It happened at a racehorse farm.
Racing is not legal in my state, but they do have training farms, and for several years during the summer, while I was in high school, I would work at the farm as a groom.
I didn't ride or anything; I just looked after the horses, and I enjoyed that. I was doing the hunter jumper thing mainly, but in the summers I got to play with racehorses. I just thought it was a lot of fun. By the time I graduated high school, I found myself to be kind of a jack of all trades but a master of none.
Eventually, I started dating a guy who worked at the racehorse farm. I went out and visited him, and the trainer decided to put me on some horses. He was like, “Well, you have some experience. You can ride.”
And I thought, “Okay, why not?”
The second horse I rode I actually breezed on the racetrack. I had never done that before. I went faster than I’d ever gone in my life and I was like, Well, that was pretty cool! It felt amazing. And then the trainer called me a few days later and offered me a job, as a rider this time, not a groom.
The racing industry back then was predominantly male. Women were often looked down on as weaker and not as strong. And so it was a very hard life. I wasn’t used to that coming from the hunter/jumper background. But I loved it. I was young, just twenty-one years old, healthy, and so excited and passionate about my new job. And I was scrappy. I rode literally everything. I rode the stud colts; I rode the crazy ones. I would ride horses that no one else could.
Then, one day, the trainer said he wanted me to start breaking all the babies. So that's what I did.
Now, at this point, he had started drinking a lot. He would say rude things, inappropriate comments here and there, but I kind of brushed it off. I would tell myself, he’s a married man, and he's older than my dad. I didn't take it seriously. I mean, we all looked at him as a father figure.
When you start a racehorse, usually you start them in the stall. You sit on them in there and then you go to the round pen and the trainer gives you a leg up. You really want someone on the ground who knows what they're doing because you can get hurt. And the trainer was very good at what he did and kept me safe.
Still, breaking racehorse babies means getting thrown off. It comes with the job. That’s why you wear the flak jacket. I did have a bunch of falls and one time I was knocked out.
As I came to, he was there touching me very inappropriately. I couldn't even wrap my brain around it. Honestly, I was embarrassed and didn’t even know what to say. I ended up pretending it didn’t happen. Because it's like, surely someone wouldn't mess with a person who was literally unconscious? I couldn’t even fathom that.
So, I ignored it. I would tell myself, this trainer is very good at what he does. My job is dangerous, especially working with the babies, and he has kept me safe…right?
But then I started noticing more.
When you lay across a young racehorse for the first time, you want to have someone holding your legs so that you don't get killed. I noticed that his hands were getting a little higher than they probably should have. And then he started actually touching me, like putting his hands down my shirt and down my pants.
At the time, I hadn't had a lot of sexual experiences. I had only slept with one person, period. I've heard now from a lot of victims who say that they were abused, but at the same time, it almost felt good. And I think that's actually more common than we are open about. It's something that's horrifying, and you hate it. But at the same time, it's very confusing, especially for someone who's young and inexperienced.
I knew what was happening wasn’t right. And every time he would say, “Well, let's take this horse to the round pen,” I knew what it meant. It would kill me inside. It would absolutely kill me. But, I didn't do anything about it. I just kind of suffered through it. And eventually he just stopped.
I know there will be people who read my story and think, why didn’t she do anything? But it is so hard to speak out. Would anyone even believe me?
I would drop hints or suggestions, and people would be dismissive. No one wanted to hear negative things about their friend, someone they look up to, and the horse world is so small. I could lose a job I loved. I would hurt his family, people I really cared about. We are all so intertwined in this industry, and I knew it would have repercussions.
For me, the hardest thing and the reason why I blame myself even now is because of how beloved he was. He was very well known in both the racing and hunter/jumper industries, and so you hear repeatedly, ‘Oh, this person is such a nice person. Oh, he's a wonderful trainer. He's a great guy.’ So, if you get that hammered in your head, what a wonderful person this person is who sexually abused you, you start to think, well, they are so wonderful, so it must be my fault. I think that's very hard for victims to hear over and over again.
The few times I did confide in someone, they would question me. Where did he put his hand? How far? If you had your clothes on, did he even actually touch you? Just stupid stuff. Like, why the crap does it matter? What he did was inappropriate. Even my parents were in disbelief when I told them, because they really looked up to him. They were like, ‘Well, he didn't actually do that.’
So I didn’t know what to do. He was a respected name in the equestrian world, and I think he knew he could get away with it. I was not the only person he hurt.
I got married and found a different job, but what he did to me didn’t just go away. Time and distance didn’t give me peace. Even finding out that he died, I still felt haunted by the abuse. So many victims say I wished my abuser would just die so they could move on. But even that, the finality of death, really didn’t settle anything.
Things to this day will trigger those memories. Sometimes, just walking into the round pen will do it. Starting young horses, I do it alone now.
There is only one thing I can do now, and that is share my experience with other people. But you know, it sucks.
It really, really sucks.
It sucks that someone would have so much power over people just because their name is well known in the horse industry. It sucks that women are scared, that they are blamed for not speaking out and then questioned when they do. It sucks that predators will abuse their victims and the passage of time or their death can’t erase the pain they’ve caused.