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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Q&A With Anouk Busch

People who follow harness racing are familiar with the big name trainers and drivers, but the industry wouldn’t function without the smaller training operations. These trainers are not only the proving grounds for the future stars of the sport; they help fill the overnight races at our tracks. In effect, they are the heart and soul of harness racing; they are our future. In what I hope will be an occasional feature of this blog, I am happy to profile one of the unsung individuals in harness racing, trainer Anouk Busch, who is currently stabled in New Jersey and races primarily at the Meadowlands, Chester Downs and Freehold.

Anouk Busch with Kaline
The 35 year old Anouk Busch was born in Amsterdam in the Netherlands and began her equine career in show jumping with Olympic aspirations. It was while involved with show jumping she became introduced to harness racing as a result of a trainer who opened his doors for a thirteen year old girl who wanted to see a horse whose picture was in the newspaper. Once out of high school, Anouk began working with trotters in the Netherlands and after a visit to the United States in 1997, returned the following year to begin her career in the United States where she worked for trainers such as Trond Smedshammer, Chuck Sylvester, Chris Ryder, Jim Campbell, and others. In 2004, Anouk took out her trainer’s license and opened her own public stable.

Since opening her public stable, Anouk has compiled a lifetime UTR of .281 with career earnings of $303,962 with 209 lifetime starts (almost $1,500 per start) which is good showing for a trainer racing a few horses primarily in the lower overnight ranks. Two of her highest profile horses to date are the trotters Kaline ($570,733) the now eleven year old who set his lifetime mark of 1:54.1 in 2008 at Chester as a nine year old, and the four year old Paisley ($62,464) whose lifetime mark of 1:54.1 was set last year at the Meadowlands last year and has been very competitive, winning at the Meadowlands and Chester this year. In addition to training standardbreds, Anouk is very active in the horse rescue movement starting the organization Horse Rescue United earlier this year (currently in the process of becoming a 501(c)3). She has some definite thoughts regarding the treatment of our horses, from whipping to post racing careers. Some people may not appreciate the frankness of her comments, but Anouk speaks her mind. One thing for sure, while a trainer of a small stable now, Anouk will be seen and heard from both on and off the track for a long time.

Here is the interview. I hope you enjoy it.

PG: Anouk, you lived outside of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. How did you get involved in harness racing?

AB: I originally started riding ponies when I was five years old and got my own pony when I was six. I did show jumping competitions on a 1.30-1.35m (4.25-4.5 ft) level later on. Trotters were a hobby. I remember reading the horse magazines and I kept the pictures from the jumpers and the trotters. When I was 13, my horse was stabled near a standardbred stable and one of their horses had their picture in the newspaper so I knocked on the door to ask if I could see him. I always joked they made a mistake when they said “the door is always open, come by anytime”. That’s all it took. When I graduated high school at 17, I started working with the trotters since I had retired my show jumper. My jumper, Black Minx, who was so talented I had Olympic dreams had physical health problems and couldn’t keep up. I was not able to afford another horse of her caliber so I gave up competing. Since the stable I visited had a job opening when I graduated high school, it was a natural switch. While I do miss jumping, I love standardbred racing as much.

PG: What made you come to the United States to work?

AB: The standardbreds are the best here. Why wouldn’t you want to work with the best?

PG: Before you went out on your own as a trainer, who did you work for and what were you doing?

AB: In Holland, I worked for Andries Van Der Blonk, Ad Sukerbuyk and Tommie Jooiyman Jr. In Holland, you did it all, you groomed and helped training. I did race for Ad and Tom, but it was limited. When I graduated from the Equestrian College Nederlandse Hippisch Beroepsopleidingen (Dutch Equestrian Center), I came to the United States in 1998 and worked for Trond Smedshammer, Jim Campbell, Chris Ryder, and Chuck Sylvester among others.

PG: When did you go out on your own?

AB: I started my public stable in 2004.

