'I Want to Prove Them Wrong': Why a Young Eventer Left His Sport to Join Mike Smith at the Racetrack

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or Avery Whisman, horses aren’t just a passion – it’s tradition. Born into a family of horse lovers – his father was an eventer and steeplechase jockey and his mother was an eventer – it was only natural for the young boy to pick up the reins himself. Avery climbed into the saddle at 11 years old and the rest was history: his hard work and drive to win propelled him to the top of the junior eventing levels where he competed at Young Riders and received the Amy Tryon Grant.

Photo credit: Newsflash Photography.

Despite his successes in three-day eventing, there was still a piece missing for the Kentucky native: his need for speed.

“I remember the first time ever going to a training track with my dad, I saw a horse breeze for the first time in person and was completely in awe of the horse that it could go that fast. It was just amazing. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it,” Avery recalls. “The next week, I galloped a racehorse for the first time. I came back after I was done and told my dad to sell my event horses and that I was going to be a jockey for the rest of my life.”

But how can a rider with such a promising future ahead of him completely change disciplines on such a whim?

“There are a lot of different reasons that made me switch. The main reason I decided to pursue being a jockey was I just loved going fast and the adrenaline rush I got going top speed on a thoroughbred and knowing at any moment it could go down and I could be seriously hurt,” explains Avery. “I would rather die doing something I love than live a boring life.”

Photo credit: Carla Gaines Racing Stable.

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The top jockeys in the world can make up to $40,000 a week, but there’s more to it than money and pushing the limits of speed for the newly minted jockey. It’s also about proving people wrong. Standing at 5’6” and 108 pounds, Avery is taller than most jockeys on the track, which is a big disadvantage when it comes to weight the horses have to carry.

“I’m a little bit taller than most jockeys, so I’ve had a lot of people, including close friends and family, tell me that I can’t do it and that I’m ridiculous, which has inspired me even more,” says Avery. “I want to prove them wrong more than anything.”

Photo credit: Carla Gaines Racing Stable.

Fast forward one year and the eventer-turned-jockey is well on his way to proving the naysayers wrong. Selling his eventing horse and moving across the country to San Diego, CA is a big step for any teenager, but when you have the likes of top jockeys Joe Talamo and Triple Crown Winner, Mike Smith, on your side, it’s impossible to turn down such an opportunity.

Starting from scratch, Avery built up his jockey base at the Keeneland Race Course where he rode under trainer Joan Scott. From learning the basics of riding a racehorse to becoming her main rider, Avery quickly rose up the ranks to become a promising young jockey.

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The secret? “I kept my mouth closed, just listened as much as possible to soak everything in, and tried my best.”

Photo credit: Carla Gaines Racing Stable.

Avery is quickly garnering the attention of big-time trainers, agents, and owners. Now riding for Carla Gaines at the Del Mar Racetrack in California, he’s putting in the work under the tutelage of Joe and Mike to become the best horseman he can be. Already riding powerhouse horses and promising up-and-comers, Avery is putting in the time and mileage to one day be a great jockey and horseman.

“At the end of the day when I’m retired and sitting in a rocking chair at a retirement home, I want to be known as a good horseman over anything,” says Avery. “Not that I won this race at this time or rode this horse. I just want to be known as a good horseman and someone that always put the horse first.”

Photo credit: Carla Gaines Racing Stable.

Unlike most young jockeys who fend for themselves to try and make it in the industry, Avery is lucky to have Joe and Mike to guide him through the world of racing. One of the most important pieces of advice he's learned from Joe so far is to be quiet and stay humble.

“They’re the best. Who else is there better to learn from? I’ve only been doing this for a year so I try to listen as much as possible. They really appreciate that which is why so many doors have opened for me,” says Avery.

“I was coming out of the jockey room last week and Mike sees me and says, ‘Avery, come here and sit down.’ I went and sat down and we just talked for 30 minutes. It’s just amazing to hear that guy talk about horses because it’s not about winning or making money for him, he just loves horses and every single aspect of them."

Photo credit: Carla Gaines Racing Stable.

Despite his short time on the racetrack, with his hardworking mentality and pure love of horses there’s no doubt that Avery will be in the winner’s circle soon – especially with Joe and Mike on his side.

Feature photo by Jerry Espinoza.

Written by Lizzy Youngling

Lizzy Youngling has been a die-hard equestrian groupie since the age of three. Although not in the saddle as much as she’d like, Lizzy is a fan of all things horses. When she’s not writing for NOËLLE FLOYD, she can be found running training for the 2019 TCS New York City Marathon.