by Victoria Howard
Over the holidays, I took a friend to the races at Pompano Park. She had never attended a horse race before and being an aficionado of horses was excited to see our sport for the very first time.
My friend was in awe as she watched the athletic, enchanting animals compete at high speeds. As we stood along the fence she commented about the woman and horse nearby that seemed to be intently observing the horses and asked what they were doing and why they were positioned on the track.
“Isn’t that dangerous?” she asked. “What if they get in the way of the other horses, and get run into?”
The person my friend was inquiring about is Camilla Olsson, the outrider at Pompano Park.
The job of the outrider is not only dangerous, but it’s one of the most important jobs in the sport of harness racing. The outriders are responsible for ensuring the safety of all horse racing participants – both human and equine during training and live racing.
Although outriding is definitely one of the most important jobs of horse racing, it is one of the lowest paid. So why do these people choose to do this?
“I was kind of thrown into doing this. The outrider couldn’t make it one night and asked if I would fill in for her,” Olsson said.
“I loved it and decided to make it my career.”
Born in Gothenburg, Sweden, Olsson came to the United States in 1994 and got a job working for trainer Clint Galbraith at the Meadowlands.
“Shortly later I got an opportunity to move to sunny Florida where I worked for trainer John Roach. I took care of a nice 2 year old that took me on the summer racing circuit from Springfield to Chicago to Lexington, Kentucky.
“It was so much fun sleeping on a lawn chair in front of my horse’s stall and eating all of America’s yummy junk food.
“After the stakes we returned to Florida. I wanted to be at the track instead of the farm and got a job with trainer Billy Gallagher.
“Billy had a crazy grey trotter named Novel Boy that refused to train, so I began riding him to keep him in shape. He won a few races at Pompano just by riding him, never trained in a jog cart, and when he raced he always had to be accompanied by the outrider. That’s when I really became interested in becoming an outsider.
“At that time, a woman named Mina was the outrider at Pompano. We became friends and she’d let me help her, teaching me the ins and outs of the trade.
“Mina brought me to Calder Raceway where I started to pony. I learned a lot of the basics and foundation and she began letting me ride with her a few times at Pompano.
“One night when Mina couldn’t make it, I was forced to do the outriding myself for the first time. I was terrified, but knew I had a job to do and the drivers and horses depended on me for their safety.Drivers Bruce Ranger, Wally Hennessey, Kevin Wallis and Daniel Clements were just a few that helped me along.
“Presently, I have a total of seven ponies — three that work at Pompano. All my ponies are thoroughbreds. I love them for they have a lot of get up and go.
“First, there is Simon, a big grey that is everyone’s favorite (and mine, too) who I have had for nine years. He is my heart and soul. I don’t think there is anything he wouldn’t do for me, and vice versa.
“Tango is an old polo pony. He was super shy when I got him, but now he is an awesome little guy; and then there’s Cody who I purchased a few years ago who has become a great catch horse and really loves his job.
“I have four horses I use ponying the racehorses at Gulfstream Racetrack. I work every other day, if it’s possible. My horses are my life and I consider myself extremely blessed and lucky to get paid to ride and do what I love to do the most.
“Being an outrider is a full-time job you are married to and I’m lucky to have an understanding boyfriend for I spend pretty much all day at the track. If I’m not at Pompano I’m at Gulfstream galloping the thoroughbreds in the morning and working the races in the afternoon.
“Working at the track is not just a job, it’s a life. Yes, it can be dangerous for there are times when I have to go in between horses or get one with a broken line, but I absolutely love it!
“An outrider has a lot of responsibility for our job is to make sure we get all the horses to the gate safely and on time, and to keep the horses quiet and catch them if they run off in post parade.
“I always watch that all the equipment is on correctly; make sure the numbers are on right and the lines are buckled. If there’s an accident and a horse gets loose, I have to catch them as quickly as possible and help secure the scene.
“There was a time when I thought the grass was greener on the other side. I actually left outriding a few years ago to start my own pony business at Calder and Gulfstream, but when the opportunity to come back to Pompano came up, I jumped on it. Presently, I do both for it’s in my blood and love it. I just pray that Pompano will get to stay open a little longer.
“It’s so sad to think that there may no longer be a Pompano Park Racetrack — the ‘Winter Capital of Harness Racing.’ But as long as I’m given the opportunity to work there, I consider myself a really lucky lady.”