Horses at dawn – At the racecourse with a trackwork rider

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Kseniia Spodyneiko from focus magazine catches up with trackwork rider Tamara Costar to find out more about her passion for horses.

Fascinators and champagne glasses are nowhere to be seen and there’s no sign of any jockeys. It’s 7am at Tauranga Racecourse and this is the trackwork riders’ time. Tamara Costar’s job is to exercise six race horses every day – that’s the main difference between a trackwork rider and a jockey, who normally races only one horse on race day.

Tamara leads a giant of a horse out of his stall. He’s the biggest one at the Tauranga stable and the last one to ride before her 6-8am work session ends.

“Sonny is my favourite. He’s kind and quiet”. Don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of Sonny. On the racing circuit he is Duke Street, but Tamara prefers to call him by his stable name.

An unconditional love of horses is as vital here as an ability to distinguish a trot from a gallop.

Where jockeys live for the adrenaline of the race and the intoxicating feeling of victory, trackwork riders remain behind the scenes and their daily training and interaction with the horses is their true happiness.

“I’ve always loved horses. As a kid, I had ponies at our farm. I would take a pony to my friend’s house, and we’d spend the day having fun. At the age of 13 I started to work at a stable on weekends and school holidays. Riding a race horse is quite different from riding a pony – I had to learn a lot but, luckily for me, I had a really good trainer in Te Aroha. I wanted to be a jockey but I got too big! You have to be a certain weight to race a horse in a competition so I never had the chance to compete. But a trainer’s job gave me a lot of other opportunities.”

Like training horses in different countries?

Exactly! I travelled to Singapore and Australia. To say nothing about all the places I’ve been to in New Zealand.

How different is the process depending on the country?

Australia is quite similar but, because of the heat and high humidity, Singapore is a bit different. You have to be aware of that when riding a horse.

Youve been doing this for 18 years now, changing countries and racecourses… Saying goodbye to your favourite horses must be quite emotional?

I prefer to focus on positive things – seeing them win makes me truly happy. For example, I trained a 3-year-old, King’s Chapel, and that year he became New Zealand’s Champion 3-Year-Old and Horse Of The Year. He won heaps of big races! No matter how many horses I’ve trained, each one will always be special and even the small races they win are exciting.

Sounds like youve always been lucky enough to exercise winning horses with easy personalities. But I know this job isn’t as easy as it seems?

Some horses might give you a really hard time at the beginning, true. Training them is dangerous. Once I had a horse fall on me at the starting gates and I broke my pelvis. I also had a collarbone injury. You have to really love what you do so you don’t give up. But the horses get easier once they learn what their job is.

What’s the best thing about working at Tauranga Racecourse?

The views and the beautiful weather. I like coming here in the morning and seeing the sun coming out from behind the mountains. I meet lots of great people who share the same interests. Kelly Pender, who rides with me, is wonderful and his father, Jim Pender, is a good trainer to work for. Horses give me an amazing workout; staying strong and fit couldn’t be easier here!

There were mostly women riding horses with you this morning. Is this a common profession for women?

There are definitely more women coming into this business, especially jockeys. A few years ago there were hardly any women jockeys. Perhaps a few! But now they dominate the industry. With trackwork riders it tends to be pretty even. We have a lot of women working in Tauranga but at some places I’ve worked, it’s completely male-driven.

What do you normally do after work?

Right now I just enjoy the summer! I go to the beach with my kids, run up the Papamoa Hills or the Mount three times per week. I love being active outdoors and it’s great that my job allows me to spend so much time with my kids. It might change soon though as I’m thinking about studying sport at Polytech, so I’ll have to go to classes after work.

And what would you do if you won the lottery and didn’t have to work anymore?

Haha, I’d buy myself a horse! I’d train it and ride it. That would be cool.