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  • Writer's pictureKristie Cotton

To be Trusted is a Greater Compliment than to be Loved

Having a passion for such an amazing, majestic, beautiful animal as the horse is a gift.  There are horse lovers, and then there are those that my Aunt would say,  have the “fever.”

My Parents tried to help my obsession. I had horse everything ( still do ) They bought me a horse, I had subscriptions to horse magazines, I had acquired tons of books about horses. One horse was not enough, So they let me buy a naughty little pony. I had actually bought him for my little sister.  Amazingly, she lived through that pony always bolting for home! When the movie International Velvet came out, I was hooked. I began jumping my little Morab Mare in hopes of becoming an Eventer. I wrote to the Olympics to inquire how my horse and I could be chosen for the U.S. team. They were kind enough to write back that I needed Show experience, a really nice horse, and money. I wish I still had that letter!

I started begging to be sent to a horse school where I could live and learn everything about horses.

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My Aunt and I at the racetrack in New York.


My Dad flew me to New York to spend a short time with my Aunt. I was so excited, my Aunt at that time, was a groom, eventually to be an Assistant trainer at the race track!  I was mesmerized by her knowledge, she educated me about everything she was doing.  I want to dedicate a blog to her and a short summary of an amazing, hard working, horse lover.

My Aunt Janice always loved horses.  Her best friend and neighbor had a horse so she got to ride.  She actually hadn’t known that her Dad was a horseman until one day she was galloping the horse around and he began shouting instructions to her on how to

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My Grandfather on his pony.


properly ride.  My Aunt became a mother at a young age, then unfortunately a single mom.  She needed a job to support herself and her son.  Her first experience of racehorses was at Green Mountain Racetrack in Vermont.  She started as a hot walker, you hand walk the horses after a workout to cool them out.  This was a job she could bring her son to, he could hang out with books, crayons, etc.  She then relocated to Suffolk Downs in Boston, where she became a groom.  It was there that she began to specialize in caring for the difficult horses.

Grooms work very hard at making sure that the horses are comfortable and need knowledge to know if the horses legs need heat or ice.  Grooms need to know which therapy to use for any apparent swelling in the horses legs.  She then moved to a farm in Ocala, Florida where she worked for the impressive Pancho Martin.  He was the hall of fame trainer of thoroughbreds, remembered as the trainer of “Sham”.  They taught her everything possible regarding care of the racehorses.  She even prepared all the Sham babies for the races.

Then, it was a huge step to the famous Belmont racetrack.  When she started she was one of very few women who worked at the racetrack.  It was known as a man’s world.  It was hard work, dangerous, and an absolute commitment to the horses care.  That is where my Aunt excelled, she became a sought out groom.  Her ability to nurse the racehorses so that they would perform better was an amazing gift.

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My Aunt with one of her prize racehorses


She loved that each horse was different and you had to find the key to making that horse thrive.  My Aunt says, “They are not a factory number, make them happy and they will run for you”.  Her goal was to become an assistant trainer. As an assistant trainer she would assess the needs of each horse as an individual.  This meant observing what they need or like.  You to have change up their daily workout to keep them interested.  She took her career to where she wanted to be.  She was the person that holds them together so they can do their job to the best of their ability.  Overseeing the horses needs meant becoming very close to them, she was attached to them all.  She explains it as heart wrenching when her horses would win and then sell at claims races.  This is a race where every runner is for sale.

It turns out it was not a love for racing as I always thought.  It was the love of nursing and caring for the horse, keeping them happy and healthy so they could thrive. It wasn’t about the running, she actually admits she barely spent any time observing the races.  When I asked her what the highlight of her career was, I thought she would speak of horses winning.  Her actual highlight, was the five years she spent at a beautiful breeding farm in upstate New York.  At the farm her job was caring for the horses, they were retired runners that were now broodmares, studs, and future prospect.

There are horse lovers everywhere, horses are healing, they offer unconditional love, riding a horse awakens ones soul.  My Aunt taught me a lot in the short time I spent with her at the track.  I was young, but absorbed all the knowledge like a sponge.  One thing always stuck with me, “A true horsemen will quietly learn and observe. You will never know everything about horses because each one is different.  A true horsemen will always desire more knowledge”. 

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“It’s amazing what you can learn after you’ve learned all that you think there is to learn”. -Ray Hunt

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