by Victoria M. Howard
For trainer Jamie Rucker, it all began in The Buckeye State of Ohio, growing up in a harness racing family. Luckily for Jamie, she loved being around and working with horses, but her goal was to go to college and possibly work in the marketing department at a harness track.
Her father, Tim, was the trainer and mother, Debbie, did the driving. Not the norm for most couples in the sport, where it’s usually the opposite.
“It was a family affair to say the least. My parents and I worked together in the barn every day. It’s hard spending time with your family 24/7 and still get along, but we did,” Jamie said.
“Ultimately, I followed my dream and went to Ohio University, where I received a Bachelor’s degree, focused on marketing. That took me to what used to be Indiana Downs, where I got a job as program director and charter.”
It was there that Jamie met her future husband-to-be, Ricky Macomber. At the time, Ricky had started his own stable for his father, Dick Macomber, a renowned trainer/driver who was racing at Vernon Downs. Dick was a great horseman who had trained such horses as Nevele Impulse, Trim The Tree and Milynn Hanover.
“After Ricky and I got married we began working together in the barn: he drove the horses and I trained. Opposite of my parents,” Jamie said, laughing.
“But I always ask my husbands advice and opinion. In our stable we split duties pretty fair: the day-to-day training is mine and the driving is Ricky’s.”
Fast-forward 6 years.
“One day Ron Burke called me and asked if I would take five of his horses to Pompano Park in Florida to race that winter. At first I was apprehensive for it had been a long time since I trained a horse, but Ronnie assured me I would be fine for he had seen me drive and was assured I could get the job done.
“The rest is history. Those five horses turned to 10 — then 10 to 15, 15 to 20 and 20 to 30. I held that job for nine years before I went out on my own. What an opportunity to be second trainer for one of harness racing’s top stables,” Jamie said.
Everyone involved in harness racing has heard about The Burke Stable. This powerhouse stable breaks records year after year with staggering statistics.
“Ron is an extremely motivated and focused person who has an awesome ability to manage the multi-state operation and go wherever he is needed. I swear he has a photographic memory. He knows all his horses, their abilities, temperaments and what equipment they all wear — and they usually have over 200 horses in their barn every year. Also, Ron is blessed with a great bunch of owners to help him market the stable and replenish it with new faces. He is an awesome horseman and business man who knows not to get too greedy and always does what’s best for the horse.”
Fast forward to 2019.
“Our family grew and we now have two children. There’s our son Nate, who is 6, and our daughter Aubrey, 4. Rickie gets the kids breakfast and off to school in the morning and I’m in charge of dinner and getting the kids into bed at night.
Every day at lunch, we take time to discuss the horses and our children. We make a good team, if I don’t say so myself,” Jamie said, laughing.
This lifestyle is common for families in the sport who raise children at the barn while they are young. When the mother and father both work in the barn, many opt to take their little ones with them, instead of putting them in day care.
When both parents work in the barn it is very difficult. While you’re busy trying to care for the four-legged kids, it’s hard to watch your two-legged ones.
This difficult, but necessary, lifestyle can be accomplished and may continue until the child starts school. It does have some perks, for we all seem to watch out for one another’s children in the barn.
“It is hard to have to pick up a family and re-locate bi-yearly, but we manage. This year, we decided we are going to stay in Indiana — a decision our son Nate is not too happy with. Lately, Ricky is beginning to bring our children to the barn more. As they are getting older, they are enjoying it.
“Currently Ricky and I have a 25-horse stable at Hoosier Park. That keeps me very busy for I spend most of the day at the barn and when we have horses in to race, I’m back again at night. Sometimes, I don’t know how in the heck we do it — but we do,” she said, laughing.
One of the hardest things about working with horses on a daily basis is having to say goodbye when he or she gets claimed, sold or is retired. There’s always that ‘favorite child’ a horseman has.
“My favorite was a horse named Pacific Blue Jean. He was the first horse I owned. We had a very special bond and I learned so much from him,” Jamie said. “I love each and every horse in my barn — no matter how ornery or stubborn they are. How can you not love them? They are your children. You feed them, bathe them, care for them when they are sick or hurt and put them to bed at night.”