MVP: Lorna Chavez is Enjoying the Ride

If you’ve never had the pleasure of meeting exercise rider Lorna Chavez, chances are you haven’t spent much time on the Saratoga backstretch. 

“She knows everybody and everybody knows who she is,” says fellow rider Caroline Nally. “Even the spectators know her.”

Part of the reason for Chavez’s celebrity is that she never misses an opportunity to tell someone “Good morning” or ask “How are you, sweetie?” Plus, she’s been exercise riding for nearly 35 years.

Born in England, Chavez grew up around horses. After her pony died when she was 18, she got a job to save up to buy another horse and eventually get a show jumping sponsorship. “Flipping through the yellow pages, I found a racehorse trainer,” she says. “I had no clue what that was. I ended up going for an interview and got the job.”

But instead of getting paid and getting out, Chavez began riding for the trainer, eventually becoming the first female professional, licensed steeplechase jockey in England. It was that move that led her to America, where she got a job working for trainer Jonathan Sheppard. She didn’t immediately take to racing in America, and even considered moving back home. But she changed her mind upon coming to Saratoga for the first time. “That was it,” she says. “Once I went to Saratoga I was like, ‘Whoops, I don’t think I’m going anywhere.’”

That was back in the mid-’90s, and Chavez has been exercise riding in the States since then. She has a house in Saratoga and splits her time between the Spa City, where she works for trainer Jeremiah Englehart, and Florida, where she freelance rides. After exercising horses in the morning, she returns to the track for more in the afternoon, when she runs a pony business that takes jockeys to the starting gate. Her husband, Mark, is a retired jockey who now works on the starting gate. She’d never worked the Belmont before, but rode for Englehart and ponied in the afternoons at this year’s four-day racing festival at Saratoga.

“I live for horses,” she says. “There’s nothing else I could do. There’s nothing else I want to do. I just love riding horses.”

And the rest of the backstretch community loves having her ride horses. “She makes you smile, she makes you feel cared for,” Nally says. “She’s a phenomenal horsewoman—a great rider—and she knows so much. She is the Saratoga backstretch.”

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