Jockey School. Since graduating from Cal,  she takes several classes at Diablo Valley College in the afternoon and rides in the morning.

“She’s gone for 12 hours a day sometimes, just out riding,” said Amy Burg.

Burg rides and exercises multiple horses, including one that she herself has exclusively ridden.

Burg also tries to watch as many races as possible at the Pleasanton racetrack and Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley.

While she does not have a set timeline, she hopes to be able to race in the future, an endeavor that both her parents support.

“It’s a journey,” said Amy Burg. “It’ll be a couple of years, but the goal is to support her in her dream.”

Both Burg’s mom and those close to her attest to Burg’s work ethic and determination.

“If anyone has the drive, the desire, the passion – it’s her,” said senior Kaelin Delaney. “You can tell she loves riding. That’s where her heart is…she never gives up, and she works harder than I thought humanly possible.”

Burg’s friend Michelle Xue , a senior, agrees she has the right balance of ambition.

“I think her riding is inspiring because she never gave up on her dreams and she works at it six days a week,” said Xue.

Those around her believe this quality, among others, will help her succeed in the jockey world.

“Cassidy’s a hard worker and I think she’s going to make it,” said McDonald.