PG: Do you also have a driver’s license? Do you have a desire to drive in pari-mutuel races?

AB: I only have a Q license here since I hadn’t raced in many years when I asked to transfer my Dutch license to here. I would like to have a full license here for the occasional horse that I would like to school and race, but the regular catch drivers are far better here. That being said, I am happy being a trainer.

PG: What is the difference between Dutch racing and American racing? What about their sires?

AB: It’s been twelve years since I have been home so I really don’t know who the hot sires are. As for the racing, it is very different. Here everyone follows in one line and it is a non-stop sprint. In Holland, they have much longer distances and they also race under saddle which I enjoyed riding. They use a starting gate in most races but also have turning starts in the elastics like Vincennes does (like the Prix d’ Amerique). Horse line up in two tiers more often in Holland and the middle parts of the race are slower to give the horses a breather. Unfortunately, racing is struggling to survive in Holland and many horsemen have moved elsewhere in Europe to try to make a living.

PG: Do you know why racing in the Netherlands is in decline?

AB: The same reason as everywhere. The public is not going to the races and when they do go, they complain about whip use.

Anouk Busch training Paisley
PG: Do you use any European training method? What are they?

AB: I like to train a fit horse over a longer distance (about 1 5/8 mile) in a slower time than you would work in a mile. I like to think they stay sounder that way and keep their weight on better. I also will ride a horse under saddle if I think it will benefit the horse; something you see more off in Holland than here.

PG: What year did you get your first win as a trainer in the United States and what was the name of the horse?

AB: Cool Cookie (3,1:56.3m, $18,480). She was my favorite horse. I had been suffering from depression and Jimmy Petruccelli gave me the filly to train to keep me busy. Nobody thought she would make it to the races as she was sore and cranky as a two year old. Yet, I was able to get her to the races and she won twice as a three year old before she became a broodmare. I was stabled in Chuck Sylvester’s barn at the time and Cool Cookie (I called her CC) was inseparable from one of Chuck’s horses, Olympics.

PG: Who is the best horse you ever trained?

AB: In the United States, it would have to be Kaline who has made over a half million dollars. While in Holland, while I didn’t train the horse, on race days, I used to take care of a horse named Yellowa for trainer Ton Blok who I would paddock and get to walk and jog a little as a warm up before the trainer took him for his final warm up trip before the race. I also got to ride the horse at his stable. Yellowa was the best trotter Holland ever had with earnings of 1.1 million guilders. I was very grateful for all the people like Ton Blok who took me seriously and made me love the sport even more. I mean, who would let a young teenage girl mess with the county’s best horse for the fun of it?

PG: I know you train trotters. Do you have any pacers?

AB: I have trained a few pacers but my owners prefer trotters. I like both just as much.

PG: Is there a horse you a particularly proud of getting to the races because it had to overcome problems?

AB: There was a horse called Photo Thunder who couldn’t even jog because he was so lame. He had a history of running seven times in a qualifier. He would then qualify and then break in his next start. Once I got him it took a long time but I got him back to the races, even getting a win with him. Unfortunately, I didn’t have him long. I had just made a shoe change after he ran on a muddy track at Pocono and he trained so well I was thinking of him racing at the Meadowlands. However, the owner changed barns. He got another win after he left my barn with the new shoeing but then he regressed to old habits of running. I then lost track of him.


PG: How many horses do you have in your stable and where are you stabled?

AB: Currently, I am stabled at Winners Training Center in Chesterfield, New Jersey. Right now I have Kaline, Paisley, and Tangier in training. In addition, I have three yearlings and a two year old coming in this winter in addition to a three year old coming back to me. It looks like I will have a busy winter. The most horses I had at one time was seven or nine horses when I used to start some yearlings for the Remmens.

PG: What challenges do you encounter specifically because you have a small stable?

AB: Getting a driver to choose your horse when equal to another one in the race when the other horse is trained by a larger stable the driver does business with.

PG: Do you have help in the barn?

