Jack Milner: Women jockeys are a rare enough feature in South African racing but a woman work rider who contests the appropriate races is unheard of.
So that makes 19-year-old Hannah Runnalls unique. Every morning she can be seen in action at Randjesfontein, working horses for the Mike de Kock and Mike and Adam Azzie stables. And when she can get a ride, Hannah will be in the thick of things as the horses gallop for home in work rider races.
Racing has been in her blood from the moment she was born. “My mom and dad have been in racing for my whole life so I was pretty much brought up into it. They are currently both based in Dubai.”
Hannah was born in Port Elizabeth and by the age of four she was already having riding lessons. When Hannah was seven the family left for Dubai where she continued riding, competing in dressage and show Jumping at a national level in that country.
When she was 14 Hannah told her parents she wanted to become a jockey. She received their support but they suggested she should go and ride work. So she started during a holiday back in Port Elizabeth where she got a job with Yvette Bremner.
“After that I had to go back to Dubai where I got a job with Mike de Kock. I find that quite tough because when you’re learning to ride you’re not expecting to ride horses of that calibre.
“One of the first horses I worked was called Prayer For Relief and he had run in Grade 1 races in America. Riding work is very different from showjumping. I didn’t realise how difficult it would be.”
Although the Hewitsons were family friends when she first lived in Port Elizabeth, Hannah had never really been friendly with Lyle. But that all changed later in her life when she was back in SA on holiday around three years ago. She and South Africa’s new Champion Jockey have become very close and Hannah is happy to spend her time with Lyle.
While she still enjoys the work riding and that helps her share a joint love with Lyle, Hannah’s wish to become a jockey has “faded over the years”.
“Women don’t really get a chance in South Africa but I do believe it would help women if they were given a sex allowance. Women might not have the strength of men but they do have other attributes.
“They have introduced a sex allowance in France and the UK are also thinking about introducing it.
“When I was thinking of becoming a jockey Mike de Kock said I should go to New Zealand or Australia. I had the opportunity to go to New Zealand but while I was waiting for my visa I met Lyle and I didn’t want to leave.
“Maybe I can live my dream through him.”
Hannah still wants to stay in racing as long as she can but will look at other avenues. “I would like to work with the babies and the training route is also a possibility. I will also travel with Lyle.”