Horse training is a tough profession for a man or a woman. But Arti Doctor, the first licensed woman horse trainer in India, is undaunted. Arti studied to be a professional graphic designer but her love for horses was overwhelming. Instead of taking up a 9 to 5 job she decided to spend 24 hours with the most elegant of animals in the world. Doctor now trains and looks after 48 horses belonging to various owners.
So when did it all begin for her? Says 44-year-old Arti: "My family has been racing in a small way for a very long time, mainly as spectators. None of them were ever deeply involved with horses. They just loved the sport and attended racing regularly. I have personally been very fond of horses since I was a child and went riding regularly."
Arti wanted to become a jockey at 25, when she entered the circuit, but she was 10 years too late to fulfill her dream. So the next best option was to become a trainer. "I basically wanted to be and work with horses," she says. It was an unusual career choice since there was not a single woman trainer in Western India, and she was the first woman to be granted a license from the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) in August 1988.
What made her challenge the absolutely male-dominated profession of horse training? She explains, "This is not a profession which any woman, or man for that matter, can take up easily. The number of trainers is restricted in RWITC and other Turf Clubs. There is no formal training course or a
school. One has to remain an assistant under a senior trainer for a period of three years. After this you need to collect a minimum of 10 horses from owners before appearing for an examination. The racing circle is very small and one needs a recommendation to get introduced and become an assistant trainer."
So what is a typical day like for a horse trainer? Naturally, it is nothing like the nine to five job! "My day starts at 5.30 am. I start my track work at 6 in the morning -- all my horses are exercised on the training tracks in the morning between 6 and 9 am. I have a team of jockeys and riding boys who exercise the horses under my supervision. After finishing the track work I attend to the stable work. I go around the stable checking each horse. I also have to see to their medication and feed."
But the outdoor beat is not all. There is paperwork to be done at the office, which she attends to after her stint in the stables. After a break in the afternoon, Arti is back at work by 4 pm. There is no track work in the evening, but the horses are either walked or taken swimming.
And then there is the job of dealing with horse owners. "Some of the owners like to come and see their horses or just sit around and discuss their horses. In any case, I spend time with them till the evening feed is done around 6.45 pm," she says. On race days, she attends races and saddles the runners if she has any.
Besides the healthcare, physical training and feeding, the trainer spends time with her horses on a one-to-one basis -- in fact all 48 horses under her care recognize her and respond to her touch. Although most trainers do not own horses, animal lover Arti Doctor also owns two horses, which she trains.
The earning in the profession is uncertain. Only private trainers who train for a single owner may get a regular salary. There are hardly two or three in the RWITC out of more than 50 trainers. The others are paid a fixed amount per horse per month. However, trainers are also paid 10 per cent of the stakes earned by the horses under their care that run in the races -- a rather chancy perk!
But braving the odds stacked against her, Arti is a trendsetter of sorts, and now women are entering the profession in larger numbers. Today there are three women trainers in RWITC.
Reminiscing about the early days when horse owners were unwilling to hire a woman trainer, Arti says wryly, "I had a bit of a rough time since I was trying to break into this very male-dominated industry. People were not willing to entrust me with their horses. I had to prove myself with unsound and ordinary horses." In addition, she had to overcome prevailing myths that horses react violently to menstruating women.
"It was a long struggle but finally, I have made it towards the top. I saddled my first Indian Classic winner, Wild Eagle," she recounts.
While the high points of winning a race are few, they certainly make up for the hard work involved in training horses. "We are dealing with live animals here who are not able to communicate except by body language. We have to be very alert and sensitive to the horses to avoid some illnesses. I have to also make sure that my staff doesn't ill-treat the animals. The horses are such delicate creatures that one is always on the edge about their well being," she says.
So attached does she get to the horses under her care that Arti feels a personal sense of loss if she loses a horse to illness or accident. "On the other hand, if one can get an ailing horse fit and winning, the satisfaction is beyond words!" she exclaims.
Most of the time Arti shuttles between Pune and Mumbai, and occasionally travels to Bangalore. Like a female Noah, she moves constantly with her animals. What does her family feel? "My family has been my biggest fan and supporter through out my career. They stood by me when I was struggling and even supported me financially when needed. Initially they were a bit worried about me entering this field but once I was on my own they were happy; and today they are very proud of me," she says.
As Arti Doctor trains her magnificent horses in Pune, storming the citadel of yet another male-dominated profession, she is sure to come up with another Classic winner.