AB: Mr. Petruccelli, who owns many of the horses I train, will help out. Before, it was just me.

PG: Which tracks do you currently race at and which is your favorite track?

AB: I race at Freehold, the Meadowlands, Chester, and sometimes at Pocono. Of course, I am willing to race at other tracks. Right now, my favorite track is Chester; the paddock is great to work out of. However, my favorite to race at is the Meadowlands; it is still the best track in my opinion.

PG: It seems women trainers are being accepted these days in harness racing. Do you find this the case?

AB: If you deliver results, owners will come to you, but if you have a very small stable it is hard to get in the limelight.

PG: What trainer (of any gender) do you admire in particular? Is there a woman trainer you admire?

AB: I would say the trainers I admire the most are Chris Ryder, Larry and Ray Remmen, and Chuck Sylvester. Of the women trainers, the one I admire the most is Jacqueline Ingrassia.

PG: Is there anything which should be done to make it easier for a trainer to attract additional owners?

AB: Well, if the cheaters are banned, the trainers who don’t cheat and the smaller trainers will get a better chance to attract new owners. That being said, the easiest way to get more owners is to have that one big horse.

PG: Why does it seem to you we don’t have many women driving? Is there something which can be done to solve this problem?

AB: I think it’s hard to have people give women a chance because you don’t see many women driving. In Holland, they are more accepting of women drivers. I think one way to get more women involved is by giving a student license like they do in Holland. Student drivers get preferred posts in races and if the student driver was a woman, the owners would be willing to give them a chance because of the better post positions, especially on half mile tracks and tracks where they race for less money (very similar to how women jockeys are given a chance in the USA because of the apprentice allowance). It gives the student driver a chance to build up their name and if you drive well, the owners are more willing to give you a chance afterwards. In Holland, after thirty wins you become a full driver.

PG: Our races tend to be all one mile dashes. Do you think we should be looking to make any changes (distance, second tier, etc.) to our races to make them more attractive?

AB: Yes, I think horses will last longer if we race different distances. Also, just like other athletes, some horses like short distances, some can go on forever

PG: What do you think needs to be done to make racing more popular?

AB: Give out free vouchers in the mail and invite local people to the track. We also need to address whipping; ban one line driving and be very strict in enforcement. The public is getting very much in tune to how we treat our horses. Each track should have a program like the Rerun program used for thoroughbreds where they retrain and adopt out ex-racers. Have horse shows at the track which show the versatility of our standardbreds after racing. Someone sells a horse to slaughter? Ban them. We also need to make sure trainers who get caught cheating with performance enhancing substances are banned for a life. It is time racing gets positive attention from the media instead of the negative press we have been getting.

PG: Since you mentioned it, is the whipping problem as bad as people think, or is it just a perception issue?

AB: I think it’s a big problem for sure. I hate it when my horses come back with blood or big marks. I tend not to use those drivers again.

PG: Are there any drivers who specifically come to mind who are light on the whip?

AB: I think Cat Manzi, John Campbell, Steve Smith, and Mark Gingras are more polite with the whip. More importantly, they know when not to whip.

PG: Have you ever ‘fired’ a driver because a horse came back with fresh welts or cuts?

AB: Yes.

PG: There are some people who say gamblers will stay away if drivers are not allowed to whip their horses freely. Is this something we should be concerned with or is there a way we can educate the gamblers?

AB: I think the gamblers will re-adjust their minds to the new rules when they see the horses will still try hard, except for the occasional very lazy horse. With the new fans we can win by being more horse friendly, the few who might leave should probably leave.

PG: Things are a little uncertain with the Meadowlands. What are your plans if the Meadowlands were to close? Any plans to return to Europe?

AB: I possibly would move to Pennsylvania. As for returning to Europe, America is my home.

PG: Turning to another subject, I understand you are involved with horse rescue. What made you get involved with it and when did you start?

