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From Denmark To Canada, Under Saddle

Published: July 14, 2017 8:57 am ET

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A once aspiring thoroughbred jockey found herself on a slightly different path after being introduced to the world of standardbreds. Karoline Ostergaard Nielsen was in search for a job in her native Denmark, when her neighbour recommended a standardbred racing farm. It was there that she learned of racing under saddle (RUS).

In July of 2015 Nielsen was contacted for a racing under saddle opportunity in Ontario that would take place over the span of two weeks. She enjoyed herself so much during her visit that in October of the same year Nielsen decided to make Ontario her new home, with a goal in mind to help grow the sport. “I thought maybe I could help with the racing under saddle here because where I come from it is really big and popular. I see a lot of opportunity here.”

In Denmark the discipline is more advanced, consisting of an estimated 100 riders compared to roughly 10 in Ontario. Denmark also has races under saddle about once a week, all year round.

In terms of seeing racing under saddle grow in Ontario Nielsen says, “I haven’t seen that much progress yet. We are facing some struggles,” continuing to say that when a rider has to get their licence renewed every year they are required to ride in three qualifiers, which can sometimes prove difficult. As far as a consistent program being built in terms of conditioning the horses and getting race dates, Nielsen says it is still in the works. “We work hard, we have meetings as a board and we try to figure out what we can do differently and how we can progress.

“I will say there was actually progress last year, we had two added money events in racing under saddle and in one of them we went for $15,000 -- and that’s a lot of money. Another sign of progress is we had a field split into two races because we had so many entries in the RUS race that day."

Nielsen is doing her own part in attempting to help grow the racing under saddle discipline. “My goal [last year] was to only ride horses that have never [raced under saddle] before. That way you’re involving new people, new trainers, horses, owners and fans.” This year she is following the same path, having only qualified horses with no RUS experience.

Currently, Nielsen is working for Tony O’Sullivan at Classy Lane Stables, riding/jogging horses and taking care of them. Recently she has started riding a pacing colt, admitting at first the new style was a bit foreign but now she sees more similarities than differences between pacers and trotters.

Getting to know Karoline Ostergaard Nielsen:

So you wanted to be a jockey?

I started off with working with thoroughbreds and I always wanted to be a thoroughbred jockey, but I was too tall and too heavy and so I got the chance to ride standardbreds at a trainer’s place in Denmark. They mentioned that they have this racing under saddle as a way to race trotters, so I decided I’d give it a shot. There’s more flexibility on weight than there is with thoroughbred jockeys.

Talk about your work career in Denmark and how it compares or differs farm working in Ontario.

The difference is they do not race as much in Denmark as they do over here. We race maybe twice a month, maybe sometimes only once a month. We train very differently. They do a lot more fast work over here than we do at home. They are more aggressive over here than in Denmark. In Denmark the horses get more days off after racing and we don’t work them as hard. The way the races happen is different too, like the way our race tracks are set up and how you have to get your horse ready for the race too. They don’t have a big race paddock like they do here.

RUS is really popular in Denmark, can you talk about that?

It’s way, way, way bigger. We race all year around in Denmark under saddle. We have a good bunch of races every year. I would say we have probably one racing under saddle race a week, is my guess. I don’t have an actual number of how many we have a year, but around one race a week somewhere in the country. We have a lot of riders licensed in Denmark, I think there’s around 100.

Why did you move to Ontario? Did you know anyone or have friends/family?

No! Actually it started up in July of two years ago I came to Canada for the first time and I came for just a two-week visit and it was based on riding and two under saddle races. I was contacted on the internet to come over and ride. I met these people I stayed with, Pam Forgie and Natalie Elliott, and I stayed for the two weeks and I actually had such a great time with them that I decided that later that year in October, to move over here because I thought maybe I could help racing under saddle progress here. I really like the country and so I thought I’d give it a try and move over here, and I’ve never regretted it ever since. I really love it in Canada.

