S’manga Khumalo made history this year as the first black jockey to win the Vodacom Durban July. We find out more about his career on horseback

Where did it all start for you?

Well, I grew up in Durban, KZN and I attended Mzuvela High School right up till the moment that a gentleman came to our school and I was scouted to attend the horse-riding academy. I had no prior experience so I think he just assumed that because of my small body, I would be a good horseman. 

S’manga Khumalo made history this year as the first black jockey to win the Vodacom Durban July. We find out more about his career on horseback Where did it all start

Did you have any idea what you were getting yourself into?

As a boy from KwaMashu, I didn’t know anything about horse-riding but I wanted to give it a shot. The first few months of training had me very nervous but soon I knew how to handle and treat a horse. I received a lot of training at the academy and that learning doesn’t stop – even today I’m still learning about horses and horse-riding.  

You trained in Zimbabwe; what did you learn there?

In South Africa horse-racing is very competitive and I knew that I had to up my game and that’s why I took an apprenticeship opportunity in Zimbabwe. My stint there increased my confidence as a horseman and taught me how to be a professional.

Do you love what you do?

Every single moment! I love spending time around horses. I consider myself very lucky to have gotten this amazing opportunity. Most of my peers don’t know anything about horses and for me to be here is just incredible.

In 2006 you turned professional – what brought about this move?

We were required to stay at the academy for six years as part of the training. During that time we were taught how to be professional and stand on your own as a horseman. By the end of my time at the academy I knew what I wanted to do, and that was to make a name for myself as a jockey!

You won the Sansui Summer Cup in November 2012 – how did this win change your life?

That moment changed my life in a very personal way. When I won I finally knew that I had what it took to win any competition, but I also realised at the same time that it takes hard work, dedication and discipline.

Horse-riding has always been a sport for the white upper class. Has this changed at all since you have been part of the sport?

In the past black people kept away from the sport so I hope my presence will make some changes. Before someone can be part of a sport they need to love the sport and be inspired by someone they can relate to.

What does being the first black jockey to win the Vodacom Durban July mean to you?

When I was first introduced to the sport, I made a goal to win the July and to have accomplished that goal in my Durban July debut was an amazing and overwhelming feeling. Especially considering that in the past it took most people about 10 years to win the Durban July. 

Why do you feel it has taken so long for black jockeys to be part of the 117-year-old Durban July?

I think one reason could be that in the past black people were not given the chance to be part of the sport. But when I was at the academy, we were seven black people and we all had different goals. Ultimately we have to know that this is a competition and to be scouted you have to win more races. You have to be the best.

What advice did you get early on that you could give to those wanting to get in the sport?

This is a very hard sport, one that needs a lot of hard work and discipline. I’d advise anyone considering it to not give up. I would also encourage youngsters to get involved in a number of sporting disciplines and if you feel one is not for you that’s when you can move on and try other things because sometimes its not a matter of talent or skills but more passion and dedication.

How did the nickname “Bling” come about?

I think it’s because of my earrings. In the past horsemen were not allowed to wear earrings. This is my style; I just like to stand out.

What do you do to relax?

The moments are few and far between to be honest because I’m always horseracing, seven days a week! But when I have a break I spend time with my family. 

Who has been your biggest motivation to date?

I get inspiration from many experienced jockeys who came before me and won many races.