Money & Career

How the reality TV star and model got into horse racing

With over $45 million in winnings, Chantal Sutherland not only is one of the world's highest-paid jockeys, she's breaking new ground for women

Chantal Sutherland in jockey helmet

Kamran Jebreili/CP Images

Occupation: Jockey, model and actress
Age: 36
Hometown: Born in Winnipeg, raised in Caledon, Ontario; lives in southern California
Education: BA in communications and psychology, York University

Q: That photo shot by Bo Derek for Vanity Fair of you nude on a horse — what’s the story behind it?
A: Bo and I are really good friends, and Bo suggested it. She wanted to show the world who I am, the uniqueness of my job and the strength of my body.

Q: It is true that the strongest part of your entire body is your big toe?
A: Yeah, I think so. I read 1,500 horses a year and the tops of your toes are holding onto the horse in the stirrup, and you’re balancing on that. I think I could knock someone out with my big toe!

Q: This spring, you were the first woman to ride in the Dubai World Cup. How did that come about?
A: It was a great privilege to be able to ride in a $10-million World Cup race. The owners chose to take [their horse] Game On Dude to Dubai, and I’ve had a lot of success with him, so it was natural I would ride him.

Q: Why are there so few female jockeys?
A: I have no idea. We represent 1 percent of the rider population. It’s a very time-consuming job and very demanding physically. Still, there are a lot of amazing female athletes out there. And there are lots of women show riders. For some reason women don’t go into thoroughbred racing.

Q: How did you get into riding horses?
A: I was practically born on a horse. I grew up on a farm and started riding when I was four. I was show jumping as a kid. My dad was into thoroughbreds, and I would go to the track with him. When I was 13, I said to him, “Can girls be jockeys?” He said, “No, they can’t be jockeys.” He just didn’t want me to do it. Sometimes jockeys would come to our house to swim in our pool, and I asked one of them if I could be a jockey, and he told me I could do whatever I wanted.

Q: So you knew early on you wanted to be a jockey?
A: Yes, and I wanted to get to the top. So I researched who I needed to learn from, and to me it was [Puerto Rican jockey] Angel Cordero Jr. I cold-called him and he ended up teaching me the technique of racing.

Q: How does a purse get divided after a race?
A: The winner usually takes 60 percent of the prize money, and the runners-up get decreasing percentages of the remainder. The winning horse’s owner gets 40 percent, the jockey 10 percent and the trainer 10 also.

Q: What are the toughest parts of this sport?
A: You have to keep your weight down, and you have to be very strong, which means constantly working out. It’s not easy to ride a 1,200-pound animal. You not only need good balance, you need good timing and overall strength. It looks easy, because we make it look easy, but I’ve seen people get on a fake horse to try to ride it, and their knees buckle within 30 seconds.

Q: What’s the best part of your job?
A: Winning, and when horses want to run for you. They have love in their hearts you can feel. People don’t realize that thoroughbreds are born to run.