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Horse training: A great job - and it pays well

by Khalid Malik - Tuesday, January 29, 2008

This article is courtesy of Telegraph-Journal

Lorna Perkins is a 1981 graduate of Saint John High School.

SAINT JOHN - Lorna Perkins of Saint John is literally a trail blazer.

She is among a rare breed of women who are training race horses.

"There are a few women trainers, but we are getting more and more all the time," she said in an interview over the weekend from Puerto Rico, where she is vacationing. "Between 25 to 30 per cent are women at Woodbine Raceway" in Toronto, where she is a trainer. Woodbine is Canada's premier racetrack.

"It is a difficult profession for women to get into," she said.

"Before there were hardly any women at all. It was only two years ago the first woman (trainer) won the Queen's Plate at Woodbine. Women are trying to make inroads. The Old School (of male trainers) is a close-knit community."

Perkins, 44, said being a horse trainer is a good profession for women. But she warns it is "a lot of work, seven days a week. It is a good job if you like horses and races. You enjoy what you are doing, it is not just a job.

"I enjoy it. I don't see why other women wouldn't enjoy it. It is a great job. You can make good money," she said, adding that she made around $200,000 in 2007.

"I have been successful at Woodbine. Every year I win more and more races," she said. In 2007 horses she trained won seven races.

Trainers charge $80 a day for training a horse and get 10 per cent of the purse if their horse places in the first three positions. Sixty per cent of the purse goes to the owner of the horse that places first, and the other 40 per cent is divided at a sliding scale among the owners of the horses that place in the next four positions.

Perkins said her job starts at 5:30 a.m., when she comes in and ride her horses and then she watches her horses trained and groomed till about noon. The afternoon is devoted to races and getting the horses ready for them. If her horses are not running that day, she comes back in the afternoon and checks them to see if they have been properly fed and groomed.

Perkins trains 20 horses of different ages. Some of them have raced and some have not. "You have to train them because some of them don't know how to come out of the starting gates," Perkins said. She has a staff of four to help her in her work.

"The races are held five days a week, but you work seven days a week. You get a day off here and there," she said.

She says dedication to her job was not behind the breakup of her marriage. She blames that on her youth. "I married too young," she said. Her marriage lasted nine years. Now she lives with Gerry Baird, a jockey from St. John's, N.L.

Perkins said she first became interested in horses when she was a young girl. As a resident of Champlain Heights, she used to go horse riding in Quispamsis at a barn on Churchland Road, and in Bloomfield, Sussex and Geary, near Oromocto. She developed her fondness for horses during her visits to her family in Plaster Rock in northern New Brunswick.

Right after her graduation from Saint John High School in 1981, she went to Humber College in Toronto to take a two-year course in equine studies. She moved around a bit during her marriage and when she got divorced in 1993, she got a job as an exercise rider at Woodbine and gradually progressed to assistant trainer and trainer.

"I enjoy horse riding and still ride my own horses," she said.

Perkins said her mother, Marian Perkins, and her brother and sister still live in Saint John and she comes here every Christmas.

"I go there at least once a year," she said. "I miss friends and family. It is nice to have close contact with them."

She didn't come to Saint John this past Christmas because, for the first time, Perkins is wintering in Hot Springs, Ark. She is there with five of her 20 horses, including one named Yes It's Bull. Trainers who winter-race their horses have an advantage, because it is a little difficult to get horses ready at Woodbine the first couple of weeks. Horses that have winter raced win a lot of races, she said.