Today, I offer a new Shedrow Secrets contribution from a former racehorse trainer, Susan Bump. Susan, originally from upstate New York, has always had a passion for horses. At 22, she says, she “stumbled into the racing industry” in California. She became an exercise rider and broke horses for the track on various California farms. Susan then began training at San Luis Rey Downs. Eventually, she became disillusioned and penned a book, “My Wild Ride,” detailing her journey. She has since become a full-fledged activist, protesting puppy mills, rodeos and, now, racing.
Shedrow Secrets: A Trainer Turns
I am an ex Thoroughbred racehorse trainer. I was in the racing industry as a rider, owner, breeder, and trainer for over 30 years. I was drawn to racing at the age of 22 because of my obsession with horses, riding and speed. The racing world was ideal for me for a very long time.
As a trainer, I knew that racing was far from perfect but I knew that I could keep my horses happy. I did things different than other trainers. I was always a small stable with 12 horses or less. I always rode my own horses in the mornings so I knew how each of them felt. I paid attention to the tiniest details that could be significant. I made time to walk them after the track closed to eat grass and feel the sun on their backs. Instead of using drugs I had a BioScan unit (light therapy) and later a Papimi machine (electromagnetic pulsation therapy).
I had a rule in my head that I lived by: I would never put a horse in a position where he was likely to break down, suffer, or die. It was my line in the sand. I can’t share all of the details but I broke my rule once. I ran a horse that I had claimed who should not have run. She had joint degeneration in her knees and she was finished as a racehorse. I had made several bad claims prior to her and given the horses away. I justified my bad choice with the idea that I had to make a profit on a horse. So, I entered her, she won and got claimed. The last time I saw her she walking lame off the track with her new groom to her new barn. On paper I looked like a sharp trainer. In my heart I knew I was a piece of shit. I was as bad as all the other trainers who cared more about money than the well being of their horses. I was the person I swore I would never be. This was the beginning of the end for me as a trainer.
Not long after, I bought a horse from another trainer. She was thin and unhappy. I had had some success getting them right and happy and then turning their form around. It was always a very powerful feeling to know that I could make a horse happy. It was my thing. I entered this horse in Northern Ca. and trailered her there myself. I ran my filly and she ran bad – terrible – last by a mile. I walked down to the track after the race and saw the terrified look in her eyes and knew that she hated running. This can happen. The best course of action at this point is to recognize what trainers hate to see, a horse who hates racing, and abort. Abort meaning get her out of your barn and find her a good home away from the track. To be safe, I would always keep her papers and notify the Jockey Club that they should not issue duplicates.
I walked off the track with the groom and my filly. When we got to the gap there was a horse ambulance and several horsemen trying to get a very lame horse into the ambulance. The horse had broken down in the race and had a metal splint/brace on a hind leg. When a horse broke down on the track the men around me – owners, grooms, friends – always told me not to look. I didn’t need to be convinced, agreeing wholeheartedly that that was something I didn’t need to see. That all changed on this particular day. I heard a voice in my head saying, “It’s time to look.” I looked at the face of the injured horse. Our eyes locked. I stopped walking. I saw the horror, the pain and the suffering that this poor horse was enduring. I could not look away. Tears came to my eyes and for once I didn’t care if I acted like a girl on the track.
I finally made it back to my barn and could not stop crying. I had a long 11-hour drive back home to Southern California and I cried all the way. It took me three days of crying to come to the realization that this was my crossroad. I had to choose now who I wanted to be. I had become a woman I didn’t like. I was part of the problem. I quit training, found homes off the track for my horses and vowed that I would now and for evermore be part of the solution.