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Leading the way

Outriders play a valuable role at the Cup

Posted: March 30, 2014 1:26 p.m.
Updated: March 31, 2014 5:00 a.m.
Gary Phillips/C-I

Thoroughbreds bound across the finish line at the conclusion of the first of four races at Springdale Racecourse on Saturday.

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It takes a great many people to make the Carolina Cup the success it is every year. But one group that may go unnoticed at the event is the crew of “outriders,” volunteers who serve many roles during the annual event.

Sharon Jones, executive director of Kershaw County’s Walter M. Crowe Animal Shelter, has been an outrider for 16 years and explained the various duties she and the others do at the Cup.

“We’re there for the horses and the jockeys, for their protection. Your outrider horse, which is called a pony, is intended to keep the thoroughbreds calm and quiet. Sometimes the thoroughbreds just need something to lean on and something to keep their mind off what they’re getting ready to do,” Jones said. “All the ponies are calm and quiet, so they are a good partner to have. Sometimes the trainers or horses or jockeys need to be taken out to the starting area to keep them calm and quiet. That’s basically what we’re there for.”

So, the outrider ponies are chosen because of their gentle temperament, which was well demonstrated Saturday as outrider pony Stargate, owned and ridden by Nicole Cunningham of Camden, allowed adults and children to pet him as Cunningham sat on his back in the paddock area.

Jones said the outriders are positioned around the course during the races to rush to the aid of horses or jockeys in case of a mishap.

“If a horse falls and dismounts the jockey we’ll assist the jockey if there’s no one else around. They’ve always got medics out there, but if there’s no one around we can run over and kind of stand there so the other riders won’t jump while a jockey is laying there,” she said. “We don’t chase horses, but we do try to keep them from busting out of the track, running downtown. They’re adrenaline is up and they can’t think.”

Jones said horses leaving the course is not a common problem at Springdale Racecourse, which is surrounded by a metal fence, but other steeplechase venues are bordered by hedges or wooden fences an excited horse can get through.

“Most tracks are very secure so it doesn’t happen often, but I have seen it happen. They will run through a rail,” Jones said. “The usually try to get back to where they came from, to the paddock or back to the barn. Sometimes if that means going over a fence, they’ll go over a fence. They’re running and want to get back home, so we try to keep that from happening.”

Jones said four to six outriders volunteer their time and horses at the Carolina Cup each year.

“We like to put one rider and horse in each corner of the race. We have radios so we can communicate if a jockey is dismounted, we’re able to tell the other outriders what’s going on. We communicate and most of us are ex-racehorse riders, so we really understand the mind of a racehorse, so we kind of know where they’re going,” Jones said.

She said the outriders wear special uniforms at the races.

“We represent The Camden Hunt. It’s tradition,” Jones said. “The steeplechase was created by fox hunters many, many years ago and the fox hunting clubs all have pink coats and then different colored collars that have to be earned. I think it looks very fashionable out there.”

She said the outriders are ready to help with nearly any situation.

“We’ll even do crowd control sometimes. People get out there in the sunshine and they start drinking and somebody falls over the fence. Here come the horses, so we want everyone to stay safe,” she said. “A jockey will drop a whip and we will pick it up for them. We can get off and on our horses pretty quickly. We never know what we’re going to do, but our main thing is the safety of the horses and the jockeys.”

Jones said her position as director of the animal shelter makes her appreciative of volunteers and makes her want to volunteer at the races.

“After all these years of being here, I value volunteers and I know their importance. All of us out there feel the same way and we’re helping the Carolina Cup with the success of the race,” she said. “We try to do a good job and represent The Camden Hunt very well.”

After 16 years in the saddle as an outrider, Jones said the best race days are ones when everything goes smoothly.

“We always say, ‘if the outriders are bored, we’re having a good day,’” she said. “We hope we just stand around with nothing to do.”


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