This week, the Paulick Report continues a new series interviewing young people in the Thoroughbred industry. Despite the recent economic recession and resulting shrinking of the Thoroughbred industry, some members of Generation Y are choosing to launch careers in racing. Each week, we will ask these young professionals what issues they're most concerned about, and how they think they could be solved.
Kate Sheehan has previously been the farm administrator for Dapple stud and now works in client relations for Willow Oak Farm at Elmendorf. She is also the bloodstock advisor for Emily Wygod, and works with Ciaran and Amy Dunne's Wavertree Stable. Recently, Kate and her husband started a bloodstock company called Taghadoe Bloodstock.
PR: What got you hooked on racing, and why?
KS: I came about it in a little bit of a different way than most people. I'd never seen a horse race, didn't know anything about it, and was going to take a year off after I graduated from Chapel Hill (University of North Carolina) before I went to law school, and came (to Kentucky) to interview for a job at the Horse Park at the United States Equestrian Federation and fell in love with it. I didn't get that job but I had some family friends that had racehorses and they hooked me up with my first job out here at Dapple Stud. They took a real gamble on me, not knowing anything about it. I just fell in love with the sport. It just hooked me, and I didn't go back to law school, which actually made my parents happy.
PR: Was it a conscious decision then to make your career in the industry?
KS: I can't imagine doing anything else. I love everything about this industry, just about. I know there's a lot of raw pieces to it, but for the most part I smile every day when I go to work. If you have a bad day in the office, you walk outside and there's a horse there that you can hang out with and get your perspective right.
I think I probably would've taken a different path through college had I known that you could actually make money in horses. In North Carolina it's a hobby, so either you're a top trainer or you're scraping by to make ends meet, or at least that's the perception everyone has. Coming out here and realizing I can be happy and make a comfortable living and do what I love—why would I go back to school, why would I sit in an office all day long when I could have the best of both worlds?
Luckily the industry was very accommodating to me and I had some great teachers who really took their time to give me some knowledge. I felt accepted from the minute I got out here. From the outside I think it seems like it's a very closed industry but once you're in, you're in. I don't think you find that in other industries.
KS: I think it's come to a point where we need to broaden our audience and our consumer
base. I think everyone looks at it and it's like 'Oh, they give all their horses drugs,' or 'Oh, [horses] don't really want to run like that, they hit them with whips to make them go' and you hear that constantly from people who don't know the sport, and I just want to turn to them and say, 'Come out to the farm one morning and watch the mares that still run happily in the field, watch our yearlings that we can't stop from running. It's their passion, too.'
Sometimes I just wish we had one charismatic spokesperson that, when a horse breaks down in a classic race, and all of our flaws are brought to the forefront, that they can explain to people that's one horse out of tens of thousands that are racing across the world and in all actuality we do love our horses. They get treated better than most of us on a daily basis. It's hard, because I was critical of the industry too, before I came out here because all I saw where the whips and all I heard about were the drugs, and saw the horses break down every once in awhile.
I just don't think we do a very good job of promoting our animals and the fact that running is what they want to do. I think if we could get a little stronger in that area we would have a lot more support. Then, more people would want to get into the game and enjoy racing and invest in it, and prop up the breeding industry.
PR: What do you see as a potential solution to the problem of correcting the public's perceptions about the sport?
I'm not going to say we should ban all medications or that sort of thing—honestly I don't know enough about what gets a horse ready to run. I've always been on the breeding side.
I told one of my good friends that Brett Jones would be the perfect spokesperson for us. He's young, his dad's a politician, he knows how to answer questions about the business, and he's approachable. Just someone like that who, when Eight Belles breaks her leg in the Derby, you don't have a vet up there who's using all these big terms and thinking 'Condylar fracture, broken leg, dead' but you have someone who addresses these issues head-on. Who could tell people what's going on and what we're trying to do to protect our horses—why we brought in Polytrack, why we're thinking about banning Lasix, what Lasix actually does. And let people make more informed decisions. Give the audience a wider perspective to work with.
PR: Bearing in mind the complexity of the public perception issue, are you optimistic about the future of racing in this country?
KS: I'm pretty optimistic about it because I see people my age and I meet people who are coming into the industry and they're excited about it, and they want to talk about it. They have a passion for it. They're using a lot of networking sites [to get people in the game]. You hear it's the sport of kings but the kings are running out now and we need to be more friendly to the mid-range people because that's where the money is going to have to come from eventually.
The passion I see in people in my age group really gives me an optimistic view. I think we're all going to work really hard to bring in people to tackle these problems. I think we're a generation of problem-solvers. We know how to think outside of the box and we're not scared of change. And some things are going to have to change for the industry to continue, but I think the people I've been around and who are coming into this industry are more than capable of helping to facilitate that change.
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