Photo courtesy of NARA/BCTC
National Racing Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron founded the North American Racing Academy and serves as executive director and instructor.
There are two reasons Erin Tinney of Oregon fell in love with horse racing: the speed and the thrill. So she began hanging out at the local racetrack.
“I’ve always wanted to be a jockey, and I started going out to Portland Meadows and got into it that way,” Tinney said. Then a trainer suggested she look into a school in Kentucky.
That “school” is the North American Racing Academy in Lexington. Tinney discovered that 80 percent of its students went on to internships and jobs as jockeys, exercise riders and other positions in the racing industry.
“We’ve been able to place [students] in major racing stables and [with] trainers, such as Todd Pletcher, Ken McPeek and Graham Motion,” said Remi Bellocq, the executive director of Equine Programming at Bluegrass Community & Technical College, the NARA’s partner school within the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.
Tinney liked what she saw, packed her bags in the summer of 2011 and began working at the academy until she was accepted in the program, the first and only one of its kind in the United States.
Based at the Thoroughbred Training Center on Paris Pike in Lexington, the academy offers something that before was offered only in Europe, Latin America and South America.
National Racing Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron founded the academy and has been its executive director and instructor since it opened in 2006. McCarron said that as of this winter it has 16 graduates who are riding regularly and have collectively racked up nearly $30 million in purse earnings.
“I’m very pleased with the results we have had so far,” McCarron said.
Tinney wants to add to those statistics when she graduates next year. For now, she has a rigorous schedule that includes cleaning the stalls, feeding horses and going to class. But she has no regrets about her move to Kentucky.
“Definitely not. I love it out here,” Tinney said.
By the time she graduates, she will have a two-year associate’s degree in Equine Studies. She will know how to safely and skillfully ride a horse, will be proficient in caring for horses, and will have solid knowledge of the inner workings of the horse-racing industry. Students can take advantage of a one-year Exercise Rider and Racehorse Care and Training certificate or the two-year associate’s degree program through a jockey or horseman pathway.
“We’ve made a big effort to try to shift the awareness of the school to not just a jockey school but to become a workforce provider in the industry, a go-to in the industry for trainers, breeding farm owners and folks within the racing industry,” Bellocq said. “We’ve become the place to go where a lot of horsemen know the kids will get a solid, good training and good academics.”
Having McCarron, who also is a two-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey, as the head instructor helps, too. His relationships with trainers enable him to place students in internships that best suit the trainers’ methods. He takes students on field trips to major horse farms in the Commonwealth and also helps his former colleagues in the business by providing potential employees without the trainer having to “train” workers themselves. That saves trainers the liability of having “a young, green person” learning in a dangerous environment.
“Am I happy and satisfied with the progress? Oh, yeah,” McCarron said. “But my goal is for this school to be the pre-eminent racing academy in the world.”
As for Tinney, her goal is simple and now more attainable: “I see myself winning the Kentucky Derby in five years.”