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Sebastian Angelillo Makes History in Uruguay

By News, Testimonials

by Sarah E. Coleman

Montevideo, Uruguay is a long way from Lexington, KY—over 5,300 miles away, to be more precise. Additionally, the entire population of Uruguay is only 3.4 million people—less than the population of Kentucky, which is 4.5 million.

Traveling that far and into a country so large is daunting for even the most self-assured person; but it was but one small step on Sebastian Angelillo’s journey in the Thoroughbred industry. Sebastian arrived in Kentucky in 2011 to be a part of the KEMI program.

A Winding Road to the Bluegrass

Sebastian is no stranger to horses; his family used to own and race Thoroughbreds from his Haras Sureño farm when Sebastian was growing up. “I’ve liked horses since I was a kid,” Sebastian says. “I used to go to Maronas racetrack with my family and friends.” These experiences at the racetrack and with his father’s horses ignited in Sebastian a passion for the Thoroughbred industry.

Sebastian notes that in Uruguay, if one wanted to be involved in the Thoroughbred industry that their options are quite limited. “You could go to vet school, be a trainer or be a farrier—that’s about it,” he explained.  He completed a training course at San Isidro in Argentina and a few years of vet school until he decided that the business side of the industry was more in line with what he wanted to accomplish with his career.  “I always wanted to be in a place where I could learn from the best in the industry—and that’s what I did [by coming to Kentucky].”

Though Sebastian was emotional when he received the acceptance email from the KEMI program, he knew that heading to the States and being in the KEMI program would give him the best experiences in the industry—even if it meant leaving behind friends, family and his home. “The KEMI program was my first experience in a foreign country and it opened so many doors to me,” Sebastian reminisces.

Once settled in the KEMI program, the hands-on work quickly became Sebastian’s favorite. “That’s where I believe you get a real view and learn how to do things,” he explained. Sebastian was placed at Three Chimneys Farm during his time at KEMI. “I worked for Sandy Hatfield, the best guide ever,” he said.

Sebastian worked hard during his time at KEMI and his work ethic didn’t go unnoticed; he won the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers Club (KTFMC) Management Award, recognizing him for his hard work, professionalism and dedication to the industry. With the award, Sebastian was awarded the opportunity to shadow Thoroughbred industry professionals for one week at the conclusion of his KEMI internship. Sebastian shadowed Donato Lanni, Greg Fox, Bradley Purcell, Dan Rosenburg, Eoin Hardy, Tony Cissell, Tom Evans, Bill Witman, Tom Thornbury and Fabricio Buffolo.

All Over the Map

After graduation from KEMI, Sebastian went to Taylor Made farm and worked in the yearling division, where he had the opportunity to go to all the major yearling sales in Kentucky and Saratoga, as well as to the breeding stock sales in November. In 2012, Sebastian took part in the Irish National Stud breeding program internship. The goal of the Irish National Stud course is to offer students hands-on, practical training in every aspect of Thoroughbred breeding. While in Ireland, Sebastian also completed a yearling sales prep program at Staffordstown Stud and worked the major yearling sales in both Ireland and England.

After that, Sebastian headed to the Southern Hemisphere, where he worked at Widden Stud and Chatsworth Park in New South Wales, Australia. “I worked for a full year with mares, foals, weanlings, yearlings and stallions, and I also worked all the major sales there,” he said.

In June of 2014, Sebastian returned to Taylor Made Farm in Nicholasville, KY, to help in the yearling division; he also again assisted in the Saratoga and Kentucky yearling sales. Then, in September, Sebastian moved to Ocala, FL, and worked at Eddie Woods Training Centre to gain experience in the 2-year-old pinhooking business. He stayed in Florida for nine months: The horses were bought as yearlings and sold as 2-year-olds in the major sales.

Making his Mark

In September 2015, Sebastian began working on a South American venture under the Taylor Made brand, building and developing relationships between Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and the U.S.

A true go-getter in every sense of the word, Sebastian was the perfect partner for Taylor Made when they sought to expand their relationships in South America. Sebastian was the first Uruguayan ever to complete the Irish National Stud’s breeding course, which has hosted students from Argentina, Brazil, the United States, France, England, China, New Zealand, Jamaica, Mexico and elsewhere. Sebastian feels that what he learned from the course was integral to the negotiations for California Chrome’s shuttling to Chile to stand at stud.

Sebastian was instrumental in striking the three-year agreement for Chrome to stand at Haras Sumaya, near Santiago, Chile. There, the stallion covered 278 mares in his first two seasons and saw multiple first weanlings sell for six figures in 2018.

So what’s next on his agenda? “I’m trying to develop a sales company here in Uruguay,” Sebastian explains. “I will make the first-ever yearling selected sale in Uruguay on June 13.” Sebastian brought Tom Thornbury to Uruguay to inspect the young horses for the selection process.

Though the history of Thoroughbred breeding is rich and deep in South America, Sebastian has his sights set on bettering the industry as a whole. With his work ethic and successful track record, there’s no doubt Sebastian will leave a lasting mark on the Thoroughbred industry on multiple continents.

Graduate Spotlight: Heather Anderson

By News, Testimonials

Graduate Spotlight: Heather Anderson

By: Sarah Coleman

Photo Credit: Steve Sherack/TDN

The Horses are Why We Do What We Do

The desire to be a jockey was rapidly outgrown as Heather Anderson quickly surpassed the ideal height for a jock, but her passion for horses didn’t diminish—it simply became refocused. Hailing from Lander, WY, Heather wasn’t the only one in the family with a passion for all things equine: her maternal grandfather, AJ Webeler, bred Quarter Horses on a small scale with his friend Dr. Hays, for years on his farm in Indiana. He was wrapping up his breeding business 1990 however, and, after a coin toss to determine which twin granddaughter to christen his final foal after, Heather Winder (Docs Sidewinder x Lil Susie Command) was the result.

