XENIA — Christina Smith made a quick assessment of the situation on Wednesday where two horses roamed free on the grandstand track at the Greene County Fair and acted swiftly.
Working as an outrider during the harness racing program, she saw one of the horses heading toward an open gate and knew her only chance to get one under control in a fast manner was to chase down the other running along the inner rail.
“You’ve got to go with your best judgment and best gut feeling,” Smith said.
Smith grabbed hold of the horse which lost its driver during a collision and was able to get it to the same trotting speed she was going to keep it from potentially getting into a harmful situation toward other people, but most of all saving itself from injury too.
It’s a precise and demanding part of the position for outriders that doesn’t occur often but something they need to be prepared for at all times.
Typically spectators won’t have a need to notice them as their most visible roles involve riding alongside drivers during post parade warmups or acting as a guide for heading back to a stable or winner’s circle.
Smith said her first responsibility as an outrider is to know where horses are on the track at all times in describing how her role is one of the most important during program’s across the country.
Her first action on Wednesday following the three horse collision during the evening’s third race was to cut across the infield to tell the riders in front there were loose horses coming from behind.
“They need to know to drive with caution with those horses coming up behind them,” she said.
Afterward, her next move was to figure out which direction the two loose horses were galloping. Seeing Tugboat Tuffy stick to the outside and race through an open gate and out of the track, Top Dollar was closest and became her target.
Smith made her way alongside the horse and with proper timing was able to grab hold.
Riding 9-year-old Cojo, she said the training he goes through to be an outrider’s horse is just as important as her own.
“The first thing I’m essentially making that horse do is run into danger, and a horse’s instinct is to run away from danger,” Smith said. “These horses need to have full trust in me, but I’m not going to put him in a position where they’re going to get hurt.”
Smith comes from a background of training with her father buying his first horse when she was three years old. She did her own racing before she began doing outrider work in southern Ohio and Miami Valley before currently holding the full-time position at Hoosier Park.
Putting drivers’ safety ahead of her own is something Smith said she needs to be mindful of, but having trust in the horse she’s on to know it will take an outrider out of dangerous situations safely is also a key part fulfilling their duties.
Smith put her skills to work Wednesday to dissolve what could have become a more threatening scenario for all involved.
“I think it’s great that Xenia always has this position here,” Smith said. “This is my sixth year here, I believe, and not all the Ohio fairs have outriders. I give props to Xenia for making sure they have an outrider here and it’s a really good safety measure I wish all tracks did.”
Contact Steven Wright at 937-502-4498 and follow on Twitter @Steven_Wright_.