Is Ontario everything you expected it to be?

I would say so. Everything I expected and hoped it would be. I have a great time. I will say we (RUS) have some struggles we need to face and fight for. That’s the only thing that can be a little bit frustrating every now and then, but it’s definitely what I hoped for or what I thought it would be.

What are your future plans? Are you going to continue to work in the RUS industry? Will you stay in Ontario?

My future plan is to stay in Ontario and work with horses, and fight for the racing under saddle, and work for the racing under saddle. It’s my future hope right now. I don’t have any thoughts of leaving Ontario any time soon at all. I don’t think I will ever move back to Denmark, but you can never say never. For right now I would say I would probably never move back.

Who are you working for now and what do you do?

I work for Tony O’Sullivan at Classy Lane Stables right now. A typical day (depending if you’re racing or not) is taking care of five horses. Usually you come in and you make sure your horses go outside and you clean their stall. The basic routine. Then you go out and jog them, some of them you can ride. Tony is really good, he lets me both jog and ride my own horses. So that way he is really good with that.

You’ve started working with a pacer recently, was it really different than what you’re used to? What was your work like with the pacer?

It’s very different because in Denmark we don’t have pacers, so when I came to Canada for the first time I’d never seen a pacer in my life. It was really really weird for me to watch. Then when I started working with them I thought it was even more weird because they had all this gear on, and they were going in this weird gait. Now that I work with them I am very used to it, and I think it’s just as exciting as working with a trotter. I don’t really find a difference for me to work with a pacer or trotter. I have a pacing colt I’ve been riding a little bit lately to see if he would change his mood or if he liked it. It’s not much different to take care of a pacer or trotter because they can also ride or jog in the jog carts like all the other horses do.

Can you tell me about the process of turning a horse into a RUS horse? Is it hard to break them?

Where I come from in Denmark most of the horses are broke to ride because whether they trot or they run, a lot of them, we train under saddle. But over here, most are not broke to ride. What I usually do -- the breaking process is not so complicated -- is I just put the saddle on and jump on, and see if the horse is good or not. I get somebody to lead us around and if the horse is good you go ahead and jog. Usually, nine out of 10 horses are really good. They’ve all worn equipment, it’s just the rider on top that’s different. Sometimes you get them where they’re a little bit spooked, but the normally get over it the same day. It’s very easy to break horses to ride over here.

Your first RUS of the season is coming up, tell us about the horse you're racing.

I’m riding a horse, she got the rail on Saturday. That’s really good. She’s a horse when she’s on the front end, she wants to go all day because as soon as she can hear them or see them come closer she fights for it. I have ridden her in one qualifier and every time she heard them come just a bit closer she just kept grabbing on and wanting to go faster. So that’s really positive. She’s not a horse that is maybe big on passing other horses, so when she gets a race where she’s not at the front she’s not as good. I see her as a horse that would be well rode in these RUS races, I think she seems to enjoy it. I qualified her last Wednesday and I think she enjoys it. She seems to. She has a nice gait for it, and a nice stride for it. She trots all day long I don’t think this horse will ever make a break under saddle.

What are your goals this year and for your career?

I want to say I want to be the best, but in an article I don’t want to sound arrogant. I strive to be the best, my goal is to be in the top end of riders this year. That’s for sure. Last year was my first full season riding under saddle here in Canada and my goal was to only ride horses that have never done it before. That way you’re involving new people, new trainers, horses, owners and fans. So far I’ve done the same thing, I haven’t qualified a horse that's ever done riding under saddle before this year. So that’s my goal, getting new people involved in racing under saddle… as well as being one of the top riders.

Neilsen and four of her fellow RUS competitors will be competing in their first RUS race of the year this Saturday at Georgian Downs. Karoline and Someday Lu leave from post position one in the evening's sixth race (approx. post time, 9:02 p.m). For the card's entries, click the following link: Saturday Entries - Georgian Downs.

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