Published: 12th August 2019
She Ain't Horsing Around: How these women have set a precedent in this male-dominated sport
Women horse trainers are a thing. They have been for a while and they will continue to be — no matter what you've been led to believe about the elite sport. Its a real career option for women now
You've got to blame Indian movies for the perception that all women do on a racecourse is look pretty as the men ride horses and bet big bucks. Tell that to these three women — Arti Doctor from Kolkata, Nazak Chenoy from Mumbai and Parvati Byramji from Bengaluru — and they will smirk at you knowingly. Seasoned to the point where they can train the horses as well as men can, these women have the trust of their owners and the horses that they so lovingly tend to. Read on to find out how and why they got into this unconventional career and what keeps them on track!
How Arti Doctor scripted history
Coming from a family where her father and brothers were heavily into horse racing, Arti Doctor has set a benchmark as a horse trainer. At 61, she has been in this profession for over 30 years now and has won over 700 plus races. How did it begin? It was way back in 1983, right after she completed her course in graphic designing, that she told her father that she was more interested in training horses than working as a graphic designer. Taking us through what happened next, she says, "It was straightforward for a person like me to choose this profession, having been so close to this sport from childhood. Initially, my parents were not thrilled, but they came around. My father's friend also advised him not to encourage me as it is a male-dominated profession and not apt for ladies. But, I was clear about my passion and hence joined as a junior assistant to veteran trainer Uttam Singh. While the actual rule is to work with a senior trainer for three years, I worked with him for four-and-a-half years at the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC). He is 100 years old today."
Two decades and more: Arti Doctor has been working as a horse trainers for more than 20 years
Despite the obvious advantages, she too struggled, in her initial days, to establish herself. She says, "Some owners who had seen me work with Uttam Singh trusted me and handed their horses to me for training. They continue to remain with me even today. You can't expect everyone to be the same. Once, I overheard some owners saying that women can like horses but how can one trust them to be good horse trainers. Gradually, I realised that such an attitude exists in every profession. Whether it is men or women, it is not easy to earn the trust of horse owners. One has to win races to prove themselves." After working for over 20 years in the RWITC, she moved to Kolkata for better opportunities. At present, she is serving at the Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC).
Horses that won: Raghuvansh and Multimagic are among the few horses in Kolkata who are not only Arti's favourites but have also done well for her
Arti takes pride in the fact that she has won one Classic Race in 2001 in her career so far and it was the horse Wild Eagle which won this race for her. "I remember how happy I was after my horse won the race. The very next day, everyone starts preparing for the race. I have been in this profession for passion and have never complained about winning or losing," says Arti who is training her nephew to be the next horse trainer in the club. Both of them take care of 30 horses, in all.
The South is her turf. Period!
Until two years ago, South India never really had any 'pro' women horse trainers. And then, in 2017, Parvati Byramji took over as a horse trainer at the Bangalore Turf Club. Married to Darius Byramji, a fourth generation horse trainer, she presently trains around 17 horses and handles their stable needs. Watching her communicate with these mighty and beautiful creatures, holding them close to her face, patting them gently, one can sense how close she is to them. She says, "I am originally from Mumbai. When I was 11 years old, my father found an advertisement for horse riding classes. I joined the classes like any other child but never thought I'd develop such a deep interest in horses. It was Pesi Shroff, the famous Indian jockey, who gave his horse Sir Dickson to me. The truth is that Sir Dickson became a good coach. He taught me everything. From checking the health of a horse to communicating with them, everything was learnt with and from him. We lost him a few years ago. After him, I have not been able to bond to that extent with any horse in this club."
South is her turf: Parvati Byramji from Bangalore Turf Club is the pride of South India (Pic: Pandarinath B)
What led Parvati to come to Bengaluru is an interesting story. At one point in time, she was the only woman polo rider in India. Parvati had a stunning start to her career with the Amateur Riders Club in Mumbai where she won several races. She says, "As I progressed in this field, I got a polo scholarship to train in horse riding abroad. But Sir Dickson could not be left alone, which is why I contacted Darius for help. He agreed to it and I came down with him. Today I'm here as a trainer."
