Five mornings a week, the 22-year-old drives between 25 minutes to an hour each way to work horses at Evangeline Downs or one of the two big training centers near Lafayette, La. Four nights a week she retraces the 45 minutes (an hour with traffic) to Evangeline Downs to ride races.
On Mondays and Tuesdays she teaches barrel-racing lessons. Some Sundays she competes in rodeos.
And seven days a week she’s a new mom, having given birth to son Bentley Kofalt on March 14.
“I know how dangerous it is,” Broussard said of being a jockey. “I guess that mothering instinct kind of kicks in real strong when you’re pregnant and you have them. Then you realize you also have to make money to support your kid. That’s it. I mean, one of things I’m best at is riding racehorses.
“Do I go and struggle and work 12 hours a day for minimum wage? Or do I go back on the racetrack and do both: be a good mom and make a lot and doing something that I love?”
Broussard said she loves “every second” of being a mother, adding, “I never pictured myself with a kid, ever. Now I can’t picture myself any other way. … But it’s a lot. You really don’t have time for a break, kind of like working three jobs now.”
The Courier-Journal began following Broussard before she rode her first race June 28, 2013, at Churchill Downs, using the aspiring rider to show what is involved in becoming a jockey and trying to get established.
Broussard won her first race at Ellis Park on Aug. 16, 2013 and then had a big winter as the Fair Grounds’ winningest apprentice. She moved her tack to Penn National near Hershey, Pa., to try to maximize her mounts and wins while she still had the apprentice weight allowances. Those permit an apprentice’s mount to carry between five and 10 pounds fewer than otherwise required, a concession designed to encourage horsemen to use inexperienced riders.
Broussard, who turns 23 in August, ranked among Penn National’s leading riders when she became pregnant. She says she became extremely ill during the earliest days, unable to keep food down and even passing out, forcing her to quit riding before she might have otherwise.
A friend drove the jockey home to Louisiana, where Broussard got a job booking tee times at a golf course before going to New Orleans to walk horses at the Fair Grounds. That’s where then-boyfriend Cory Kofalt, Bentley’s father, was an assistant trainer.
“I went from making a lot of money to barely anything,” said Broussard, adding of learning she was pregnant, “I was pretty distressed at the beginning, I’m not going to lie. That definitely wasn’t what I wanted at the time. But then I got to thinking that I never got hurt, knock on wood. I never got into anything bad. So I think I came out pretty lucky.”
She returned to her hometown of Youngsville, La., a month before her due date, bought a trailer home that she set up on her parents’ farm and had Bentley. While Kofalt and she are no longer together, Broussard said he regularly visits their son.
Broussard didn’t plan to return to the racetrack. Then she needed a job.
She worked a horse sale for trainer Ricky Courville, who had provided her first job at the track. Courville had an opening for an exercise rider.
“Ten days after Bentley was born, if you’d asked, I’d have sworn I’d never ride a race again,” Broussard said. “I got back on that first racehorse and started galloping, and then they let me work one the next week. Then the next day I was on two, and by the end of the week I was on six already — and I never got sore.”
Having reached a high of 137 pounds while pregnant, the 4-foot-11 Broussard now weighs 95 — four fewer than when she started riding two years ago.
Certainly female jockeys have had babies and resumed their careers, prominent examples being Rosemary Homeister and Patti Cooksey. But Broussard provided a first for the Kentucky stewards in requesting the restoration of the five months left on her apprenticeship when she quit riding July 22, 2014.
Apprentices get weight allowances for one year after their fifth victory, with extensions possible if a jockey can’t ride for a certain period of time.
“Our rule book allows for an extension to be granted for a medical reason or for military service,” said chief state steward Barbara Borden. “We were kind of looking at each other like, ‘Oh my, this is something different from the ordinary.’ … (But) it made sense that she couldn’t ride while she was pregnant, and it made sense to grant the extension.”
Broussard said the Louisiana stewards weren’t sure they would allow an extension but recommended she contact Kentucky officials, since they issued her original apprentice license.
On May 17, the Kentucky stewards granted a 159-day extension, to begin on the day Broussard resumed riding. That was June 3. She won her first race two days after her return.
When Courville first heard Broussard was pregnant, the jockey’s first racetrack mentor admits thinking she’d “ruined her career.”
“But evidently it’s kicking back on,” he said. “She’s got a knack. Horses run for her. Everybody likes her, and she’s a worker.”
Broussard has won 18 races, putting her 11th in the Evangeline standings in spite of missing the first two months of the meet.
“She’s even better now,” said trainer Howard “Tucker” Alonzo, who had used Broussard as a jockey at the Fair Grounds. “She always was good on a frontrunner back then, but she knows where she is in a race right now.”
Broussard says she gets home from working horses around 10 a.m., takes care of Bentley and then tries “to get in a little 30-minute nap if possible. Usually it’s not.” She leaves about 1 p.m. on race days to head to Evangeline Downs.
Bentley is not allowed in the jockeys’ room but often goes to the track with Ashley’s friends or her parents, Charolette and Clarence Broussard. Otherwise he stays home with a sitter, including an uncle who lives close by and watches the baby in the mornings.
Without family, “it would definitely be difficult,” Broussard said. “I have a lot of support, a lot of friends who are there all the time. … Bentley is a very good baby, but there are nights where I don’t really get to sleep. But mother instincts, you push through it all.”
Charolette Broussard said she initially felt disappointment that Ashley would be a single mom, given the additional burdens that promised. On the bright side, she thought Ashley would do something else, maybe go to college — “which is what I pushed for all along,” she said.
However, she also wanted Ashley to be happy. So now that her daughter is back riding and doing well — and the Broussards have a second grandchild, joining their son’s 6-year-old — Charolette said, “It’s great. We’ll be there if she needs us, as a grandparent and a mother.”