Jockey Janna Sorrells takes on highs, lows of life in the saddle
"After that I was hooked," she said.
Working as a vet tech, Sorrells began making trips to Santa Anita, meeting people, grooming and walking horses. She also went to the Burbank Equestrian Center for a period of time, cleaning horse stalls. It was the beginnings of a career around horses.
Sorrells appears nervous and goes to lay down on a bed in the women's jockey quarters. Sorrells shares the facility with the only other female jockey at Yavapai Downs, veteran rider Anna Barrio. Since her accidents the previous weekend, she has been feeling tired a lot of the time.
Sorrells goes against the grain when it comes to becoming a jockey. Most are born into the trade, knowing at a young age they will be jockeys and planning to ride competitively for years if not decades to come. But Sorrells didn't get started until around age 28, learning to gallop only two years earlier.
Breaking into the business is hard enough, but there are a few more challenges for female jockeys.
"It's a man's sport. It's hard to get started because you're a girl," Sorrells said. "You ride whatever, whenever you can and don't complain. Then it can be hard to get out of it."
After breaking in, many female riders have to endure nasty little comments from certain owners or trainers, along with certain expectations.
"You'll run second on a horse and they'll say 'if you were a guy, we would've won,'" Sorrells said. "I've also been taken off horses because I wouldn't go out to dinner."
Sorrells said it's not a necessity to have brute strength to ride competitively. She admits men physically have more strength, but not all horses respond well to male riders.
"The guys are stronger, but there are horses for every rider," she said, adding that some horses respond better to finesse.
Sorrells is one of two female jockeys at Yavapai Downs and was one of three this past season at Turf Paradise in Phoenix.
Sorrells emerges from the jockey's quarters for a quick smoke and begins to stretch out. Then it's back inside to get dressed. Ten minutes later, she's back out wearing the green colors of the No. 5 horse, Slick Dude. It's 15 minutes until post time.
While working at Yavapai Downs, Sorrells stays in Chino Valley most of the time. Her home base is in Phoenix but she travels all over the West year-round to ride. Besides Turf Paradise and Yavapai Downs, Sorrells has competed in California, including Santa Anita, as well as Colorado, Minnesota and Washington.
The scariest moment of her career occurred this past January at Turf Paradise. Riding in a 1 1/16-mile trial race, her horse went down with fatal injuries.