Photo: Claudia Ruiz
“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 Natalie Rietkerk
Natalie Rietkerk, a 25-year-old
equine enthusiast living in Orange County, California, gained her love for
horse racing as the great-granddaughter of a Thoroughbred trainer and breeder. An equestrian for nearly 20 years and
a horse owner since age 12, Natalie’s riding career began with dressage before
she became involved with hunter-jumpers – with a special interest in developing
young horses. She has a 5-year-old Belgian Sport Horse gelding named Otto whom
she has had since he was a yearling and hopes to show him in hunter derbies in
the near future. Natalie has been
able to combine her love of equestrian sports and horse racing as the Project
Manager for the California Retirement Management Account (CARMA) – a nonprofit
which funds more than 20 Thoroughbred aftercare organizations and helps retired
racehorses find successful second careers. She also serves as Event Manager for
the Thoroughbred Classic Horse Show, which was specifically created to give
off-track-Thoroughbreds and their owners a place to showcase their skills in
jumping, dressage, western and horsemanship classes.
How did you become interested in horse racing?
My family has been involved with horse racing since the 1930s but really my
mom’s passion for racehorses fueled me most of all. She grew up having
clippings of horse racing news on her walls and idolizing Secretariat. So, for
as long as I can remember, watching the Triple Crown races has always been an
event in my house.
What do you love about horse racing?
Obviously the horses – and being around people who share a passion for
What career are you pursuing in the horse racing industry?
Thoroughbred aftercare and public relations
Why have you chosen to pursue that career?
My love of racing stems from my passion for horses. They are incredible
animals and deserve to be safely retired and cared for when their time at the
track is over. It is my job to help racehorse owners and trainers know what
retirement resources are available for the horses. I want to help off-track-Thoroughbreds regain
popularity as pets and sport horses; more of them will have homes when they
retire from racing.
How are you currently pursuing that
I started working for CARMA and the Thoroughbred Classic Horse Show in May
2016. They are great organizations to promote off-track-Thoroughbreds and we
are working tirelessly to expand our reach. It’s honestly a dream job and
Who are some of the people you admire in
the industry and why?
It sounds a little cliché to say I admire the founder of CARMA but I have a lot
of respect for Madeline Auerbach. She is tenacious as an owner and breeder and
she always does what is right by her horses.
Many come to mind from syndicate outfits like Little Red Feather, owners like
Fox Hill Farm and trainers like Bob Baffert who give back to the horses.
I also admire young women in the industry who are helping to shape the future
of the sport.
What aspects of horse racing do you wish
you knew more about?
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not great at handicapping. I can read the form
and understand betting on a very basic level but that’s about it. Ask me about
any exotics and I’m out.
I’m also really interested in learning more about the breeding and sales aspect
of the sport.
What racetracks have you been to?
Santa Anita Park, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Churchill Downs, Keeneland and
What is your favorite racetrack? Why?
Santa Anita Park is easily my favorite. It feels like home to me.
Of the racetracks you have not been to,
which one do you want to visit most?
I’d love to go to Saratoga. Everyone raves about it and I’m curious to see what
all the hype is about!
What are your favorite moments in your
“horse racing life” thus far?
Witnessing American Pharoah capture the Triple Crown and then meeting him in
person at Santa Anita is my number one. Going to the 2016 Kentucky Derby and
watching the race from the track is definitely a highlight of my involvement
with horse racing. I was literally sitting on the dirt under the railing at the
first turn all glassy-eyed. Having the field charging towards me is something
I’ll never be able to fully explain.
Who are your favorite racehorses of your
lifetime? Before your lifetime?
American Pharoah is hands down my favorite. Obviously he is a tremendous
athlete but I really love his personality and temperament. My other favorites
are: California Chrome, Dortmund, Barbaro, Cigar, Exaggerator, Songbird,
Beholder and Stellar Wind. A less famous horse who captured my heart is
Cinematic Cat. He was sent to Washington and claimed but he’ll always be
special to me.
Before my time – Secretariat and Seabiscuit.
If you could change something about the
industry, what would you change?
A larger expansion of industry-funded aftercare programs and a greater
importance placed on the commitment of owning a racehorse after its career has
What do you think is preventing horse
racing from being a more popular sport?
In conversations with my equestrian friends, I often find they have a negative
view of horse racing due to concerns with injuries and abuse. For people not already connected to horses, I
think it’s a lack of exposure that perhaps increased advertising could help.
Who doesn’t enjoy a reason to get dressed up and go out with friends?
What do you think is the most common
misconception about horse racing?
That it’s cruel to the horses and abuse is rampant – when in reality most of the
horses are treated well. I feel showing more of the behind the scenes aspect of
the sport would go a long way.
Another misconception is that in order to own a racehorse you have to be
extremely wealthy. Promoting racing syndicates could also help more people get
How would you convince someone who is
not an avid follower of horse racing to begin following the sport?
I’d start by taking them to a race at Santa Anita or Del Mar and explaining the
sport. Showing them the paddock, the saddling barn and pointing out the major
players could help them perhaps come back on their own.
How are you currently contributing to the
horse racing industry?
I am currently the project manager at CARMA and the event manager for the
Thoroughbred Classic Horse Show. Prior to that, I was the managing editor at
Everythingeq.com and its magazine publication Thoroughbred Today, which seeks to bridge the gap between the
equestrian world and horse racing.
What is one thing you aspire to
personally accomplish someday in the horse racing industry?
I would like to make sure there is a wonderful home for every retired racehorse.