“These are two left feet!” Nina Carberry tells the stylist at our photo shoot. This realisation comes after several futile attempts to put on the shoes to match her striking blue suit.

There is an irony to this of course as following her winning performance on this year’s Dancing with the Stars (DWTS), no one could accuse Nina Carberry of having two left feet.

I ask her what it’s been like to be part of the show and she repeats emphatically several times: “It is incredible.”

For a woman who claims: “I wanted to impress the judges with just one dance and get maybe one 10-point score along the line,” never in her dreams did she think that three 10-point scores two weeks in a row, before going on to win the glitter ball trophy just weeks later was ever a possibility.

I, however, only semi-believe her, for this lady comes from a family of competitors – granted perhaps not on a dance floor – but the ex-jockey has a winning heritage.

Not her first rodeo

Nina previously won celebrity Ireland’s Fittest Family, but she attributes that win to not being “on my own” and says that the charity gig, which saw her team win €10,000 for the Laura Lynn Foundation, was “a bit of fun”.

On that occasion, she was part of a team made up of her sister and brother-in-law, Katie and Ruby Walsh, and their brother-in-law, Killian McCarthy.

Suffice to say, she is not really on her own this time either and she recognises that with generous praise for her professional partner Pasquale La Rocca.

“To be honest, I don’t think anyone knows how bad I was at dancing at the start. To see how far I have come. I’m proud of myself and proud of Pasquale, his patience for me, he’s gotten me to this stage,” she says of the Italian dancer.

Her talent and obvious natural ability hides the fact that when first approached, Nina thought: “I don’t think this is for me. It’s too much, you know, glam and everything.” It was husband Ted (Walsh) that encouraged Nina to give it a go, suggesting that it’d be a challenge and a target to get to every week.

She started thinking: “Yeah I probably do need another challenge,” but it was far from an easy ride (pun intended), she admits.

“I kind of thought I wouldn’t have to put as much time into it but then when I realised how bad I was, I was like, ‘I’m going to have to put a bit more effort in.’”

Support at home was vital to see a result for this extra effort.

“Ted has been a big support with our two girls Rosie (four) and Holly (two). I’ve had so many babysitters along the way in the last two months. I wouldn’t be able to do it without the help and support of my family and friends.”

Buying and selling is the day job

Having ridden over 400 winners in her career, and although she “wouldn’t change it for anything”, she says that it is time for the next chapter now.

Judging this year’s Most Stylish Lady event at the Irish Grand National on Easter Monday is former jockey and Irish Grand National winner and Dancing with the Stars contestant Nina Carberry. \ Barry Cronin.

The day job, which is buying and selling horses, is a long way from the glamour of DWTS and since her retirement from race riding, Nina has been “building up a business, turning over and producing horses, breaking them and bringing them along”.

With such a successful career, I queried why she would retire?

The answer is simple: “My two girls. I always wanted a family and once I was riding I was never going to be able to see them as much as I would love to and be there for them. When you’re a jockey, you have to be 100%, 110% into it. It’s a seven-day-a-week job and it’s travelling. So now it’s time for me to move on and do something else that was more family friendly.”

Women in horseracing

Last December, English jockey Bryony Frost said that she felt isolated by her weigh room colleagues after an independent panel of the British Horseracing Authority ruled in her favour that she had been bullied and harassed by fellow rider Robbie Dunne.

In the same month, a documentary about the rise and success of jockey Rachael Blackmore gave a positive impression of strong support for females in the industry. To the casual observer, the experiences of these two talented jockeys look to be at odds, so I ask Nina about women in the horseracing industry.

Specifically on the Frost harassment case, Nina says that it was, “an unfortunate situation for Bryony, what happened to her. I can personally say it never happened to me. I’m lucky enough. Thank God, it didn’t happen to me. I’ve never come across it and I don’t think Rachael (Blackmore) has, or Katie (Walsh).”