Like many horse lovers, Heather originally toyed with the idea of becoming an equine veterinarian, though by her junior year in high school, she decided that this path wasn’t for her. An avid reader (the Keeneland library is one of her favorite haunts), Heather eventually combined her passion for horses with her love of the written word: She’s now the associate international editor for the Thoroughbred Daily News.

Of Writing and Riding

Heather was adamant that the school she attend have an Animal Science degree; she decided on and attended the University of Wyoming, which was about four hours from her hometown. The distance was enough that it was easy to return home on breaks, yet afforded Heather the ability to spread her wings.

At UW, Heather majored in Animal Science, Production Option. While there were other specialties available including Ag Business and Pre-Vet, Heather had determined by that time that she was more interested in breeding horses than in treating their major injuries. Also during her tenure at UW, Heather cultivated her love of writing and was part of the UW Honors Program, which placed an emphasis on creative writing.

Between her sophomore and junior years at UW, Heather travelled to Summerfield, FL, to attend the Peterson & Smith Equine Internship Program. This internship allowed Heather to participate in all aspects of equine reproduction offered by the Peterson & Smith Equine Reproduction Center, including recipient herd management, management of mares and stallions, embryo transfer and herd health.

She worked closely with Jose Madera and Drs. Matthews and Thacker during her time in Florida. Her internship experience was so positive that Heather began to investigate ways she could further both her education and her skills once she completed her bachelor’s degree in 2009.

As a testament to her ability to embrace a variety of learning experiences, Heather spent her final semester as a UW student abroad, as an exchange student at the University of Birmingham in England. While overseas, Heather made sure she still got her Thoroughbred fix, watching Sea The Stars (Ire) win the G1 2000 Guineas over Newmarket’s Rowley Mile.

Equine Experiences in the Bluegrass

By the time Heather was set to graduate, she knew her breed of choice was the Thoroughbred; to continue her practical education, she worked at the South Jersey Thoroughbred Rescue and Adoption organization for seven months upon leaving UW. She then applied for the Spring 2010 session of KEMI and was accepted; she soon made her way to the Thoroughbred Mecca of Kentucky.

One of Heather’s favorite parts of the KEMI program was touring the stallion farms. “Seeing the stallions in the flesh instead of looking at advertisements was wonderful,” Heather says. “The late Giant’s Causeway had this aura of command about him when they brought him out at Ashford, and getting my picture taken with Tiznow at WinStar was also amazing,” she reminisces. “The farms were so accommodating [to KEMI students].” When contemplating why each farm was so welcoming to the students, Heather offered: “When we get right down to it, the horses are why we all do what we do.”

Heather’s KEMI placement was Dixiana Farm, just north of Lexington. The farm, which is over a century old, encompasses over 1,000 acres of rolling Bluegrass and has produced multiple champions, including Mata Hari. As part of the Spring semester of KEMI, Heather focused on breeding and foaling during her time at Dixiana. Spring KEMI interns work in the barns and sheds so they can learn the ins-and-outs of working on a professional Thoroughbred farm in the spring.

Some of Heather’s most-treasured KEMI memories involve foaling. “Every single successful foaling I attended that resulted in a healthy foal was memorable,” she explained. “Those first few moments on earth, when they hear something for the first time and their over-sized ears perk up, was quite special. It gave me a sense of fulfillment to know I helped a future racehorse arrive.”

A Change of Profession

As her KEMI internship concluded, Heather returned to New Jersey to be with her boyfriend, who would become her future husband. She searched for three months for an equine-oriented job, sending out resumes to farms and other equine entities, but to no avail; as the horse industry as a whole was still recovering from the 2008 recession, equine jobs seemed to be few and far between.

Never one to wait for an opportunity to come to her, Heather became a pharmacy technician with a national chain—but she always knew she would get back to the Thoroughbreds one day. Though she wasn’t hands-on with horses, Heather’s innate desire to help people was still being met. “While it was quite different from anything I’d tried my hand at previously, I was still helping people and it felt much better to work at something than watch the bills pile up.”

Heather became a nationally certified pharmacy technician in the fall of 2010 and began looking for employment in a hospital pharmacy setting. She also investigated openings at veterinary pharmacies as well, hoping to marry her profession with her passion for horses.

Though she was not as immersed in the industry as she had hoped to be, Heather kept up with the Thoroughbred industry as much as she could, visiting Monmouth Park annually for the G1 Haskell Invitational S. and perusing the Thoroughbred Daily News for information and job opportunities. It was in an issue of the TDN that she came across an ad for an Assistant Editor for the newsletter; she was hired in December of 2013 and works out of the TDN home office in Red Bank, NJ.

It’s Not Work If You Love Your Job

Since starting at the TDN just under 5 ½ years ago, Heather has been promoted to Associate International Editor at the TDN. She assists with the European and international aspects of the paper, in addition to maintaining the TDN stallion database. 

Now completely immersed in the Thoroughbred racing industry, Heather feels that her time at KEMI prepared her well for her career with the TDN. Though not hands-on, the contacts she made during her time in the program were integral to her employment with the TDN. Additionally, she notes, KEMI emphasized the plethora of jobs in the industry that were available to people who had the equine and work experiences the KEMI interns obtained—not all of them hands-on. “Hard work is very important, but having the right contacts ranks right up there, too,” Heather explains. “Networking is vital to success in this industry.”

Though it took Heather a few years to make her way back to her chosen industry, she never lost her can-do attitude, giving each position she held the best effort she could. “A good attitude can never be overrated,” Heather says. “Regardless if you’re in your dream job or a short-term position, having a positive outlook makes everything easier. It greases the wheels, so to speak.”

