Bonginkosi Nkosi: Jockey Mpumelelo Mjoka has just recovered from a knee injury and now has been set back again by the national lockdown.
Jockeys are accustomed to seven days a week of early morning track work, which are sometimes coupled with race riding. As a result, remaining stagnant takes quite a lot of adjustment.
So, it is no surprise that the national lockdown, now approaching the end its second week, may cause withdrawal systems in people who are so physically active.
Mpumelelo Mjoka has found this enforced break a bitter pill to swallow. Following a knee injury that sidelined him for months, he had a very slow return to competitive riding and only now feels he is back to peak fitness.
“What I can say is that setback has prepared me for this moment to some extent,” he revealed.
“It made me realise, with the help of my doctor, that fitness is not just about the body. You need to be mentally fit as well. The brain is a muscle too.
“Don’t get me wrong, you need to be physically fit but there was research done on a rugby player who was injured and it’s very interesting.
“He went through mental training during his time off and came back better. This worked for me during my knee injury too because I couldn’t move, but I always saw myself in a race and prepared myself mentally.
“That does a lot more than you’d think, for your mind.”
Shaking the habit of early morning work riding on the other hand didn’t come so easy. “For a week or so I really did not know what to do with myself,” he admitted.
“I just couldn’t switch off. It hasn’t been easy but I get to be home with my girlfriend so I look at it as a sporting holiday. There is essentially nothing you can do but follow government’s rules at the moment.
“We have to stay indoors for the safety of the country and all those around us.”
Under the Animal Care Act, jockeys can work horses but they will need documentation to travel to the tracks and back.
The 23-year-old confirmed the Racing Association has sent a message out to jockeys making them aware of this so he will be looking to get those papers sorted and get back in the saddle.
“The scary thing is that if you watch the news, case numbers of people infected rises everyday,” said a wary Mjoka.
“But I believe we will survive this pandemic. We’ve survived Ebola and a host of others so I’m confident.”
One may wonder how a jockey, who is used to working horses at 5am every morning, goes about his day during these trying COVID-19 times.
“I miss riding. I have gone from spring cleaning to watching movies and just spending time with family. Nothing else.
“I can’t even work out in my apartment so I will be looking forward to getting those documents sorted with the Racing Association so I can possibly ride work.”
Nobody knows how the remaining season will be structured or if certain feature races will be contested, but Mjoka still has his goals set.
“The short-term goal is to get back to best, regain the trust of trainers and ride as many winners as possible.”