By Margot Griffiths
Laura Carson is a promising young jockey on an international racing circuit. At 24, she has ridden, and won, some prestigious races and it all began on Point Roberts. Her mother, Michelle, always wanted a hobby farm, and realized her dream in 2.5 wooded acres on the Point. It was here that six-year-old Laura was introduced to what has become her life’s passion – horses.
Her first pony was a Shetland/Icelandic cross, who still lives on the Point today. “Lightning” is an ambitious name for a tiny horse only 11 hands tall. That’s about 3.5 feet. You can see him at his current home on APA Road, and he’ll race to the fence to greet you. He was a perfect match for Laura, though she said she was “horrified” when she first met him. “He was huge!”
Laura and Lightning spent halcyon days roaming the woods of Point Roberts. It was a life that suited her. “I’m an introvert; I like to write poetry and I enjoy my own company.” She went to school in Blaine and briefly played soccer, but her focus always came back to horses.
Lightning seemed huge because Laura was small. “I think I had a Napoleon complex when I was little. I was tiny and I felt picked on, though I wasn’t really.” Today, at 4’10”, she is a confident and incredibly strong woman who races thoroughbred horses that tower over everyone.
Her career began in 2008. The economy was in freefall and she left college to earn money. “The racetrack is always hiring,” she said. “I got a job at Hastings Park in Vancouver walking horses, cooling them down after exercise.” Horse training is demanding and she was there everyday at 5 a.m., with one day off every two weeks. She was a quick study and soon advanced to the role of groom. “You are the horse’s need meeter. You feed and groom them, and anticipate their every need, but you don’t ride.”
Wanting to ride, Laura enrolled as an apprentice jockey at the North American Racing Academy in Lexington, Kentucky. She trained every day and babysat brood mares at night to pay for it. She then went to Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York, working as an exercise rider. Her first race took place at Belmont, Long Island. In a field of 14 riders, she came second to last. In her next race, she came fourth.
Laura had her first win after moving to Philadelphia to race in June 2013. “I cried. It was my mom’s birthday,” she said. In July she was hurt for the first time. “Both my horse and I went down. I was run over by another horse, and was knocked unconscious, but in two days I was cleared to ride again.” Though in pain, she wouldn’t give up. “Women riders go through a lot. People think we’re not as strong. I think I’m helping women riders. I’m known as tough. My tolerance for pain is high.”
Laura’s next move was to Delaware, to race a different breed of horse, Arabians, the oldest riding breed in the world. “I suit the stature of an Arab horse – they’re smaller than thoroughbreds,” she said. Laura was comfortable with the breed, having ridden Devon, a beautiful pinto-colored Arabian mare, after she outgrew Lightning.
With more and more wins on Arabians, Laura came to the attention of a group of Arab Sheiks, who finance an international apprentice jockey competition racing Arabian horses. Participating in this competition resulted in Laura’s attendance in Dubai in November 2014 at a world conference dedicated to developing unity in international horse racing.
I understand Laura’s passion for horses. It’s one I share. What I cannot fathom is her courage. She’s back in Philadelphia now, racing the big thoroughbreds, her 98 pounds on 1,200-pound horses. This year she will advance from apprentice jockey to a fully-fledged journeyman rider.
The heartbreak of racing is when a horse gets hurt. When Laura speaks about it, it’s clear this is worse to her than getting hurt herself. “There’s an all-knowing calm in a horse’s face when they’re injured. They just know.” Three times she’s seen a horse break down, and held its head in her arms until it was over.
Although she loves one of the world’s most exhilarating and dangerous sports, Laura has other goals too. “I want to complete college at Whatcom Community College. I’d like to get a writing degree and continue to write poetry,” she said. Ultimately, equipped with an impressive knowledge base and a deep empathy for horses, she’d like to become a trainer. She has the compassion for it. She’s adopted a racehorse not suited for the track who now has a life in Point Roberts. She sees horses as individuals.
“You can’t teach a horse to want to run. That’s where we fail,” Laura said. A horse’s instinct to run—to win—is not a given, even in the best breeding programs. The horse knows if it belongs in the race and if it doesn’t, it deserves a different life. Laura has the heart and the mind to discern that.