There are many tried and tested routes into racing for a jockey, but a chance meeting while house-sitting a friend’s cat is not among them – unless your name is Kaia Ingolfsland.
A keen handball player throughout her youth, a career in sport was always going to be likely for the 23-year-old Norwegian-born rider, though working with horses may not have been top of the list.
No stranger to being around horses having taken riding lessons in her younger days, it was not until getting into conversation while taking a break from her feline duties in 2015 that Ingolfsland took the first tentative steps into pursuing a career as a jockey.
She said: “I played handball a lot when I was younger and I wanted to play it professionally, but I was a bit short and that was my problem.
“A friend of mine lives next to Ovrevoll racecourse in Norway, she was going on holiday and asked me to look after her cat for two weeks, and said I could stay in her house.
“One Wednesday there was a lunchtime meeting there and I just walked over to take a look, this guy came up to me and said ‘do you ride?’. I said I did when I was younger.
“He said ‘you would be the perfect size for a jockey’ so he introduced me to trainer Hallvard Soma, who offered me the chance to ride out and it just went from there.”
Though happy with the decision she made to pursue a career in racing, Ingolfsland’s path could have taken a different shape altogether after a spell in the military.
She added: “It was the best and worst year of my life as it was really hard, but it was such a good experience.
“There was a part of me that did want to stay in the military, but I didn’t want to be in the office and because of my size it was thought it would be hard for me out in the field. But then the horses came along and I found my perfect job.”
Since taking out an amateur licence in 2017, Ingolfsland, who is the middle child of three, has seen her stock continue to rise – culminating in claiming last year’s Scandinavian apprentice jockeys’ title.
She said: “I did dream about it, but I never thought it would happen so fast. I had so many nice trainers giving me nice horses – that was really cool.
“There are not as many apprentices out there as in England so it was easier getting rides, but hard to get the good ones.
“It did surprise me being crowned champion apprentice as there were a couple of others that were really good, so that was cool to finish ahead of them and I won it by about 10 or 12 winners.”
Travelling the globe has been a theme for Ingolfsland to date, having spent brief spells riding in Dubai and New Zealand – but her latest move to England to join forces with Sir Mark Prescott is one she hopes to make more permanent.
She said: “I went to Dubai this winter again, but I knew I needed a new challenge when I got back.
“In Scandinavia, when you get 70 winners you become a professional, so I only had 10 more winners to go and I thought that was too soon as I’ve only been an apprentice for two years.
“I sent an email to Sir Mark, he replied and said I could come for a week, so I did in February and ended up really liking it.
“After that week, I texted saying I would love to come back, he said that he would sort things out for me and I arrived the week before lockdown.
“I hope I’m here for a long time, I want to see how good I can be.”
Of her link-up with the Newmarket baronet, she went on: “After that week, I thought being with Sir Mark would be the perfect place to work. You can say things about the horses to him and he will listen to your thoughts.
“He knows everything about his horses and is great to talk to and so is his assistant, William Butler, who has also been a big help to me.”
Although she was denied her first winner aboard the Prescott-trained Kodiac Pride when disqualified in an apprentice contest at Salisbury after losing her weight cloth late on, Ingolfsland is confident she can soon get on the score sheet.
She said: “These things happen, you can’t do anything about it now – you just have to keep on going. On the way home my head was exploding, but I just tried to keep calm.
“I think the reason Sir Mark put me up on the horse was to try to give me a winner so other people could see me. However, I’ve had a few rides now and I’ve also had my first outside ride for Stuart Williams which was good.”
With opportunities for female riders increasing in Britain in recent seasons, Ingolfsland hopes she can take full advantage by following the examples set by the likes of Hayley Turner and Hollie Doyle.
She added: “Josephine Gordon has helped me a lot in the weighing room, while I met Hollie Doyle once at Kempton and she was nice, as was Nicola Currie.
“One of my main aims is to lose the claim and hopefully next year that will happen. I want to use this year as a learning one, then kick on next year.
“Racing has been more male dominated, but now more females are getting up there, which is good, and hopefully I can be the next one.”