More generally she expresses that nowadays, “people can’t get away with that [inappropriate behaviour towards women], they can’t wolf whistle anymore, things have moved on. They definitely have to have more respect for women. It’s gone in the right way but I think that’s in all our society, not just in our [horseracing] industry. So I think people are more aware of all that and hopefully it will make things better.”

In relation to equality, she believes that in the racing industry, if you’re good enough you will be given both the chance and the plaudits.

As well as having a successful spell on RTÉ’s Dancing with the Stars, Nina Carbery was part of the family that won Ireland’s Fittest Family. \ Barry Cronin

That said, she admits: “It’s a hard sport. It’s hard on the body. You’re not going to get away with it just because you’re a girl, you’re gonna get hopped off the ground just as easy as a man will and you have to take them (falls). And our bodies aren’t built like men. If you want to make it, you have to put the effort in. And if the effort isn’t in, then you don’t. And then you have to have the skill at the end of the day. There’s only a fraction of women that actually have the skill set and try as hard as they can.

“That’s why there’s only so little women in it. But the ones that succeed do very well,” she says.

Nina – despite her own positive career and experience – says that she won’t be pushing her girls to become jockeys. However, if they want to do it, she will “support them as much as I can and get them into the right yards where they learn the most”.

When speaking about supports for women in racing, as is the case with most careers, she says it’s important for women to have advocates in the sector. In the Rachael Blackmore documentary, Davy Russell advocated for Rachael, by making the call to Shark Hanlon to encourage him to give Rachael a ride.

For Nina, there were a number of supporters. “Everyone needs one person, I needed a person. My dad (Tommy Carberry) was there, Katie’s dad (Ted Walsh) was there for her and Rachael had no one so she needed someone from the outside to help her and fair dues he put his neck on the line and she went and won and never looked back,” she says.

Fitness to race versus fitness to plier

Another issue for women race riding is fitness.

“Basically with riding, you can train as much as you’d like in the gym, but you need to race to get race-fit and that’s why it’s so hard for girls to build up that fitness,” she explains.

She continues emphasising the importance of ladies’ races. “That was really important for me to get going, to show that I could get fit, show my skills and that’s what I needed starting off. That’s something that should be more elaborated on in our industry, more ladies’ races that women can build up their fitness because you can’t get the fitness unless you are riding races,” she says.

As with most sports, fitness for one does not automatically transfer to another and Nina has found that with dancing. “I’m doing it every evening for five hours after the day job. It’s been fairly relentless but my body’s kind of getting used to it now. I’ve probably never been as fit. I’ve never really been to the physio that much as a jockey and I’ve been every week with this because it puts so much strain on different parts of your body,” she says.

Glitz and glam at Fairyhouse Ladies Day

The Charleston is her favourite dance but her most memorable win on horseback? “Oh, the Irish Grand National on Organised Confusion (2011). I won it for my uncle Arthur (Moore) so that was a piece of history because my two brothers (Paul and Philip) won it as riders and my dad had ridden a winner of it and trained a winner of it. So that was brilliant to be part of the whole history.”

On Easter Monday 2022, at the same track, Fairyhouse, Nina will be taking part in the other side of the day, the glamour side, judging the best dressed. I ask what she will be looking for and her practical nature shines through.

“If it’s a rainy day I’d like practical, like practical shoes to be able to walk around all day and obviously look smart and have a bit of glitz,” she says.

And after DWTS? “Back to the horses, back to reality, back to my girls. I promised them we can go away, stay in a hotel somewhere, so I’ll have to surprise them with that.”


Head piece by Kate Betts Millinery. Blue suit made to order by Maire Forkin. Shoes (right) belonging to stylist Roxanne Parker. Pink feather hat: Aoife Harrison. Green & white floral trouser suit: Emilia Wickstead. Green loafers: Nicki Hoyne. Make up artist: Zoe Clarke. Hair: Stephen Kelly

Read more

Snake banishment? Tall tale or long story?

Meet the Mayo woman aiming to be the first Irish person in space