“I’d also add that, even if you have your entire career planned out from the moment you graduate, life has a way of throwing a few surprises. Be open to new opportunities, even if they–at the time–appear out of left field.”

Another key asset KEMI taught Heather was the ability to balance a multiple priorities, including horse work and course work during the program. She quickly realized that the key to efficiency wasn’t to worry about assignments when she was actively working with the horses. “The better and more focused head space I was in, the better the mares and foals responded,” she explained. “Compartmentalization was key” and still important in her life today.

It Takes a Village

Heather is quick to point out that she didn’t achieve her success in the equine industry alone. “My family always supported me growing up and then that trend [of support] continued with my internships,” Heather said. “From my first internship with Peterson & Smith to working with my wonderful Dixiana mentor Dermot Fagan and other staff at Dixiana, every one of these people gave generously of their time and shared their knowledge. That has only continued at the TDN.”

“From Dermot especially, I learned proper horse management with an eye to herd stress reduction. No matter what the activity was, the emphasis was: ‘What is the best way to reduce stress on the animal and accomplish what we need to do?’  be it vaccinating, turn out, a farrier visit, etc. That was not always how I would have originally approached the problem,” she explains.

And for the future? I owned a small piece of a winning racehorse briefly and I would love to become more involved in the racing/breeding side of the game,” Heather says. “I also hope to keep expanding my bloodstock knowledge and apply that to my work at the TDN.” 

Graduate Spotlight: Cooper Sawyer

By News, Testimonials

Graduate Spotlight: Cooper Sawyer

By: Sarah Coleman

Featured image provided by: Keeneland/Photos by Z


A Rising Trajectory

Though Cooper Sawyer was born in the Bluegrass, he moved from Lexington at 13 before making his way back Northern Kentucky to finish his high school career at Beechwood High School. With a passion for racing and his heart set on the horses, Cooper studied Equine Business Management at Lexington Community College so he didn’t have to leave the Bluegrass again. Once he had completed the equine courses at LCC (now Bluegrass Community and Technical College) Cooper transferred to the University of Kentucky, where he graduated with a degree in Agricultural Communications, Education and Leadership in 2005. (UK did not offer their Ag Equine Program at the time Cooper attended college, he notes.)

Growing up, Cooper’s immediate family was not involved in the Thoroughbred industry, but they did have close family friends who were entrenched in multiple facets of the industry, so he was exposed to both racing and breeding from a young age. The family friends had horses that ran at both Keeneland and Churchill, so Cooper spent quite a bit of time at the tracks with his family and theirs. “My dad would get us out of school early one Friday during the spring and the fall meets when Keeneland was running,” Cooper reminisces. “Racing gives me such good memories of family.”

“I feel like I have always loved the racetrack and wanted to pursue a career within the Thoroughbred industry,” Cooper explains. “I always enjoyed talking horse racing with my dad and his friends, particularly during the Derby prep races in the Spring. It was definitely in my blood from an early age!”

Cooper worked on the track during the summers while he was in high school and originally thought he wanted to return to the track post-graduation. His way of thinking was changed, however, when he decided to expand his industry experience and get a job on a farm to better understand both the breeding aspect and working with foals and yearlings. Lexington was the obvious choice for this industry exploration.

However, though Cooper moved to the heart of horse country, he had a hard time finding farm work on a part-time basis. “I spoke with Garrett O’Rourke’s brother Brian during my search and he mentioned KEMI to me,” Cooper says of learning about the program. “After learning more about it, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.”





The Start of Something Great

“I was very anxious to start the program,” Cooper said. “I would finally get a job on a farm, in an industry I wanted to pursue AND I was able to take a semester off school to do it! It was all very exciting.” Similar to other KEMI grads, one of Cooper’s favorite take-aways from the program was the relationships he built and cultivated while a student in the KEMI program. “I was very fortunate in my placement [at Wimbledon Farm] and I was able to learn from the best team of horseman under the management of Brian O’Rourke. The divisional managers, foreman, and Drs. Brown and Rathgeber were second-to-none, and provided me with an education and experience that was invaluable.” Wimbledon Farm, where Cooper was placed, encompasses over 1,000 acres on the south side of Lexington. The farm boards mares and preps sales horses. Once Cooper’s semester with KEMI ended, he returned to school, but his connection with Wimbledon remained; he worked at the farm during breeding seasons. After graduation from UK, Cooper was focused on gaining more experience with yearlings. He secured a job with Mill Ridge Farm in Lexington, prepping yearlings under Donnie Snellings. Nearly 300 acres, Mill Ridge Farm boards mares, stands stallions, sells horses and offers bloodstock consulting through Nicoma Bloodstock. Mill Ridge is renowned in the Thoroughbred industry for putting the horse’s welfare at the forefront of every decision.

“The leadership at Mill Ridge taught me so much. Mrs. Chandler’s respect for the horse and her philosophy, ‘take care of the horse and the horse will take care of you,’ was ingrained in me at Mill Ridge,” Cooper explains. “For someone who was seeking to gain knowledge working with yearlings, I couldn’t have landed in a better place. I have so much respect for Donnie Snellings and his methods; I was able to learn so much from him and I am forever grateful.”

After spending nearly 5 years at Mill Ridge, Cooper was presented with an opportunity to move to Lane’s End Farm. There, he spent 4 years as the yearling manager, “where I was able to gain a better understanding and insight into the commercial aspect of the industry.” Established in 1979, Will Farish is the owner and founder of Lane’s End Farm, which comprises more than 2,300 acres in both Woodford and Fayette counties. Farish has raced more than 165 stakes winners and bred more than 300 stakes winners, and has won Horse of the Year accolades multiple times.