AB: I got involved earlier this year by becoming aware of slaughter of American horses on Facebook Sites. I had seen many of my favorite horses go to slaughter in Holland and it broke my heart. So I started posting for Camelot (a grade auction in New Jersey) Auction Horses, who to their credit allows rescue groups to come in and take pictures of the horses on the feedlot and post them online so we can network to find homes for these horses. We only have three days to find them a new home otherwise they get shipped to Canada for slaughter.

In March, there were two old standardbred geldings from the Amish there in their twenties and they had less than 24 hours to get saved, nobody helped them yet. So I stepped in and asked if friends could help fund them. We got the money and another rescue, Bright Futures Farm stepped in to home them for me after I had bailed them out. That’s what jump started me into starting a real rescue. I established a Facebook group called Horse Recue United where I encourage others to post all rescue efforts, so I have been using that name since. I am in the process of becoming a non-profit organization now. As of now, I am still not a 501(c)3 organization, but I still gets help from friends to save some horses. I try to help the standardbreds the most since they are always overlooked, but I will help other breeds as well. I find people like them (standardbreds) a little more now after they have seen my videos evaluating rescued standardbreds; they see how cool they are.

PG: So as of now, who is involved with Horse Rescue United (HRU)?

AB: I have several administrators on Facebook: Diana Tuorto, Jackie Hackett, Martha Linnebur, and Jaclyn Esposito. Jackie and Diana will be on my board of directors when I become a tax-exempt organization. I have many more friends who help post on my group page, contribute money to rescue horses, etc.

PG: In addition to donations, do you put your own money into it?

AB: Yes, whenever I can. I also get owners who surrender horses to pay for the horse until it is homed as well, including training them under saddle. I basically charge the surrenders $500 per month which includes, board, turn out, feed, shavings, training expenses, pictures, videos, and finding the right approved home. If there are any other expenses involved, the owner has to cover it. On average it takes me around six weeks to find a home when a horse is in my care; sometimes longer, sometimes less.

PG: How much time do you spend a week on horse rescue? Where do you find the time for it?

AB: Pretty much all my free time is spent working on horse rescue. I keep the horses at Winners Training Center after they finish quarantine so I work with them when I am done training my stable. I have some volunteers helping me at times too. Most of the time is spent posting online the horses, downloading pictures and videos. I don’t have a social life right now, but I don’t mind; it is really rewarding when these horses go on to new homes.

PG: How do you decide which horses to save?

AB: I try to save the standardbreds first. On occasions, I have taken a few others from Camelot. Trolley (a quarter horse) I helped because all the other rescues were full and I seemed to be the best option to take her in. I couldn’t leave here at Camelot with a bashed in skull. Also, with my horse experience, I felt I was prepared to deal with her.

PG: Since you have rescued horses from various breeds, which is the most adoptable to a second career and why?

AB: Standardbreds. They are the most mellow horses and hence the most adaptable to a new career.

Anouk with Camelot's Lady who came from the Camelot Auction
PG: What is the first thing you do when a rescue comes to you?

AB: I let them relax one day if they didn’t come from that far. The next day I evaluate them under saddle if possible. The sooner I can evaluate them, the sooner I can find the right home for them, saving money for another rescue. On the first day I take pictures and/or videos and post them online right away.

PG: How many rescues have you saved from the feed lot in the past year?

AB: I have helped some rescues by raising funds for their efforts, but I have pulled about thirteen horses from the feed lot including, Enhance the Beauty, You Win Ma, Ivory Tower, Daylon Dreamer, Minnie Driver, Krisacia, Camelot’s Lady, and Trolley. I have also had nine owner surrenders. We do have a few horses still looking for homes, I encourage people to check out our Facebook page to see who is available and check back often, there are always horses available.

PG: Who is the most famous standardbred horse you have taken in to your rescue?

AB: Well, there were five famous for the wrong reason. These broodmares came from a New Jersey standardbred farm which got a lot of publicity. As for the best racehorse, I would say it was Daylon Dreamer. She made over $200,000 and her foals made over $300,000, if I remember correctly.

