Usually once a year (used to be twice, but races haven’t been held at another facility in recent years), I don jockey silks and test my mettle racing for money at an area event that doesn’t require you weigh in at 110 pounds with tack (some races are even catch weight), nor be registered with the Jockey Guild.
The first time I was asked to pilot a mount in a money race, I was shocked, but excited to have the opportunity to experience the thrill of being responsible for the trip on a horse I had exercised at an area Thoroughbred racetrack. We didn’t finish well on that particular day, but the experience was an adrenaline-filled rush I will never forget.
The professional TB jockeys from Finger Lakes Race Track on my introduction to this course had their hearts in their throats as they tackled the hills and uneven terrain (most didn’t bother walking the course – an added challenge as they set out with stirrups set so their heels where touching their butts) and many didn’t come back. I was in my element, having spent a good number of years (a long time ago) eventing through the preliminary level. That day, I resolved to return with a better strategy and a live mount.
New experiences are fun and provide a great equine learning opportunity
Since then, I’ve probably ridden a dozen races on as many horses (some ridden for the first time in this competition) and have learned the art of the tactical approach to finishing well. The flat races on this property run the perimeter of a steeple chase course in what used to serve as a cattle field for much of the year (I think that’s changed as I didn’t see the ‘ cow patties’ walking the course yesterday).
This year, I was planning on being a mere spectator and enjoying the opportunity to relax and experience the party that permeates the grounds each year at the Genesee Valley Hunt Races. Thursday night, I got a call from a trainer who twisted my arm to ride a mare I had a good relationship with (she has trust and nervousness issues) and enough miles atop to feel comfortable with her ability to handle the course and be a contender.
Granted, I wasn’t competing in the $25,000 steeple chase feature (if you ever get a chance to watch one of these races, do it – you’ll be wowed by the endurance and talent displayed), but, I’m not in my twenties anymore, so the idea of sitting this one out was appealing.
Anyway, we finished second. Even though my mount gave a great kick for the last ½ mile that should have eclipsed the leader that distanced the field by many for most of the race, the champion was far the best. It was shocking that the winner didn’t tire after the 2 ¼ mile trip. In fact, I’ve never seen a horse in this race take the lead so early and maintain such a rapid pace to the end. Stalkers are usually victorious, having something left after the front-runners exhaust themselves too early. But, all entrants were focused on fun, and so it was.
Get your priorities straight
It was funny to visit the tail gate party section of the event after the race (people pay good money to park their car and exhibit their food spread near the course). The chatter was more focused on who won the award for the best display than race results.
Great people abound in the horse industry
Going to this event is always a joy. Real people who truly care about each other come to cheer on everyone and have a good time. If you ever find yourself in New York in early October (it will be a bit of trip if you’re flying into JFK or LaGuardia – plan on a six hour drive), this event is worth seeing. You won’t meet a nicer group of equine enthusiasts nor see a more entertaining or educational mix of activities.
If you’re convinced it’s hard to find communities of horse owners and equine professionals that are in your corner, wanting you to excel and learn, think again. These groups are prevalent. Sometimes, though, it requires a willingness to take a little leap out of your customary zone.
Have you found a great group or an interesting experience reaching beyond your typical horse horsey gang and environs? Please share your find in the comments below.