Lane’s End sells at every major sale, breeds and boards mares. “And I had a front-row seat at one of the best-run organizations in the world,” Cooper explains. “It was a great experience and important step for my career. The Farish’s, Mike Cline and the rest of the Lane’s End team are first class.”

From Lane’s End, Cooper went on to manage St. George Farm for Ian Banwell, a client of Lane’s End and a highly respected proponent of Thoroughbred breeding and racing. St. George was a medium-sized, private commercial breeding operation, which also had a sizable racing stable. “This was the first time in my career that I was able to put all my experiences together and apply it on a daily basis to run a farm. I spent 3 years managing St. George Farm before coming to Mt. Brilliant and I am proud of the accomplishments the farm made under my management,” says Cooper.

Cooper is now the Farm Manager of Mt. Brilliant Farm in Fayette County, Ky. The farm, which is over 1,200 acres, offers boarding and sales prep, and owns horses in training and actively racing, as well. In addition, the farm hosts polo matches and boasts phenomenal gardens, which include a taxus maze, kitchen garden, flower garden and vineyard.




KEMI: Laying the Foundation for Success

Cooper is adamant that KEMI was instrumental in helping him create such a successful career path. “KEMI serves as a launching pad for students wishing to pursue careers in the Thoroughbred industry. The model, comprised of networking, hands-on experience and coursework, has proven to be successful for almost 20 years. KEMI provided the foundation I needed as I was starting to build my career,” he explains. “If you have an interest in the Thoroughbred business, regardless of career path, this experience is a must,” Cooper says. “KEMI provides a built-in system for networking and building a knowledge base within the industry you can’t find on your own.”

KEMI students have to have some stick-to-itiveness, Cooper says with a laugh. “Everyone on the [Wimbledon] farm was trying to make me quit!” Even with the good-natured ribbing, Cooper knew he was meant for the Thoroughbred industry. “During orientation week [at KEMI], we went to a bunch of big farms and saw the stallions, like Giant’s Causeway. It’s an experience I will never forget … I really felt like I was a part of something bigger.”

Like every KEMI grad, Cooper acknowledged that there was a steep learning curve when he was placed on the farm. “I found working on a Thoroughbred farm initially was quite challenging because I was trying to learn as much as I could while still trying to do the best work possible,” he explains.
What he learned on Wimbledon Farm has translated to each of his subsequent career moves, where he garnered additional information and tactics he added to his management toolbox.
But one thing permeates every position he has had, on every farm: “No matter what your position is, take advantage of it, work as hard as you can and learn as much as you can, so you can apply that knowledge base as you progress in your career. And don’t be afraid to ask questions!” Cooper says.

Now married with three children, Cooper acknowledges that working on a farm is much more than a full-time job. Racing has taken a backseat to breeding (and kids); “to stay up with it all is still another full-time job!” he says.

Though he may not get to the races as often as he would like, Cooper is making his mark on the Thoroughbred industry in his own way, working toward the same goal that was instilled in him from his days at KEMI: the betterment of the farm.




Graduate Spotlight: Dr. Jackie Snyder

By News, Testimonials

Graduate Spotlight: Dr. Jackie Snyder


By Sarah Coleman


“Cattle Kid” to Outstanding Equine Vet

Growing up in Hershey, NE, Dr. Jackie Snyder hadn’t given much thought to becoming an equine-specific veterinarian. A “cattle kid through-and-through,” Jackie was very competitive in livestock judging throughout her high school and collegiate years. Though she knew she wanted to be a vet, she had assumed she would work in a mixed-practice setting, where she could capitalize on her bovine experience.


Girl Power

This intense involvement in livestock judging during high school allowed her to travel multiple times to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) campus, where she not only felt comfortable, she felt confident that she could judge at the collegiate level and represent the school.  Setting goals and achieving them has always been a part of Jackie’s life, and judging while in college was a large goal she set while in high school. Jackie was a formidable opponent when it came to judging; her junior year of high school, she was part of the only all-female judging team to sweep the Nebraska state judging competition in Lincoln, besting more than 34 teams (mostly made up of males). This victory bought the team a spot to the national competition in Louisville, KY., in 2001, becoming the only all-female team in the nation to qualify for the prestigious event. Jackie has used the skills she honed in livestock judging, including the networking skills and the confidence to think on her feet while public speaking, in every facet of her career. Networking played a role in not only her acceptance into college, vet school and the KEMI program, it allowed her—and continues to help her–expand her professional contacts. After Jackie completed her four years an UNL with a degree in Animal Science, all while remaining fiercely competitive in livestock judging, she set her laser-like focus on vet school; she applied and was accepted into the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Since 2007, Nebraska’s Professional Program in Veterinary Medicine (PPVM) has allowed in-state students to complete two years of veterinary medicine at the University of Nebraska, then transfer to the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, a partner institution, for the final two years of study, while continuing to pay in-state tuition.


The Exposure to All Things Equine

Though Jackie didn’t grow up around horses, she was extremely well-versed with cows; she grew up on a cow-calf operation and her father ran a feedlot. Being around and handling large animals was not new to her; though horses are innately different from cattle, the ability to handle livestock well, as well as project confidence around animals many times her size, has served her well throughout her career. “I had worked for a mixed-animal practitioner during the summer, and he did a lot of equine work,” Jackie explains about how her interest in horses was piqued. “I really liked it, but I realized that my equine-handling skills needed work before I went to vet school. I decided there was no better place to learn then Kentucky!” Jackie hadn’t been back to the Bluegrass since high school, but she had met Leslie Janecka in passing at a career fair as a freshman (goal-oriented, remember?). “I met Leslie and grabbed a pamphlet that talked about KEMI. I didn’t think I would have time to enroll in KEMI as an undergrad, so I set the information aside,” she explains. Then, there were some (now-fortuitous) logistical problems the year Jackie was supposed to be on the UNL Livestock Judging Team. “I opted to stay another semester so I could judge,” Jackie explained, “and that opened up a spring semester [2008] where I needed something to do!” And she still had the pamphlet…. Jackie sent in her resume. “I honestly didn’t think they would accept me since I didn’t have a ton of equine experience and none outside a clinic setting,” Jackie says. “I remember Googling my placement farm [Mill Ridge Farm] the day I got my email and falling in love!” she says. “It was a gorgeous farm with such a rich history.” Leslie began sending emails to the incoming KEMI class, reminding them how tough the internship program was going to be. “I felt like I was pretty tough, but it did make me wonder!” Jackie said.