PG: Can you tell us about one of your most famous saves, Trolley? What made her so special?

Anouk Busch with Trolley after her first surgery
AB: I found Trolley, a quarter horse, at Camelot on June 30th with a sock superglued to her skull. She had a gaping hole underneath from a bashed in skull. What amazed me is how calm she still was with what happened to her in the past (I wish I knew for sure what happened). I kept coming back to her. So did Daniel Dube who was there that night since he was recuperating from an accident. When the other local rescues were unable to take her in and they talked about possibly having to put her down, I made some calls and decided to take her myself. I named her Trolley since I got a group of friends online who follow and help the horse recue and we call ourselves trolls (affectionately). So they asked me to call her Trolley. The name fits her too.

PG: Has there been any one rescue which has been particularly challenging which turned out well?

AB: That would be Trolley. I wasn’t sure if I could get all the funds needed but people responded overwhelmingly. Also Dr. Mazzarisi, Dr. Hogan, and blacksmith Mulryene have donated some of their services to her at times to keep her bills down. She had one successful surgery thus far, she may need another surgery in one or two months.

PG: How much does it cost to adopt from HRU? How do you keep track of horses afterwards to make sure they are being taken care of?

AB: There is no adoption fee. As for follow-up, I ask for records that have the vet say the horse is in good health. I ask for pictures often and recently revised the contract to allow for home checks which will be done by me or one of my many volunteers. I had recently gotten a rescue back. I already had concerns regarding the horse not being in good health and after a home check, we got her back. She is now in good hands at a new home. As much as I try to find the best homes, sometimes you get surprised. This is why the contract and home checks are important.

PG: Do you work with other horse rescue groups?

AB: Yes, there are some good groups out there and we try to help each other when we can. I know some people who try to help thoroughbreds, they know I try to help mostly standardbreds; others like to take in the draft horses.

PG: If someone wants to help HRU, how may they help or get additional information?

AB: I have a website ( but admittedly, it is not up to date. The best way to get additional information is on the Horse Rescue United group page as well as my own profile on Facebook. Or they may call me at (609) 481-8561.

PG: Let’s turn back to racing. Since you started rescuing horses, do all of the horse you train which didn’t pan out end up being adopted or retired? Have any owners objected to it or have they been receptive to the idea?

Anouk riding Bummie (Baumgartner) prior to adoption.
AB: The only horse that didn’t work out was Baumgartner and his owner was very responsive. He is now homed on a one month trial period in Flemington, NJ as a riding horse with a wonderful girl Andrea.

PG: From your own experiences and observations, are most owners willing to retire their horses?

AB: Sadly, most don’t care what happens with them or they care more about getting a few hundered dollars for slaughter or Amish them. Also, many owners/breeders I contact when I save their former horses don’t care. I am keeping my own Hall of Fame for the trainers/owners who do step up to the plate.

PG: Do you think racetracks do enough to save unwanted horses? Is there any standardbred track you think is doing a good job regarding rescue?

AB: I don’t think any track is currently doing enough at all. The Meadows Racetrack is very willing to help me when HRU becomes a 501(c)3, thanks to Kimberly Martino. I have had talks with Freehold Raceway as well as with many drivers and trainers at both tracks (Meadowlands and Freehold) and I believe I can get their support when the time is right. But in my opinion, every track and the USTA should ban any person who sends a horse to a feedlot, sells it to a killbroker, or sends it to slaughter.

PG: What do you think the industry should do to reduce the number of standardbreds ending up being sent to slaughter?

AB: Ban anyone who sells a horse for slaughter for life. We need to be more selective in breeding. Have breeders, owners, drivers, and trainers; those making a living from the horses, set aside a small amount to go towards saving horses.

PG: Thank you for your time.


Pull the Pocket said...

Well done!!!

The Cowboy Squirrel said...

Nice Work 'guy...

PTAVO43 said...