- Argentina’s “School of Apprentice Jockeys” has had considerable success
- School has produced a succession of successful jockeys
Reopened again in 2004 after a five-year closure, the “School of Apprentice Jockeys” has become one of South America’s most successful horse riding centers.
In the 14 years since reopening, the school has produced a succession of jockeys who have accrued more than 12,000 professional race wins between them.
“That is a very big number, I’m the first to be surprised by it,” the school’s director, Hector Libre, tells CNN’s Winning Post. “But the school is based on respect, hard work and sacrifice.
“With quite a lot of luck we have achieved an important number of races won in a very short amount of time,” he says modestly.
Though Libre has presided over the most prolific period in the school’s history, he readily admits to feeling out of his depth when he first joined.
Initially coming to the school as a teacher in 2004, Libre went on to become the director after a year in the classroom.
“When I started, standing in front of 20 pupils, I said: ‘Well, what do I do now with these kids?'” he recalls with a laugh.
“I didn’t know what to do because I had never taught, the only thing I’d done was race and train horses. Then I thought: ‘The same thing I taught my children, it’s exactly the same.’
“And I remembered that with my children it went well, so I knew that was the right path. From then on, I said: ‘They’re no longer pupils, they are sons and daughters.'”
Horse riding and variations of the sport, most notably polo, are considered elitist in certain South American countries, where the gap between the upper and working class is as big as ever.
However, for Libre and the school, a prominent or affluent surname doesn’t guarantee you a place in this institution — the only thing that matters is a prospective student’s size and weight.
The school’s reputation has spread far and wide, resulting in huge number of applicants for a limited number of places.
“It’s difficult because a lot of kids want to come,” says Libre.
“We don’t bring in kids just because of their name. For me, every kid is the same. The only thing we look at when selecting them is their size because of the importance of weight (in horse riding).
“We have kids come from all over Argentina. Each one has a different story, each one brings a different rucksack.”
One of the student’s whose story resonated with Libre the most is that of Santiago Guzman.
Bullied, ridiculed and singled out during school for being poorer than other kids, Guzman sought friendship in two work horses that his father bought when he and his brother were small.
“For me that was a really powerful story,” Libre says. “But at this school he has found a place that treated him well, where he became just another kid and allowed him to no longer suffer bullying.”