Photo: Kara Zielke
“Racing’s Future” is a Q&A series in which I aspire
to help everyone in the industry. In addition to shining a spotlight on youth
who plan to have a career in horse racing, I hope that the opinions expressed
in their responses will offer industry leaders insight into what a younger
audience believes the sport should improve upon.
Meet Kayla Zielke
Kayla Zielke, a 15-year-old from
Pincher Creek, Alberta, Canada has loved horses all her life but became
interested in racing about eight years ago. In addition to barrel racing, Kayla
enjoys training colts as well. She has owned three off-track-thoroughbreds, two
of which she got at a body condition score of 1 and 2 but nursed back to health
How did you become interested in
Barbaro started it
all. I was eight years old when I watched him triumph in the Kentucky Derby.
Just like everyone else, I was so excited to watch the Preakness, only to see
him break down. I followed him as much as I could: buying any magazine that
even mentioned his name in it, reading every article, watching every news
broadcast and anything I could find on the Internet to keep up with his story.
I remember the day that I brought home the latest magazine that had a Barbaro
feature. I sat there reading the news of his euthanasia, and my jaw slowly
dropped. I was in tears but then I realized that this tragedy had brought
something new into my life. I started reading and watching any and everything
that had to do with racing. Equibase, Equineline, researching horse after
horse. I was just fascinated by the history and legacies of the Thoroughbreds.
What do you love about horse racing?
I love everything to do with racing. The adrenaline rush of watching them
come into the turn for home just gives me the chills. The stories of the horses
and seeing where their pedigrees lead to is just so interesting to me. The threat
of danger for the horse and jockey just adds a whole extra element as well. The
best part is when you research and pick the horse that just feels right and
watch them romp. I have picked the Kentucky Derby winner for the past four
years just because it’s the Derby and you just can’t stop researching
What aspects of horse racing do you wish
you knew more about?
I would love to know more of the behind the scenes stuff on the shed row.
What their daily routines look like, what they’re fed, as well as what happens
behind the scenes on the farms. Foaling routines and just what they do daily.
What racetracks have you been to?
Living in Alberta, there is a very limited amount of tracks. The closest
to me is about a one hour drive away and it is tiny. They don’t even use
personalized silks. It is little but it does the job. I would love to go to way
more but for now I can watch as many races as I please on TVG (which usually
takes up my weekend. Who has time for homework? I have racing to watch!)
What is your favorite racetrack? Why?
Keeneland without a doubt. I just love how fancy and pristine everything
is. Just the feel of watching the Keeneland meet holds something different and
special. The paddock is gorgeous; the entire track is gorgeous.
Of the racetracks you have not been to, which one do you want to visit most?
Keeneland, then Churchill Downs.
What are your favorite moments in your “horse racing life” thus far?
My favourite moment is without a doubt Zenyatta winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2009. The stretch
call pounds through my head every time I see a picture of her. “This is
unbelievable! Zenyatta! What a performance, one we’ll never forget!”
Who are your favorite racehorses of your lifetime? Before your lifetime?
Zenyatta is an obvious one. Animal Kingdom, Wise Dan, Frankel, Bullet
Train, the list goes on and on. Before my lifetime Ruffian, Citation, Native
Diver, Whirlaway, Swaps, Easy Goer, Sunday Silence, Cigar… once again it goes
on and on.
If you could change something about the
industry, what would you change?
I would try to convince people to breed more bone into their foals. The
Thoroughbred breed has turned into a fine china, twig-legged breed. They break
down far too often and have too many injuries. Colts have these small bones and
get fractures, are sent off to stud to breed this frailty back into the lines,
making the next generation even worse. The other thing is to not start training
until they’re four years old so they develop further, but we all know that
What do you think is preventing horse
racing from being a more popular sport?
The controversy and breakdowns. This PETA stuff definitely isn’t helping
but as soon as someone hears the word ‘breakdown’, they freak out. Yes, they
are sad, but they happen. They are bound to happen in any sport. The
stereotypes, as well; everyone thinks that the horses are beaten and abused and
stuck in a stall all day and treated so terribly. People need to learn the truth.
I try to stand up for the industry but I just get screamed at and criticized by
thirty different people.
How would you convince someone who is
not an avid follower of horse racing to begin following the sport?
Easy enough, take them to the track. I took my friends to the track for
the first time, taught them the ropes and on the way home they asked if we
could come back next weekend. I did take them on Derby weekend, which is one
reason they got so hooked.
What career do you plan to pursue in the
horse racing industry?
I have a life dream to become a stallion manager at a farm in Kentucky.
Lane’s End is the real dream but anywhere would be amazing. I already have my
college plans to take an Equine Science Breeding and Reproduction course. One
of the graduates is the stallion manager at Darby Dan Farm with Shackleford. I
am willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill this dream to work with these
How are you currently contributing to the horse racing industry?
We have bought and re-trained four OTTBs now into pleasure riding,
barrel racing, and just all-around horses. People think that Thoroughbreds are
so high strung and dangerous but get them in a pasture and off their track feed
and they’ll become giant puppy dogs. Our OTTBs are the sweetest horses we have
What is one thing you aspire to
personally accomplish someday in the horse racing industry?
Help foal out a mare and watch the colt grow into a Kentucky Derby winner
or Breeders' Cup winner.