With her race mare Ethereal, Sheila Laxon became the first female trainer to win the Melbourne Cup in 2001. John Symons and Shelia Laxon run JSL Racing located in Seymour, Victoria, Australia. Sheila kindly took the time to answer some questions about her profession.
Have you always been interested in horses and when did you start out training racehorses?
We spelled beach ponies at our farm from when I was about three so was riding before I can remember! Was involved in training racehorses from 12 years old when my sister and I went to the local racing stable to groom them and ride them out. Actually had a Trainer’s Licence in 1997 but started training a bigger team in 1999.
How much of your day/week is hands on with horses?
You could say 24/7! Never stops (see what time it is now! 6.30am)
In this field is it possible for someone to be a full time professional, earning a livable income?
Yes, the job is what you make it and I do believe that the more you put in to it, the more you get out of it. There is a lot of luck involved in getting the horse that can run, but there are plenty around if you can spend the time in developing them into wanting to be a racehorse. And certainly the prize money is huge if you can get the right horse.
What are the general steps taken to become a qualified trainer?
If you are horse orientated from a young age (i.e. show jumping / eventing etc) I think you gravitate into the racing game because it’s the most financially rewarding aspect to be involved in. You can be involved in breaking in, spelling, pretraining, re-educating rogue horses and get the chance to continue training them to get to the races.
Any advice for those interested in pursuing this discipline?
I am not sure that the courses available are the best way to pursue getting into training as I do believe the hands on experience you can have developing horses that other people have given up on, gives you the edge on the trainer next door. I would suggest someone who is keen to have a go at being involved with training horses should go to work for a trainer they admire and learn as much as they can about why that trainer has the success he/she has.
Is there anything else with horses youâ€™d love to learn about or try?
I think you can learn something new about horses every day. I’d love to go back to show jumping, which was my initial involvement in the competition world, but it is a very full time pursuit for little financial reward and, in this day and age, you have to consider the time input ratio into whatever path you wish to follow.
Favourite horse memory?
Ethereal getting to the winning post first in the Melbourne Cup!
Doing it again to prove it wasn’t a fluke!!
Best thing about your sport/profession?
Earning your livelihood out of your favourite pastime, meeting so many people, traveling so much, spending a lot of time outdoors.
“To get in shape to own a horse… drop a heavy steel object on your foot. Don’t pick it up right away. Shout: ‘Get off, Stupid! Get off!'”