I recently began going through images from Churchill Downs' Spring Meet. I spent a lot of time on the backside and I met a lot of the riders, grooms, assistant trainers and hot walkers. I was privileged to photograph them all.
The one thing that struck me the most is that the backside is probably the hardest-working place at a track. But it is also the happiest. The people back there are joyful to come to work. They don’t mind getting up at the wee hours of the morning. They pay attention to details before the sun has hit the horizon.
The backside workers know these amazing horses. They know by looking at them if they are OK. They know how to handle them better than anyone.
They love and care for them. They make sure the horses have food and water. They make sure the horses have the care they need.
They plan for the next day, knowing exactly what the horses, individually, need.
They are with them in the highs and lows. They love them no matter what. The horse finishes last, and they are still proud. They still give them a hug or a pat. They still get their treat as if they had won. These horses let us escape. They take us on a ride every time they are on the track.
There’s something about setting foot on the backside. Everything outside of it seems to melt away. It’s a world within itself, uniting people who live horses, specifically the thoroughbred.
In times when the industry is under fire, it's these moments that remind us why we do what we do.
The nudge from a horse -- feeling them breath on our neck as they move their head over ours.
The kiss of an assistant trainer.
The hug from an exercise rider.
The gaze of a trainer looking over his horse.
The loving look from a groom.
In 2017, the American Horse Council Foundation studied the economic impact that horses have on the U.S. Specifically, in racing, they found that the industry supports more than 241,000 jobs. The direct value to the U.S. economy is $15.6 billion. The amount of horses involved in the racing world is 1,224,482.
I believe these are the numbers that are ignored. A lot of people will focus on the amount of jobs and the amount of money that racing brings in. The one point and number that is ignored a lot is 1,224,482.
People can always find other jobs if an industry falls apart. Where will these horses go?
We will have 1,224,482 horses that will lose their value due to the collapse. If the industry falls due to outside forces, we will have 1,224,482 horses without homes. Is anyone prepared to deal with how to go about solving that?
While there are questions about racing and the future, there are a lot of positives that are rising to the surface. The industry is becoming stronger in many ways. The aftercare programs for off-the-track-thoroughbreds are rising and the awareness for the need. Two programs have stepped into the light with the purpose of engaging and growing the younger generation in the sport.We are learning more from necropsy reports with the research from the University of Kentucky.
As the industry makes strides, it all comes back to what they do on the backside. Everything they do inspires us; it inspires the fans, the media, the track side workers, their family and the children. It’s because of them we are taken on an amazing ride everything single time. I want to thank them for everything they do.