The Consummate Networker

Jackie thrived at Mill Ridge. “I just loved the day-to-day process,” she explains. “From breeding mares to foaling mares and watching the foals develop into racehorses, it was great to be a part of the team that cared for these animals.” Her favorite part of her time at Mill Ridge was the foalings. “It was great to see the babies emerge and try to figure out their legs, and how to nurse,” she says. This exposure to the industry while on the farm only solidified Jackie’s desire to be a vet. Though the KEMI spring semester officially ended in June, Jackie stayed on at Mill Ridge to help prep yearlings before heading back to start vet school. Jackie is adamant that KEMI has helped her in vet school and also in the role she has now as an Associate Ambulatory Veterinarian for Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. KEMI has helped her “better relate to what my clients do on a day-to-day basis,” she explains. “KEMI also taught me a lot of horsemanship skills.” In addition to tangible skills she gained through KEMI, Jackie strengthened one of the skills she used in livestock judging while in the heart of horse country: networking. “On my day off from KEMI, I would often ride along with Dr. Stuart Brown, Mill Ridge’s farm veterinarian. He was and is a wonderful mentor to me,” she says. “After several weeks riding along with Dr. Brown, he opened some doors to help me shadow other Hagyard veterinarians in the field as well as in surgery and medicine. I loved the clinic, the level of care they provided to their clients and I felt comfortable there,” she says. True to the diligence and foresight that had served her well in years past, Jackie stayed in contact with Dr. Brown through veterinary school and returned to Kentucky for a few weeks every year to shadow veterinarians at Hagyard. After graduation, Jackie applied for and was accepted into Hagyard’s ambulatory internship program. “After my internship, I stayed on as an associate, where I’ve been growing my practice ever since,” she explains. So what, in addition to having goals, does Jackie feel has best served her in the equine industry? Her ability to “sign up and show up.” The equine industry is great and offers young people lots of room to grown and create their career, she says. “But you have to show up ready to have some fun and work hard.”


Sign Up, Show Up, Work Hard

Jackie carries the “show up and work hard” mentality into every facet of her life. “My husband and I joke that our family motto is ‘There’s no good time, so why not now?’” she says. “I’m often trying to find that perfect time to accomplish a task, but really, getting started is usually the toughest part.” “If you are thinking about the KEMI internship, just sign up. It won’t be perfect, and sometimes it might even be scary,” but it’s worth it. “Be an advocate for yourself. If you show up and learn to love the process, you’ll learn a lot and have a great time.”

Graduate Spotlight: Adolfo Martinez

By News, Testimonials

Graduate Spotlight: Adolfo Martinez

By Sarah Coleman

Keep Looking Forward

Growing up all across the Lone Star State, Adolfo Martinez graduated from Fort Davis Texas High School before attending Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas, where he studied Animal Science with an emphasis in Reproduction and Physiology.  “We always had horses around,” explains Adolfo, so going to school to pursue something equine-related was a no-brainer. While traveling to the Bluegrass for an equine symposium with his college advisor, Adolfo met force-to-be-reckoned with Shannon White, who at the time was the KEMI Program Coordinator. “I decided to take a break from my master’s-degree program and give it [the KEMI program] a try,” Adolfo explains. “I was ready for a change and was looking forward to gaining experience outside of the Quarter Horse industry.”


A Way of Life

This forward-looking way of thinking is truly engrained in Adolfo. Even before he arrived in Kentucky, he looked for opportunities and made sure he took advantage of options placed before him. Adolfo’s favorite part of the KEMI program “was meeting all the people I still continue to see today here in Lexington,” he explains. The amount of education available and the ability to network were instrumental in helping the KEMI students, he noted. “Everyone is helpful and knows contacts to get you where you need to be,” he explains. Though KEMI placed fantastic opportunities in front of Adolfo, the now-manager of Heaven Trees acknowledges that it “was my education and drive that helped me get what I needed out of KEMI.” While in the program, Adolfo was placed on Pin Oak Stud, where he was exposed to a lot of areas on the farm he was not as-familiar with and he had managers who helped him learn the skills he needed. After graduating, Adolfo worked for Thoroughbred powerhouses like Wimbledon Farm, where he flew with Lion Cavern to Australia; Mill Ridge Farm, where he shuttled Johar to New Zealand and worked in the foaling barns while in the States; Darby Dan Farm, where he was Broodmare Manager, then Assistant Farm Manager/Broodmare Manager; and Calumet where he worked with yearlings at their Bluegrass Farm division. Always looking forward, he then transitioned to his role as Farm Manager at Heaven Trees in Lexington, where he has been since November of 2016. Owned by Dede McGehee, Heaven Trees is a private farm with about 45 horses ranging from foals to retired broodmares and geldings. The farm consigns yearlings for the September sale and occasionally mares for the November sale.
“I love working on this farm,” Adolfo says. “The owner is great to work for and I have a great staff to work with; we do everything from horses to gardening to maintaining the farm grounds.