Despite being part of a very connected family, Parvati did not use any influence to gain this position. Initially, she would come to the race course to warm the horses up. "Under the strict supervision of my father-in-law, I learnt all the tasks that a trainer is supposed to do. In 2013, I appeared for the Assistant to Trainers Exam conducted by BTC. In 2016, I aced another exam called the Assistant Trainer Exam. And finally, in 2017, I appeared for the Trainers Exam and received my license," she explains.
Painting in leisure time: Parvati loves to paint when she's not horsing around (Pic: Pandarinath B)
Surprisingly, the 39-year-old trainer has never undergone any kind of discrimination in her profession. Her team members in the stable and the jockeys have treated her well. "Everyone here realised that this is a competition and I am here to compete with them. Even the owners of the horse trust me like they trust any other men," says Parvati, who has won 11 races after getting her license. China One was the first horse to win a race for her. The moment he steps out of the stable, he gallops and shows he is ready for the race.
Apart from training horses, Parvati and her friends also have a group called Homes for Horses where they give the horses to stud farms or offer them for adoption when their days on the racetrack are done. "Horses live up to 25 years and their best days in the race can only last about eight years. Hence, they need a home and we are ready to give such horses free of cost for adoption," says Parvati who enjoys painting when she's not 'horsing' around!
Mumbaikar's jaan and shaan
Hailing from a family of horse trainers, Nazak Chenoy grew watching her father ride and train horses. The 36-year-old trainer started working at a very young age with her father. After completing a Bachelors in Equine Studies and Management from a university in England, she returned to work as a trainer at RWITC. "I was only 22 years old when I started my career. During my vacations, I would go to the stable and observe what my father fed the horses and how he could find out if the horse was happy or sad. I assisted my father for a few years and aced the exam conducted by the turf club. It's been 11 years now," says the lady who has not really kept a track of the number of races she has won.
Father is a teacher: Nazak credits her father, Bezan Chenoy for what she is today at RWITC
At the moment, Nazak is training 17 horses and she does not have any favourites. Nazak has been learning new things every day from the horses and from her father Bezan Chenoy. Nazak says, "I think the most important lesson I have learnt is patience. There is no such rule that every horse you train has to win the race. One needs to be patient and calm with all kinds of horses. Apart from this, there is a lot of pressure around you. Proving yourself in this performance-oriented industry, doing the right things and keeping your head high is what matters in this male-dominated profession."
Nazak starts her day at 5 am with yoga and she goes to the RWITC to train horses, suggests a feed for that particular day, physiotherapy if the horses need it and she also explains about the likes and dislikes of the horse to the jockey till 11.30 am. After this, she rests for a while in the afternoon and at around 4.30 pm, she heads to the stable and work goes on till 7.30 pm.
What is a trainers job?
Trainers don't actually ride a horse but they prepare a horse to be part of the race — winning is the only objective. They instruct the jockeys about how to work the horses on the track according to the horse's behaviour and health. Track work is just a part of their job. Their actual work involves stable management — giving the horses the proper feed, physiotherapy if they need it, grooming, shoeing and most importantly communicating with them with TLC. Horses are also given food like barley for detoxification at least once a month. The average time to reshoe the horse is 3-4 weeks and each trainer has their own horse shoemaker.
Chal mere godhe: After working the horses on the race track, the caretakers take the horses back to stable (Pic: Pandarinath B)
Tough to continue this sport
According to Arti, it is tough for horse racing as a sport to thrive in countries like India because the government considers it a luxury sport, while she says it actually is not. It takes lakhs of money to maintain the horses and their health. Despite all this, the Government of India has levied 28 per cent GST on the sport. Arti says, "Various clubs have already approached the government to reduce the GST slab and treat this sport like other sports. We are hoping for a positive response — or else it will kill the sport."
Myths among people about horses
- The biggest myth is that only male horses participate in the race. Even female horses participate in the race and perform well
- Another myth is that different breeds of horses participate in the race. Only thoroughbred horses participate in the race in India
- One huge myth is that horses never sleep and never sit. Actually, horses rest and sleep well when they lie down. In fact, they lock their hooves when they sleep
- People have a notion that horses are treated badly by trainers. This is entirely untrue. Horses are bae