By Abby Delucyk
“I was just a kid who loved horses and lived on a farm.”
Rising NSW Apprentice jockey Chelsea Hillier may be from a small rural country town, but she is making a big impact on the racing scene.
Growing up in rural Barraba, Hillier has been surrounded by horses her whole life.
“We have always had horses growing up as Dad is a jockey and mum loves to ride.”
Although Chelsea was an active member of Barraba Pony Club, she never competed in any specific discipline and simply enjoyed riding and being around horses.
Her passion for horses was forced to sit on the backburner as her family relocated to Glen Innes and went on to attend Fairholme College boarding school in Toowoomba.
It wasn’t until Chelsea finished school that she could invest her time into racing. Reuniting with her passion, Chelsea stayed in Queensland where she started on the ground with trainer Brian Smith.
Although Chelsea enjoyed this experience, she had a burning desire to learn to ride trackwork and decided to move back home to Glenn Innes to ignite this dream.
She picked up where she left off and started riding trackwork for local trainer Paddy Cunningham. It was here that Chelsea put in the hours to learn the ins and outs of riding.
“It was since riding trackwork that I always had in the back of my mind to become a jockey. I always was that little bit too heavy so I resigned to the fact I could never be a jockey,” Chelsea said.
Chelsea was on a roll with her riding practice before this came to an abrupt holt after she sustained a bad injury from a routine morning ride on a Coffs Harbour beach. This saw Chelsea sidelined for 12 months.
With this forced time off, Chelsea decided to relocate to Sydney. When covid hit, Hillier used this time to strip some weight and become a jockey for popular trainer, Mark Newnham.
“The weight aspect is really challenging part for me as I am not naturally a lightweight and need to stay on top of this. The mental side of being a jockey is also a challenge as you have to remember to stay true to yourself,” Chelsea said.
As the weight stayed off, Chelsea has continued to excel in her riding career and has since moved to Scone to ride on behalf of Rod Northam. A career highlight for Hillier was when she scored at Treble in front of a home crowd at Deepwater earlier this year.
“This was a pretty big achievement for myself considering I was so heavy and just the journey I took to get here. I really look up to Craig Williams as an inspiration for riding but also as the person he is. He really gives back to the sport, and I admire his kindness,” Chelsea said.
Paying tribute to her families’ support, Hillier mentions “I have been bought up in a way that nothing is easy, and you have to work hard for what you want. I would love to be able to ride in Sydney one day and just be the best rider I can be.”
With hard work being ingrained in Hillier’s DNA, it’s no surprise that she is an apprentice to watch this season.