You Get Out What You Put In

One of the hardest parts of being a KEMI intern was feeling lost and like you didn’t understand what everyone was talking about, he explains. “As time passes, you catch up and it all makes sense,” he promises. When asked if he would complete the KEMI program again, without hesitation, Adolfo says “in a heartbeat!” On advice for students who see themselves in the Thoroughbred industry? “The days are long and some nights are longer. Dig deep and push your limit—it’s a very rewarding job.” Adolfo’s advice to incoming KEMI students rings just as true for those already entrenched in the equine industry: “Be ready to be open and bust your rear to make a difference. You never wanna be remembered for the bad, so make sure you leave a lot of good things behind.”
Truer words have rarely been spoken and, characteristically, Adolfo sums up his time in the Horse Capital as this: “[Working in this industry] has been a very fun and adventurous ride—and I’m looking forward to more.”


Graduate Spotlight: Cathy McNeeley O’Meara

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Graduate Spotlight: Cathy McNeeley O’Meara

By: Sarah Coleman

Featured image provided by: The Jockey Club


Cathy McNeely O’Meara, originally from Boones Mill, VA (where some episodes of Moonshiners was filmed, she points out), has long been an animal lover and avid equine enthusiast. Cathy was involved with horses from a very young age; her mother was a show-horse trainer and had Cathy in the competition ring at just 18 months old. Growing up, “I was always the guinea pig for new, green ponies and horses to make sure they were OK for the lesson programs and summer camps … I got a real appreciation early on for keeping my heels down and my eyes up!” she laughs.

When it came time for her to go off to college, Cathy specifically chose Virginia Tech as it had full herds (five species) that allowed for maximum hands-on experience. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal and Poultry Science and has since gotten an MBA in Information Systems from Sullivan University.

Though always passionate about the horses, it wasn’t until deciding not to pursue veterinary school that Cathy stumbled across KEMI while doing an internet search. She knew she wanted to work in the equine industry, but didn’t know in what capacity.

KEMI piqued her interest. Though Cathy and her mom had worked with many Thoroughbreds when they retired from the track, she had never dealt with them as racehorses. “I was excited to be trying something new” with the KEMI program, Cathy said. She looked forward to being exposed to many facets of the Thoroughbred industry through the program.


The Difference Between Racehorse and Riding Horse

During her time as a KEMI student, her favorite part of the program was “definitely the ability to work with horses daily. I was fortunate to be able to expand my knowledge of breaking and training with new techniques and methods,” Cathy says. “Even though there’s a different way to do things as this is a business not just a backyard farm [like she was used to], the experience was demanding, but also thoroughly enjoyable.”

Dealing with the frustration of being asked to do something differently from the way one thinks it should be done was one of the hardest parts of being a KEMI intern, Cathy noted. While that probably just has to do with being young, she acknowledges, it was extremely valuable to learn that “there is typically a reason why things are done a certain way at the farms and you should respect that–certainly ask why, as you may be able to offer a potential alternative, but also be understanding of the potential constraints that may also exist.”

This was an invaluable lesson that all KEMI students learn and it is one that has served Cathy well, both in her time in KEMI and in her professional career.

Placed on Pin Oak Stud, one of Cathy’s favorite parts of her time on the farm was morning sets. “Regardless of whether it was actually riding out a set or just long lining them, I love misty mornings at sunrise,” she explains. And there truly is nothing prettier than morning in the Bluegrass, working with Thoroughbreds!

Though “I found out that farm life wasn’t my thing, I found a great appreciation for the industry and understand that all parts are equally important,” Cathy explains. KEMI, like any other quality educational program, is just as valuable for showing students what they DON’T want to do, as solidifying what they DO want to do. Exposing students to all the facets of the industry allows them to hone in on what they enjoy and don’t care for, working to ensure that KEMI grads’ future full-time jobs are ones they are truly passionate about.

Cathy O’Meara at Pin Oak Stud during KEMI internship.


A Vast and Varied Equine Career Path

Though Cathy does not currently work hands-on with horses, she has held many fantastic positions in the equine industry. “Directly after the [KEMI] internship (Fall then Spring session), Pin Oak sent me to Kildangan Stud in Ireland for a breaking and training season. Upon my return, I worked a few more months at Pin Oak, then left for a racetrack exercise rider position at the Thoroughbred Training Center,” Cathy says. “Over the next eight years, I worked as a freelance and salaried rider, had my owner/trainer license for a few horses, legged up horses for others, did accounts management for various farms and associations, and even worked as a farm manager for a year (which ended up not being my passion!).”

Ultimately, Cathy landed at The Jockey Club in 2008, where she has been since. “I now am the Industry Initiatives Coordinator for The Jockey Club and Racing Officials Accreditation Program (ROAP). I coordinate the Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summits and handle the day-to-day operations of ROAP. While I never saw myself working in a regulatory/advocacy environment, I thoroughly enjoy being able to work through the issues that face our racing industry to ensure a safe and prosperous industry for the future.”

And though she’s not currently working hands-on with the horses, Cathy acknowledges that KEMI provided her with the foundation she needed work in her role with ROAP. “The hands-on experience and networking, which began through my internship, was the stepping stone to my next endeavors. Without it, I would not be working in the racing industry.”


Always Keep Learning

KEMI can be tough, especially if students come in with preconceived notions about horses or the Thoroughbred industry. Cathy’s best advice? “Plan to work hard and keep an open mind. There are different ways of doing things and most people want to do it ‘their way.’ Even though I [came into the program] with lots of hands-on experience, I still learned a tremendous amount.”

Cathy encourages KEMI students to keep an open mind when they’re involved in the program, as there are myriad positions in the racing world, not all of which involve training or management. “Just because one area [of the equine industry] may not interest you, keep networking and trying new areas. Hard work is key and respect for your managers is paramount. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and always keep learning,” she advises.

