On Saturday, J and I went to Suffolk Downs to take lots of pictures, just as we did last year, and this photo is probably my favorite. When I was a horse-crazy little girl devouring books by Marguerite Henry and Walter Farley, being a jockey was on my short-list of dream jobs, right up there with “someone who writes books like Misty of Chinoteague and The Black Stallion.” Judging from the smile on this jockey’s face, she knows she’s living the dream of countless little girls like me who grew up in the city and could only read and dream about riding race horses.
Of course, being a jockey who rides race horses isn’t the only dream job of horse-crazy little city girls. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, and it takes an entire staff of people to prep and primp a race horse.
In between races at Suffolk Downs, while other spectators were making bets on upcoming races, J and I were watching each stage of the race-day process, so we had plenty of opportunities to admire the riders on the lead ponies who escort race horses to the starting gate…
…and the members of the gate crew, who have the challenging (and dangerous) job of loading a thousand pounds of nervous, energetic horseflesh into the starting gate.
After having watched a handful of races from all possible angles, I’ve decided that being a jockey would be fun, but being a groom would be even better.
A jockey gets to ride a horse for the minute or two that the race actually lasts, but as soon as that race is over, a jockey hops off and is done, ready to ride whatever other horses she or he has been hired to ride.
A horse’s groom, on the other hand, spends a lot of time primping and preparing the individual horses under his care. First there’s the walk from the stable to the paddock…
…then the walk around the paddock…
…then the official check-in where a man with a clipboard checks the number tattooed inside the horse’s upper lip to make sure this horse really is the one registered for the race.
Next there’s time for quick spritz…
…then it’s time to saddle up.
During the race and in the Winner’s Circle, all eyes are on a horse’s jockey because her or his job happens at the climactic moment when months of behind-the-scenes preparation and training culminate in two minutes of glory.
But on a day-to-day basis, it’s a horse’s groom that spends the most time overseeing the mundane tasks of equine care. A horse and jockey have a working relationship that many horse-crazy city girls might dream of, but it’s the quiet moments before or after a race when you’ll see the true tenderness that endures between a horse and his tender.
Click here for more photos from Saturday’s trip to Suffolk Downs. Enjoy!