Kobeli Lihaba, also known as James, is a rising star in the world of horse racing. He is currently completing his second-year apprenticeship at the South African Jockey Academy, where he is pursuing his dream of becoming a professional jockey.
Growing up in a rural part of Harrismith in the Free State with his grandmother, James had a tough childhood without the presence of his parents. However, he found a father figure in Mr Stoffel, who taught him how to ride a horse and treated him like one of his own sons. “It was through Mr Stoffel that I developed a love for animals and discovered my passion for horse racing,” he said.
Kobeli attended Seotlong Agriculture School, and in 2020 participated in bush racing where he made a success with 32 winners under his belt. This success fuelled his desire to become a professional jockey. “I know from a young age that I wanted to become a professional jockey to make a better life for myself and support my family. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but it is a journey I am willing to travel to achieve my dreams,” Kobeli said. He looks up to S’manga Bling Khumalo, a famous South African jockey who has achieved great success in the sport.
Despite initially not being accepted into the South African Jockey Academy due to his weight, Kobeli did not give up on his dreams. He applied to become a Work Rider and worked diligently at managing his weight until he met the entrance criteria to become an apprentice at the academy. He is now pursuing his passion for horse racing and is determined to make his family and community proud.
Kobeli believes that many young people in his community are involved in drugs and smoking and lack direction in their lives. “With so much going on in my community, I hope to inspire others to never give up on their dreams and to keep pushing until they achieve their goals,” he said.
Kobeli is grateful for the support he has received from his grandparents, and Mr Stoffel, who have encouraged him every step of the way. He is also thankful for the bursary he has received from the Hollywood Foundation. “Thank you for the bursary, Hollywood Foundation. This bursary has helped me to get closer to achieving my dreams. “
In the world of horse racing, hard work and passion are essential, and Kobeli has both in abundance. With his determination and dedication, he is sure to achieve great success in the years to come.