Graduate Spotlight: Jordan Blair

By News, Testimonials

Graduate Spotlight:

Thoroughbred Racehorse Trainer Jordan Blair

By Sarah E. Coleman

A Family Affair

Born in the Bluegrass, Jordan Blair has been a Thoroughbred racing fan practically since birth. Well versed in all facets of the industry, Jordan attended his first Breeders’ Cup in 1988 at Churchill Downs. His mother, Debbie, worked for the organization as the Vice President of Customer and Event Services. Because of her role with Breeders’ Cup, Blair was very aware that there were many ways to work in the racing industry and that not all of them were hands-on with the horses.

But hands-on is what Jorden preferred: To earn spending money as a teenager, he worked for the Keeneland sales for consignors like Taylor Made, as well as for Bluegrass Thoroughbreds and Pin Oak Stud. Jordan also worked for Gainsborough Farm and Dromoland Farm throughout high school and college.

After graduating from Tates Creek High School in Lexington in 1999, Jordan attended the University of Kentucky (UK), where he studied Agricultural Economics and Horticulture Science; he chose the Big Blue Nation for multiple reasons, including in-state tuition, the easy transition to college from home, its top-notch ag college and the fact that “I’ve always been a huge UK sports fan!” says Jordan.

A Lucky Find

After graduating from UK, Jordan went to Mississippi State to get a Master’s Degree in Agribusiness Management. It was while he was in grad school that Jordan stumbled upon the Kentucky Equine Management Internship (KEMI) program.

Required to complete an internship to finish his MBA, Blair found the KEMI program online and was immediately intrigued: “I was sold [on it] as it was in my hometown and I was anxious to graduate!” he explains. Jordan applied and, once accepted into the program, was placed on Pin Oak Stud in Versailles.

Home to a stallion roster that includes Broken Vow and Alternation, Pin Oak encompasses over 1,300 acres and cares for broodmares and foals in addition to its stallions. The farm is owned by Josephine Abercromie, a staunch supporter of both the racing industry and the local community—both of which Jordan was, and continues to be, passionate about.

“I learned many things at Pin Oak, including the ins-and-outs of operating a breeding farm, organizing broodmares and their cycles, weaning babies and handling stallions,” Jordan says. “General Manager Clifford Barry also taught me how to work smarter and to pay close attention to details. He was a strong mentor of mine.”

Making His Own Way

While Jordan received vast amounts of hands-on experience while working at Pin Oak, he also enjoyed the classroom and lecture portions of KEMI. He greatly appreciated the ability to be exposed to great professionals who worked in every facet of the Thoroughbred industry.

Once graduated from KEMI in 2006, Blair worked some additional sales, then got a full-time position in the front office of Ben-D Farm in Walton, Ky., where he worked for 2 years as office manager, taking care of accounts, booking mares to stallions, working with sales companies and consignments. He was also hands-on with delivering foals and prepping yearlings. After his time at Ben-D, Blair changed gears and became an assistant trainer, working under such notables as Mike Maker, Michael Ewing and Kenny McPeek. After eight years, he struck out on his own.

A Solid Foundation

Jordan’s time in KEMI helped prepare him for what real life in the Thoroughbred industry is like. He strongly recommends that anyone looking to work in the Thoroughbred world complete the program; he notes that KEMI helped him understand that “there aren’t many ‘jobs’ in the equine industry–it’s more of a lifestyle: [There are] Not many days off.”

So what pieces of advice does Jordan offer potential incoming KEMI students? “Understand that you’ll start at the bottom, learn and work your way up. Be prepared to work hard and keep your ears open. You won’t see the benefit of mucking stalls and raking shedrows until you’re in charge of that sort of thing. Pick up as much knowledge as possible in the short time you have there. Go above and beyond what is expected–that is what sets you apart from others.”

And what was the hardest part of KEMI? Learning how to balance work and course work, Jordan says. Now married with a child of his own, KEMI helped Jordan learn how to balance multiple important priorities, as well as the importance of networking, and keeping close contacts inside and out of the industry.

Jordan still keeps in touch with other KEMI grads and he even does business with a few. He believes very strongly that KEMI provides a valuable service for the industry: “It provides good people for the farms during and after their internships; it also provides an ‘in’ for these students [those passionate about Thoroughbreds] who wouldn’t know any other way of going about entering this business.”

The Secret to His Success

So, is there one key to Jordan’s success? Not really. “It’s all been based on very hard (and smart) work, and the contacts I’ve made and kept over the years. I am always learning and always open to new ideas,” he says. “There is so much more to running a business than knowing how to deal with horses, and I’ve learned many lessons by making mistakes. I’ve had some very hard times, but by persevering and not giving up, I’ve been able to grow my stable.”

Now married to business partner Jordan Springer, Jordan focuses on racing client horses at Turfway, Ellis Park, Churchill Downs, Indiana Grand and Kentucky Downs. Jordan has trained stakes-placed Silver Magnolia and allowance horses including Craving Carats, Patrick’s Day, Oatfield and Gift Receipt.


Graduate Spotlight: Carrie Gilbert: You Get Out What You Put In

By News, Testimonials

Now a prominent fixture in the Thoroughbred industry, Carrie Gilbert grew up a track rat in Fairport, N.Y., before moving to the Horse Capital of the World and immersing herself in all things equine.

Starting ‘Em Off Right

Having grown up riding hunter/jumpers and showing on the Arabian show circuit, Carrie Gilbert was immersed in the show world as a child. However, she got her first taste of Thoroughbred racing at the tender age of 6, when her great-aunt brought her to Saratoga Race Course for the first time. Carrie knew then and there that she was wanted to work horses—and not just horse: racehorses.

Carrie went to the track every summer after that, spending days on the backside and going to the races. Her aunt worked part-time as a betting window teller on weekends, so she would take Carrie with her and drop her off on the backside, where she would spend the entire morning. From there, Carrie would walk to the Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and then head back to the track for the afternoon races.

