Having grown up riding hunter/jumpers and showing on the Arabian show circuit, New York native 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 horses: racehorses.
Carrie went to the track every summer after that, spending days on the backside and going to the races. 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.
It was there that Carrie was introduced to the high competitive Kentucky Equine Management Internship (KEMI) program, and her manager encouraged her to apply.
“This [program] allowed me to meet people my own age working in similar positions who also had a passion for all things equine,” she said. “The opportunities to learn, grow and network appeared endless.”
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.”
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 as an office administrator, managed a polo barn for a local Lexington polo player, and worked all the major sales in both Kentucky and New York.
“Once I completed school, I began working for Flaxman Holdings full-time, 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.”
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 aspects of farm photographer and traveling,” she explains.
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.”
Reprinted with permission from Kentucky Equine Management Internship. KEMI is dedicated to improving the opportunities for college students wishing to pursue a career in the field of equine management. The program offers a comprehensive educational experience for students enrolled for academic credit through a sponsoring college or university, or for recent graduates of such institutions. To learn more about this program, visit www.kemi.org.