Book Review: Riding for Freedom
A champion jockey won some of the world’s biggest races. But away from the track, he was racing for his life.
By Eurico Rosa da Silva
Self-published, 2020, Non-fiction. 176 pages. Hardcover
Reviewed by Tania Millen
Horse lovers enthralled by the moneyed world of Thoroughbred racing will be fascinated by Eurico Rosa da Silva’s account of how he transformed from a poor Brazilian boy into a world-class jockey, earning over US$150 million in prize money and Canada’s annual Sovereign Award for Outstanding Jockey seven times.
But Riding for Freedom isn’t just the rags-to-riches tale of a talented rider. In his memoir, da Silva shares how he grappled with incessant demons — debilitating asthma, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, anger, worthlessness, gambling, and sexual compulsions — throughout his storied career. One moment he was winning Canada’s $1 million Queen’s Plate race at Woodbine Racetrack in Ontario for the second time, the next moment he was berating himself for being worthless and succumbing to his demons.
Fast-moving and easy to read, this book details how a teenaged boy with no horse experience left his ultra-religious mother and abusive father to become Brazil’s top apprentice jockey at age 17. Well-liked by his peers and known for easy-going generosity and skilled riding, he hid his negativity and self-doubt from all.
Da Silva says, “When I was with the horses, the pain of not being good enough went away.” He recounts how talking to multi-million dollar racehorses was his therapy, saying, “If I don’t feel good, I talk to the horse. He became my psychologist.”
But horses didn’t permanently banish da Silva’s demons, and he eventually broke down and asked for professional help to win his internal battles. After a few false starts, da Silva recounts the difficult mental, emotional, and physical work that eventually set him free, and allowed him to retire with his mental health intact, in 2019.
By detailing the unlikely life of a poor boy from an obscure town in Brazil, who overcomes significant emotional challenges to become a champion professional rider in the affluent world of Thoroughbred racing, da Silva provides a path for others to follow. Perhaps just as importantly, by sharing the behind-the-scenes reality of his life, da Silva unveils some of the darkness surrounding mental health in the wealthy equestrian world, and in doing so becomes an advocate for maintaining healthy congruency between our internal and external lives — something that horses and riders intuitively understand.
Ultimately, Riding for Freedom is a beautifully produced book which captures da Silva’s raw struggles and victorious career in riveting detail, and illustrates how he eventually finds freedom.