For this issue of the Post Calls, I want to use my platform to discuss a part of our industry that is too often overlooked. It goes without saying that if we as horsemen want to keep our sport alive, we must encourage new people -especially young people- to get involved at the raceway. Teaching young people to love horses not only benefits the popularity of the sport, it is also a great way for those people to develop sportsmanship, responsibility and compassion. They can also learn the importance of hard work and the value of money.
I recently wrote the annual Racetrack Review of Inverness Raceway alongside Melissa Keith for the United States Harness Writers Association Youth Membership where I talked about the significant amount of youth involved at the track in Inverness. I was once a kid who wandered up to the barns to pet the horses and now, just a few years later, run a small stable of my very own. I consider myself extremely blessed to have had so many opportunities that helped me learn the game and become the horseman I am today, and I hope that this is only the beginning of my career.
However, there is something about me that seemingly makes it difficult for many people to understand my capabilities as a horseman (and I am not alone). I am a female in a man’s game and while the boys are running around jogging and training everyone else’s horses for them, I’m sitting in the barn wondering what it would feel like if someone came looking for me to give them a hand with their stock.
Last year I had a driving double in the amateur races at Venture Downs. Anyone that saw me that day could tell you I was grinning from ear to ear as it was one of the best days of my life! But, I’d like to know what was so shocking about “a girl beating all the boys!!” as if it is so radical to believe that an 18 year old girl would have a sweet clue what she was doing around a race track. Later that summer I was asked by a man if I would be interested in competing in an all-girls amateur race. I wasn’t thrilled by the idea because there aren’t enough girls that drive around here to even have a race. His reasoning for the proposal was “I just feel bad for you having to drive against the boys all the time”.
It is this exact attitude that too many people have about females in the sport. That attitude is terribly outdated, and it is why only 4% of all harness drivers are female, and Inverness doesn’t even have a single female driver. The training game here isn’t much better either, there are only three female trainers in Inverness. It is absolutely ludicrous to assume that women for some reason do not have the ability to be horsemen. Harness racing is one of the only sports in the world where men and women compete against each other. So where are all the girls? If you have a daughter, sister, niece etc. that loves racing, you should be encouraging her to jog, warm up, train, and drive no different than you would be with your son, brother, nephew, etc.
Deidra Fraser from Mabou is my part-time groom and I am not kidding when I say that she could throw a full set of harness on faster than a lot of the guys around could even buckle the buxton. Another girl at the track that I notice doing a lot of great work with her family’s stock is Monica Sutherland of Port Hood. Monica and her father Todd have a few horses together including the 3-year-old gelding Eastcoast Invader who finished third on July 18th in Truro in the ATSS 3YO Colts “B” division.
As I mentioned before, as a young girl in a sport dominated by older men, it is a rare occasion for someone to take me seriously as a trainer. One day I was particularly frustrated by the misogyny and I found myself leaning on the fence at Truro Raceway beside Clare MacDonald. I turned to her and said, “Hey Clare, how long have you been training horses?” When she answered my question with how many years I responded “Okay… well then how long did it take before anyone started listening to you?” She laughed and said to me, “Some of them still don’t!”. I couldn’t help but laugh.
Now boys, just so we are clear: Us girls are not trying to take over the game, we are not trying to change the word from “horseman” to “horsewoman” and we are not offended by an all-girls race or a Fillies and Mares series. We just want to have the same opportunities and to be given the same respect as the guys. It really is that simple!
Clare MacDonald’s success rate in stake races at Charlottetown over the past thirty years is likely higher than any other Maritime trainer-driver. Add Casie Coleman’s outstanding training record in both Canada and the United States, and it is no wonder Lily gets a little upset at sometimes being over-looked locally.
I’m confident your day will come.