Run Away, Join the Circus

The days now are an odd configuration: get up at the crack of dawn (which is nice – out here on the eastern edges of the time zone, the sun is up so early that I’d be angry if I were actually trying to get sleep) head in to Queens with Cory, work for a few hours, and then head back to Long Island for a nice nap. The nap is necessary because there is no question of going to bed at eight o’clock, the only way it would be possible to get enough sleep. But it does split up the day into two pieces in a way that has made it difficult to blog.

For one thing, I can’t remember, after I’ve woken up groggy and confused, in the midday, what on earth I composed while I was out on the racetrack. It’s like writing down a dream – if you don’t keep a notebook by your bedside, and force yourself to scrawl it down the moment that you wake, it’s lost forever.

Riding in from the track, second morning. I should have a knot in my reins.

It’s just a question of finding routine. In the meantime, I’m learning, learning, learning.

At the different training centers I worked at, every farm had a slightly different routine – one, somewhat hilariously, had us tack and mount the yearlings alone in the stall, without a groom’s assistance – and I don’t know if things are more or less regimented at the racetrack, or how identical routines are. But I can tell you that in general, a rider shows up ready to ride, a groom presents a tacked horse, and a trainer gives a leg-up. When the rider comes back in, they ride into the stall, a groom takes the horse’s head, and the rider hops off, strips the saddle and bridle, and walks out. Done. All the rest: the bath, the long cooling walk, rinsing the shedrow dirt off the legs – in theory that belongs to the groom and the hotwalker. 

Of course, from what I’ve seen, everyone seems to pitch in to get the job done. Much more so than at the training centers, where we literally tacked up, rode, untacked, and walked away. There was no question of our bathing or hotwalking. That was someone else’s problem. So you see, there are subtle differences.

There is a week left of the Belmont meet, and before the races disappear to Saratoga for the rest of the summer, we’ve been spending our afternoons at the other “city” track, just outside the borough of Queens, in Long Island. We watch the processes in the paddock, everything from walking the horses before they are saddled, to the way the jockeys get a leg-up onto the horses while they’re still in motion.

Things we noticed before, but never really paid attention to – because we never expected to be doing them ourselves. We’ve run away and joined the circus. I had a friend who did that – she left upper-class, Big House, country squire life in the Cotswolds and ended up with a career as an elephant trainer. She claimed it was because she wasn’t allowed to play with the servants’ children. I can make no such claim. We did it because it seemed like the right thing to do. So far – still does.



Filed under racetrack life

12 responses to “Run Away, Join the Circus

  1. Damn, you’re my hero. I’m afraid if I don’t do the equivalent of “run off and join the circus” I’m gonna end up in a bad place. I always say one day, one day…then one day came and I woke up and I was 31:) Really, I love what you’re doing, and I love that you let us into that world, however dreamlike it may be:)

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Isn’t it proof that anyone can join the circus? I’m 29, I’m married, I’m a mom, but seriously, I’m no housewife, and I wasn’t made for the suburbs. Or the countryside, apparently. We’ll chase this for as long as it lasts, and I’ll keep sharing it with you!

  2. Barb

    you make me miss the backside! Before I got Vince, I considered going to CD to walk horses on the weekends. Part of my retirement plan has always included joining the circus, guessing heights and weights, with a side of riding the elephants!

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Hahaha, I have to say I never aspired to joining the circus! But the racetrack – that has been my goal since I was… Five years old?

  3. I don’t think I could do it. Just not a morning person. 😉

    Hey, I could use any advice you might have–one of my friends from Boston has suddenly decided to take up galloping at Suffolk. She got her license and is riding her first horse Thursday (and if she got the name right he’s a maiden five-year-old with two starts, one at Delaware and one at Penn, didn’t show much. I don’t even know if he’s with the same trainer at Suffolk.) AFAIK, she has never galloped racehorses in a serious capacity (I think her riding horse is a TB, fwiw.) I cannot tell from her facebook posts on the subject about being a speed junkie and saying they tell her after the test ride is when she’ll get put on the wild ones if she’s joking, or if she does not get that this ain’t the hunter barn and not every trainer on the track has her best interests at heart. Any advice for someone who is basically a total n00b and is starting out at…in fairness, not a HORRIBLE track, but let’s face it, Suffolk ain’t Saratoga and she won’t be riding for Nick Zito.

    Wish she lived close enough, I’d let her try on Lucky on our farm first–gallopers LIKED him, he’s not generally inclined to put you through a rail. Say go, he goes, say stop, he stops (and he likes when you say stop.)

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Well, the fact of the matter is, if she gets hurt, the trainer has to pay worker’s comp. So they’re not going to put her on a maniac for a laugh. That’s a start.

      Really, riding a fresh horse is riding a fresh horse. If you can get on a three-year-old comfortably at home – or for that matter take any fit, hot horse to a hunt or a cross-country course, and feel like you won’t get killed, then you can probably steer a horse around a racetrack.

      The best advice I would have for her is to watch some works before she gets on and look at how the riders are sitting/standing/balancing. Ride with stirrups about cross-country length if she’s not sure how long to ride, sit down when she’s comfortable at the walk, post at the trot, and lean on her hands at the gallop. To stop, stand up and lift hands, balance back against the horse’s mouth. Don’t be afraid to get loud with whoa’s and no’s, or to rip on a horse trying to give you crap.

      I think if she’s a good rider, she’ll figure it out without too much trouble.
      Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

      • Nicholas

        Interesting comment RE work comp, I’ve read the practice is now to structure the relationship as an independent contractors, not employee, to avoid having to provide work comp insurance.

        It’s a question of state law, so Mass. and NY may be more expansive than other jurisdictions, but I’d check it out.

      • Natalie Keller Reinert

        I’m not one hundred percent sure how it is structured, but even when I was contracted in Florida, the contractor still owed worker’s comp.

      • Natalie Keller Reinert

        Thinking on, these are very complicated states, in terms of worker’s laws, and unions, and I wouldn’t attempt to unravel it here, but I will say that it’s highly unlikely the trainer would risk a rider’s life (and the life of other riders on the track) by putting a green rider on a bad horse for laughs.

  4. Blob

    I’m glad I can live vicariously through you.

    I’m a little hesitant to admit it, but I think I’d be a bit scared to gallop racehorses. It makes me feel old and lame to say it. But I’d have some jitters to overcome. And those racing saddles?!? It’s like a little piece of felt on a horse.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Well wouldn’t you have some qualms about trying anything new? I tried (try) to approach it like I would any new job. What’s the most likely outcome if I fall off? I land in some really deep dirt? The ground is way harder in an arena!

      The exercise saddles are so great. I don’t know we all don’t ride in them all the time. They have a half-tree, and then when you’re sitting back on the seat you can feel every move your horse makes. Your horse cannot surprise you the way he can if you’re in a deep-seated AP or something. There’s just something about an exercise saddle that I’ve always felt more secure in.

    • I’d be scared to do it on a track with a bunch of other horses, or on a baby. But a nice calm one when it’s just me on a training oval? Galloping is FUN.

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