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Rusike dazzles at OKAPI Ladies International Race – The Herald

The Herald
ZIMBABWE’S O’Meara Rusike enhanced her status as one of the rising stars in the world of horse racing after clinching a memorable victory in the inaugural OKAPI Ladies International race at the horse racing spectacle L’Ormarins King’s Plate on Saturday.
The event, which was held in Cape Town, South Africa, is formerly known as the Queen’s Plate.
Twenty-four-year-old Rusike won over 1200m aboard Pacific Green, bred and owned by Drakenstein Stud and trained by Justin Snaith.
Rusike, who works as a work rider in the UK for Ralph Beckett Racing, also took part in a similar event, the Magnolia Cup in the UK, where she made history as the first woman of African descent to take part in the race.
She was invited by the organiser of the OKAPI race personally after being her brilliant show in the Magnolia Cup.
Rusike was exposed to the equestrian world when her adoptive father, Perseverance Ganga, shared with her an advert placed in her country’s local newspaper, the Zimbabwean Jockey Academy.
At the time she was still in high school and her father asked if she would be interested in the profession.
Rusike then visited the academy and ended up enrolling for three years. She sat on her very first horse at the age of 18.
The Zimbabwean academy has since closed down due to financial difficulties but Rusike’s horse racing dream remained alive when she was offered a place at the South African Jockey Academy before making the move to the UK, where she currently works as a work rider.
A work rider is a person who rides horses on a stud farm, exercises and takes care of them but does not race them. A jockey can do the same as a work rider but they actually race the horses. Jockeys are also supposed to stick to a strict diet to control their weight, something work riders do not have to worry about.
“My dream was to become a successful jockey and one of the top-ranking in the world. (However) I took another path, which was a better path in my opinion. There is no pressure, I like working under pressure but not every single day,” she said in a recent interview with the Sowetan newspaper in South Africa.
She says though she will stay on at Ralph Beckett for the time being, she is thinking about becoming an assistant trainer in the US in the near future.
The Sowetan recently had a chat with Rusike, who spoke about her journey in a sport where black women hardly exist.
“(At the academy) we started as five girls and now I’m the last woman standing,” she says.
“The South African Jockey Academy offered me a place, but for them to offer me a place I had to go ride for Alyson Wright, so they could see that I could ride. It wasn’t that easy but I made it.”
After being accepted, Covid-19 hit and made life quite difficult for Rusike. She had no sponsors to help pay for her school fees and couldn’t go home either.  
“It was a big heartbreak. I don’t ever want to go back (to that time).”
To earn a living, she applied for work at some of the stud farms but couldn’t work for more than three months as she was on a student visa. The unrelenting Rusike continued applying for jobs in the US, Britain and Australia. She eventually got and accepted a job offer in the UK, where she currently works as a work rider. Horse racing does not have a lot of black professionals, let alone young black women.  Before working as a work rider, Rusike was an apprentice jockey but she has since stopped doing that work. 
Rusike recalls her childhood growing up with her older brothers in her grandmother’s house after they sadly lost both their parents. A self-proclaimed tomboy, Rusike states that this trait gave her a confident and courageous outlook on life. She reinforces this when asked how people describe her.
“People always say I’m happy and I bring a smile to their face,” she says. Her optimistic attitude makes navigating the male-dominated racing world easier, she explains. She doesn’t know where the attitude comes from but she hopes it’s a trait she picked up from her mom, who passed away when she was two years old.
“Maybe if I knew my mama … she’s said to have been like (that).”
Rusike goes on to say that she also recently learned that she unconsciously picked up one of her late mom’s habits. That is, surprising her grandmother with a birthday cake. She did this last year for her grandmother’s 69th birthday and brought tears to the old lady’s eyes.
“That was the best feeling ever, that I got to do something that my mom used to do with her..”  Rusike was invited by the organiser of the OKAPI race personally after being involved in the Magnolia Cup. 
She says though she will stay on at Ralph Beckett for the time being, she is thinking about becoming an assistant trainer in the US in the near future. 
Her parting comment was that black people needed to get involved in horse racing.
“I would like to see more black people being educated about race horses.” — Agencies/The Sowetan.
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