THE PASSING of Shaffick "Gigs" Mohammed, former tutor at the T&T Jockeys School in Marabella, came as a shock to most of his students. Mohammed, 67, died in New York, USA this week. His body is being flown to Trinidad for the funeral service next Monday.
Mohammed had a hand in moulding most of this country's top riders, including Emile Ramsammy, Rajpaul Rajkumar, Brian Harding, Ranjit Kissoon, Ricky Jadoo, Haniff Emamalie, Vaughn Charles and Lalchan Ramanoop.
Eleven-time champion rider, Harding offered his condolences to Mohammed's family.
"He will be sadly missed. He was one of a kind. We cannot thank him for what he did for us. He made us jockeys, and not only jockeys, but proud young men who learnt what punctuality meant, what discipline meant, and how important it is to be well mannered, and well groomed.
"These are the assets of life he left us with," Harding continued. "He was a very strict person, and some of his students left the school because they could not handle his form of discipline, but as we progressed in life we realised how his discipline helped us with out diet, what manners meant among owners and trainers, and how being well groomed and dressed made us gain respect from owners, trainers and patrons.
"Some of us saw his discipline as punishment, but as you grew older you realised it was not punishment, but making you a better person. If you did something wrong he will make you cut three or four bundles of grass for the horses we were looking after, and that was his form of discipline.
"There is so much he taught us," said Harding. "For example, he will go out on horses with us. Sometimes he laughed if a horse is giving us trouble, but he will show us what to do.
"At no time could I remember him getting sick, or not coming to the school. He was always very busy, and if you had to be in school by five a.m. and he did not see you, he will come looking for you. He will also motivate you if you weren't feeling well."
Emamalie, former president of the Racehorse Jockeys Association, paid tribute to Mohammed.
"He had his own method. It was not a school where you came out with a degree, but we got something better. He moulded young minds into young men. He was very strict, and if he wasn't, we would not have made it as riders.
"The strictness and harshness weren't a piece of cake. He will tell you who could make it and who could not. It had this time I packed my bag to leave, and the other boys told me to stick it out. In our time we did not have the kind of freedom that riders nowadays have. We had things to do, and it made us riders.
"Since the school closed to now," Emamalie continued, "you cannot tell me where some of the champion jockeys of this era are. Probably they are not around because they do not have any guidance and the discipline that is needed. From our time, Emile went to Canada, Brian to Jamaica, and most of us from that era dominated the sport."
Emamalie spoke highly of Mohammed as a teacher.
"He will go out on horses with us, and taught us the basics from the ground, but you get the feeling on your own, from your hands. The discipline and drive, he put that into us. In our days it was strict dress code—shoes and soft pants with shirt in your pants and some of us wore ties. In our days, he told us, 'if you are not a good rider, dress and look like one'. If you watch Brian, Emile, Ricky, they still dress properly. Even Raymond La Guerre, tutor of the Jockeys School, still has his shirt in his pants.
"He (Mohammed) was harsh," Emamalie continued, "and will give you 10 or 12 bundles of grass to cut, but it was discipline, and not punishment. One Carnival day, Emile, Brian, Ranjit and Jewan and myself all ended up in the Riding School reminiscing 'gigs' and on the old days. He was never bad."
Mohammed rode alongside Venice Richards, Chally Jones, and the late Dalton Lutchman, Francis Hasranah and Eric Sudama. His favourite horses were Vienna Woods, Top Hat, Bonaventure and Outward Bound.
After leaving the riding school, Mohammed migrated to the United Sates and worked as an assistant to leading New York-based trainer Allan Jerkins. He returned to Trinidad and Tobago in 2004 and was reinstated as the tutor at Santa Rosa Park, Arima for a short period. He then returned to the USA, where he died.
Mohammed is survived by his children Dr Perry Mohammed and Dana Mohammed, and his wife Denise Mohammed.