Meet The Urban Jockey

Images provided by Nyrae Lawrence (@norah_shoots)

Nicknamed the Urban Jockey, Kanane Francis is looking to make his mark on the racing world. The 20-year-old trainee jockey had no interest in racing growing up in Leicester. He only fell in love with the sport after contacting a social enterprise that looks to provide a route into the equine world for inner-city children.

We spoke to Kanane about his journey into racing so far and about why he thinks more needs to be done to encourage the black, Asian and minority ethnic people to become involved in racing.

“It’s crazy really. I grew up never knowing about horse racing or even knowing anyone involved in the sport. I had never been with horses or even owned a horse until I began this journey.

Originally, I wanted to be a vet and I was trying to go down the Animal Care route but it didn’t really work out for me as most surgeries weren’t looking for newcomers or wanting people purely there for work experience.”

Despite the door being shut on him by several local vets, Kanane was unwavering. He began looking for other ways to get first-hand experience with animals. As he explains, “I was just sitting at home scrolling through Facebook and one of my brother’s friends (called Fr33dom) from school had started a riding centre for kids called The Urban Equestrian Academy. I thought ‘Oh, that’d be a good thing to put on my CV because I’ll be around animals, and I’ve never actually dealt with horses so that’ll be good too.’

“I messaged Fr33dom and he told me to come through and see if I liked it. I went down there the next day and fell in love with it. I just love being around animals, I feel like I have a better connection with animals. I enjoyed myself so much there and so I stuck at it and volunteered there for about a month.“

The Urban Equestrian Academy (UEA) aims to open the door to equestrianism for inner-city children, faith groups, and specific communities. UEA provides those who wouldn’t usually have a pathway into that world with access to horses and a route into careers working with them.

Kanane’s first time on a horse came at UEA, an experience he remembers for all the wrong reasons.

“They put me on a horse in the outside school initially, it was the first time I had ever ridden one. I was absolutely atrocious, I don’t think I ever want to watch that back! So they took me into a more enclosed area instead and gave me a chance to get a feel for it properly myself.

“They put me in this field and, as I love speed, I ended up galloping this horse up and down without even knowing. I didn’t realise how quick I must’ve been going. Fr33dom looked at me and said, “I’ve never seen anyone manage to gallop that horse, you must have some natural ability.

“Fr33dom then suggested that I should look into the British Racing School at Newmarket, so I did, and thought it was another thing that I could be doing. It would look good on my CV and something might come of it. So I was sent to the racing school and now the entire industry has been opened up to me.”

Kanane, now working at Newmarket for trainer Mick Appleby, credits The Urban Equestrian Academy for everything and believes it is enterprises like the one he was involved in that will encourage BAME children all over the country into the sport.

“I don’t think racing does enough to encourage ethnic minorities into the racing world. When I was a kid I never thought about being a jockey or anything like that, I never even thought about riding horses generally. None of my friends thought about riding horses, nor did my parents when they were younger. There isn’t really a big audience and community for racing when there could be, it’s just in its own bubble.

“The Urban Equestrian Academy is targeting the inner-city children and opening them up to new experiences successfully so maybe putting things in city centres where kids can see horses and try sitting on them could help that too. Then they might go home and say ‘Mum, I want to go and ride another horse’ and then their passion grows from there.

“I always think to myself, ‘If I never went to The Urban Equestrian Academy then I never would be where I am right now.’”

At The Races recently broadcasted a feature called ‘The Uncomfortable Race’ where presenter Josh Apiafi discussed the lack of diversity and inclusion in racing with Kanane and three other young men from ethnic minority backgrounds. The show was well-received and highlighted how racing is missing out on a wider audience by failing to encourage people from different backgrounds to venture into the sport.

Speaking about the show, Kanane said, “It’s things like that which could really help, movements that little bit by little bit tackle the issue and shows that there still is one, and hopefully soon things will change.

“At the end of the day, black people have never had that great of an opportunity to get into racing anyway, and so there’s more of a pressure on other black young people like me, which isn’t fair.“

Currently, Kanane is trying to get his amateur licence, then he aims to ride a few races on the flat before going after his conditional licence and over the jumps. Once he has race winners to his name Kanane believes he will be in a position where he can inspire a new generation of riders.

You can follow Kanane’s journey on Instagram (@the_urban_jockey) and find out more about The Urban Equestrian Academy here (http://www.urbanequestrian.co.uk/).