Right Where She’s Meant to Be

The time spent on the track solidified Carrie’s conviction that she was meant to live in Kentucky, so immediately upon graduating from high school, she accepted a groom position at Lane’s End Oak Tree division. She jumped in head first, learning how to groom and the ropes of how a first-class Thoroughbred farm operated.

Carrie first became aware of the KEMI program after only two weeks in the Bluegrass, when students came to Lane’s End Oak Tree for their short course, which is a series of orientation activities KEMI members take part in as a group. The short course is designed to help students get acquainted with the expectations of the KEMI program, learn about job opportunities for graduates and get a general overview of the components of the Kentucky Thoroughbred industry.

The KEMI students happened to be at Lane’s End to hear lectures from farm employees on how they manage their operations and to see the farm in action. Once the tour had left, Carrie’s manager, Callan Strouss, encouraged her to apply for a spot in the highly competitive program even though the deadline for acceptance had passed by just a few days. “The rest is history!” Carrie laughs.

Immersion In the Industry

As she was brand-new to the Bluegrass, it would have been understandable if Carrie was plagued by a nerves before entering the KEMI program. But when asked if she was anxious, Carrie said she wasn’t at all—she was simply excited. “This [program] allowed me to meet people my own age working in similar positions who also had a passion for all things equine. The opportunities to learn, grow and network appeared endless!”

When asked what her favorite part of the KEMI program was, Carrie couldn’t narrow it down to just one thing. “Honestly, I really enjoyed everything about it. I thrived on the lectures and guest speakers; I was thrilled to be able to attend clinics, symposiums and the monthly Farm Managers Club meetings.”

While it might seem like the last thing KEMI students might be interested in doing after working long hour on the farm is go to class, Carrie related that the weekly lectures are actually very well received. “They give you an opportunity to catch up with the other interns in the program; to swap stories and hang out, which I think is important as farm life can get busy and rather tiring–having friends in the same situation is good to have.”

As the goal of KEMI is to completely immerse students in the program, Carrie also go to see firsthand the ins and outs of an industry she knew she had always wanted to be involved in. “To be able to handle, care for and help raise some of the best equine athletes in the world was priceless,” she explains. “You form relationship with the management and staff on the farm along with the veterinarians, farriers and so many more key figures who can you can easily call upon in the future for just about anything.”

Carrie has a long list of key people who were mentors during her time in KEMI, all of whom she still considers mentors and friends today. When asked who had an influence on her and whom she still keeps in touch with, Carrie elaborated: “I would have to start off with Callan Strouss and Curt Ramsey [manager and assistant manager at Oak Tree] both of whom I worked for as a KEMI student and still work with daily today. My mentors included Garrett O’ Rourke, Jackie Smith [both at Juddmonte], Sandy Hatfield, Tom Evans, Mike Owens, Bill Wofford, Kim Ramsey [now the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers Club executive assistant] and Shannon White, the KEMI director when I was a student.” Dr. Kevin Pfeister, farrier Duane Raglin and Oak Tree foreman Jo Josey and Terry Frymen are additional people whom Carrie was able to meet and learn from during her time enrolled in the KEMI program—and people she still considers friends today.

You Get What You Give

Like most life experiences, students have to be fully invested to get the most out of the program that they can. “This is a program that the more you put into it, the more rewarding it is,” explains Carrie. It’s also a program that “even if you decide that the Thoroughbred industry isn’t for you, you’ve gained so much knowledge and firsthand experience, which can be taken and applied to any breed, anywhere!”

Carrie knew that, for her, remaining in the Thoroughbred industry was non-negotiable. Once she graduated from the KEMI program in the spring of 2001, she enrolled full-time at the University of Kentucky to obtain her Equine Business degree. At the same time, she began working for Flaxman Holdings part-time (30 hours a week) as an office administrator, managed a polo barn for a local Lexington polo player, and worked all of the major sales in both Kentucky and New York (we said she was driven!).

“Once I completed school, I began working for Flaxman Holdings full-time and also took many side jobs and volunteer opportunities, and I accepted board positions in varying associations, clubs, and organizations in all facets of the Thoroughbred and equine world. My husband and I opened and ran a boarding/breaking farm with part of the focus on rehabbing, retraining and selling off-the-track Thoroughbreds, which we thoroughly enjoyed.”

After 5 years of intense careers and passions, Carrie and husband Randy decided to reprioritize where they spent their time and began a family. Today, Carrie has been with Flaxman for 16 years and her job has evolved into the role of Racing, Sales and Stallion Coordinator. “The job is a smorgasbord of duties, including some of my favorite aspect of farm photographer and traveling,” she explains.


 Never Stop Learning

While Carrie’s background is vast and varied through her own dedication to deepening her experiences in the Thoroughbred industry, she feels very strongly that her time in KEMI placed her on the path to success. “The exposure to top management, veterinarians, farriers and specialty fields broadened my education and my network within Kentucky, the U.S. and abroad. Just being exposed to Thoroughbred lingo, pedigrees, veterinary terms, conformation exams, radiographs, racing and technology … prepared me by increasing my knowledge base and hands-on experience.”

While Carrie recommends applying for KEMI without hesitation, she offers students—or anyone interested in the equine industry—one key piece of advice:

“Nearly everyone you will meet in the industry started off as a groom on the racetrack or a farm. It’s a ladder you must climb–and you must start at the bottom. This industry is one where it’s vital to learn as you grow. Ask any manager in Central Kentucky, and they will all say they are still learning, and they see new things every day. You learn by working, seeing and doing … you must put in the time, effort, dedication and open-mindedness–that will get you furthest in the industry. Don’t expect after a 6-month internship that you’ll be at the top of any ladder. The more time you put in, the more marketable you become.”