In today’s day and age of horse racing, the involvement of young people is crucial to the survival of the sport. Our summer blog series, Generation Z (Post-Millennials) in Pennsylvania Horse Racing, will highlight a few of the young people who have dedicated their lives to the sport we love.
Twenty-two year old Bailey Poorman’s life with racing began at only three weeks old. As a native of Saratoga, her first opening day at the track happened not long after she was born. She began taking riding lessons by the age of 9, and it wasn’t long after that she received her first horse and her connection with Hall of Fame trainer, Jonathan Sheppard.
Bailey was hooked on backstretch life from the moment she first set foot behind Saratoga. She was invited by Joanne and Mark Pepper of Old Friends Cabin Creek to watch a partnership horse of theirs breeze, and within hours, Bailey was dialing Sheppard’s assistant trainer at Ashwell to ask if there was anything she could do around the barn. From that moment on, at the backstretch of Saratoga, Bailey knew she wanted a life in thoroughbred racing, and at the age of 14, she began working for Jonathan Sheppard. Keri Brion, Sheppard’s assistant, took Bailey under her wing and taught her everything she needed to know about working with racehorses.
Bailey mostly works with steeplechase horses and is involved with the National Steeplechase Association. She’s had the chance to travel the country taking care of some of the nation’s best steeplechase horses, in addition to some nice flat racing horses. She also occasionally helps out with the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association.
Although currently in school, Bailey still makes it out to Sheppard’s barn as often as possible. She considers the trainer her biggest role model and supporter in the industry. “He’s one of the best horsemen I know and he’s taught me so much about listening to the horses and putting them first,” she says. “He’s given me so many opportunities to travel and trusted me to care for his top horses. He always pushes me to be better. I’ve learned so much, not just about horses, but about responsibility, patience, compassion, dedication and life, in my years working for him.”
When asked about the most rewarding part of being in racing, Bailey said getting to see horses she’s watched grow since they were babies do well at the races and enjoy it is her favorite part. “Following horses you’ve worked with enjoying their second careers is super rewarding as well,” she added.
“I have a lot of favorite aspects of the sport, but all of the friendships you make is a big one. The racing community really is a big family that you get lifelong friendships out of.”
In terms of drawing younger people to the sport of horse racing, Bailey believes in letting young people see that racing isn’t an exclusive club and providing them with that ticket to get them hooked. She thinks there should be internships in all different aspects of the sport, and 4-H and Pony Club field trips to the track, breeding, and training farms to provide that hands on experience of being part of an operation is a great way to get young people involved.
“It’s one thing to go to the races and watch horses that you don’t know run,” she explains, “but when they can associate a horse that they got to see at the farm, or in the barn on the backside, that they got to walk or pet or watch them gallop might really help to get them to want to be involved, and be able to get the feeling of rooting for a horse that you’ve been a part of.”
“With social media being as big of an influence on people as it is at this point in time, I think it can be a barrier for encouraging young people to get involved. It’s easy scrolling through Facebook or Twitter to think that horse racing is something you don’t want to be associated with because of the negative portrayal,” Bailey continued, “but if it was portrayed as the exciting, rewarding and great sport that it is, it may encourage young people to want to be involved.”
Bailey hopes to see an improvement in young people wanting to become involved in horse racing because growing up with the sport teaches a young person so much. “I think a lot of younger people could benefit from it like I did,” she explains.
In terms of the future, Bailey is preparing to start a 6 month vet tech internship before her graduation in December. In 5-10 years, she hopes to be working as a large animal vet tech, as well as competing with her horse and racing in her free time.
“Jonathan [Sheppard] tells me all the time I should get into training, and while that’s not in the plans right now, you never know what will happen. He was the first to tell me I should work as a vet tech, and it took me years to realize he was right. So, maybe he’s right about [training] too.”
On the harness end of the spectrum, 15-year-old Lucas Myers is making a name for himself.
Lucas was originally drawn to harness racing when helping his father around the stable. He also recalls enjoying the chance to visit other tracks and experience different styles of racing with his Uncle Dave. “I’ve been helping them as long as I can remember,” Lucas says, “To me, horse racing is one of those things you enjoy so much that it’s almost impossible to get away from. I always had that feeling that it was something I wanted to do for a living, but it really hit me once I got to sit behind one of my Dad’s horses for the first time.”
Lucas says the most rewarding part of the sport is seeing the horses he works with everyday live up to their potential and win races. His favorite aspect is the training side, whether it be sitting behind and driving a horse for a training mile or simply taking care of them.
Lucas recently received his groom’s license, and his next goal is to get his qualifying and fair license. “By this winter, my goal is to get some qualifiers before I drive at fairs. Another goal I want to accomplish further down my career path is to win the Little Brown Jug and the Hambletonian,” he explains.
“The two people I look up to most are my Father and my Uncle Dave,” Lucas says, “They have both taught me everything I know about the sport so far. I also admire Aaron Merriman for all the hard work he puts into the sport. Sometimes, he’ll drive two cards in one day.”
Lucas hopes to see more younger people get involved in the business so the sport can continue to thrive. He understands the opportunity to see racing for what it truly is can be difficult for younger people without a connection to the sport. Lucas believes camps are a great idea to catch attention, but also thinks there should be more tours available to outsiders, so that people can get the chance to witness things such as how a horse preps during the week to prepare for a race. And, of course, jog cart rides with horsemen are always a fun way to show young people what it’s like to sit behind a racehorse. Having attended the Harness Horse Youth Foundation at Scioto Downs in the past, Lucas thinks the foundation is a great way for young people to experience the business.
“This winter, I’m hoping to have my qualifying and fair license, so by the time I’m out of high school, my driving career is already started,” Lucas continued, “By the time I graduate, I hope to have my own horse or horses, while also still helping my dad and uncle out with theirs. In 5-10 years, I’m hoping to be a catch driver while also having a successful stable with my dad, uncle, and brother.”
Whether in high school or on the brink of graduating college, young people like Bailey and Lucas help propel our industry in the direction it needs to be going. Their involvement in both thoroughbred and harness racing ensures the longevity of the sport we all love.
Stay tuned for next month’s edition of Generation Z in Pennsylvania Horse Racing….