The Horseman - By Will Alberts

 (Originally published in the May 21, 2011 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)   

Will Alberts is the son of trainer Nancy Alberts, who died May 3 from complications following a stroke. Nancy Alberts finished second in the 2002 Preakness with Magic Weisner. She remains the only woman to be the owner, breeder, trainer, exercise rider, and groom of a contender in any of the Triple Crown races.

On a typical day my mother, Nancy Alberts, rose at 4 a.m., battling to get out of bed with her two chocolate Labs Hersh and Cocoa. After the dogs and many cats were fed, she would head to the barn on her farm in Sykesville, Md., to feed more cats and her horses—retired racehorses, horses on a break from training, and a yearling.  

She arrived at the track by 5 a.m. daily. She would feed, knock off her horses, put on her riding boots, and gallop or work her horses as necessary. After training and cooling out the horses, she would check her hay, straw, and feed levels to make sure she had enough to last a few days, check with the vet, enter horses to race as needed, set up feed for the afternoon, and feed the cats at a different barn. She’d offer assistance to other trainers to sew blankets, clip horses, make bandages, or fix a pair of jeans and then head back to the farm.

There was always something to do, someplace to go. She looked forward to attending annual parties for the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) or other events at a local farm or the track. When people would call, they would often have to ask her to stop, just for a moment, to talk to her. Most of the time she would be under a horse picking a hoof, clipping a horse, sewing a blanket, feeding the dogs, driving a tractor, or heading to the races. She was organized and managed to get what she needed done when it needed to be done.

Her drive and determination were always to do the best she could with what she had in any circumstance. She never missed work—every holiday, even Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter. She worked on her birthday. Records were kept dating back 30 years that detailed daily activities of each horse, her social calendar, and even remarks about the weather.

I found this note the other day:
Tuesday April 5th 2011
• Diamond – galloped 1 mi
• Ginger – galloped 1 mi
• Weber – galloped 1mi
• Happy – galloped 1 mi – in April 7th – eating great!
• 86 degrees – nice warm day
• Dr. Tanner @ farm
• Hale Bopper – 4 in 1 (West Nile)
• West Nile – Clark, Ferry, Howie (Howard County)
Howie – ECG today + 3 more Sat, Tue, Sat to make his testicle drop
• Manure to dump
• Perm today at 10:30

In addition to notes about her horses, dogs, and cats she also had remarks in her books about people that rented a room in her home. People like Katie Scally, Craig Gibbs, Jonathon Joyce, Joe Clark, Chip Vanharsel, and currently Whitney Valls. In the past, she even took in close friends of mine like Erin Mace and Mark Day.
I don’t know how the boarding began at my mother’s, but I am told that she typically heard that someone needed a place in a pinch, or was just passing through, or was just starting out on the track, and her place was recommended as a good place to start.

“On the go” was her motto. Our daily calls lasted only a few minutes; short conversations on how her horses were, where I was or where I was going, and ended with a simple, “call me later” or “night.” We would always talk before and after the Triple Crown races as well. She would tell me who she liked, and there was always some back story about why one horse would do well or why another horse wouldn’t. How she managed to do it all I will never know. What I do know is…she did it, and she did it pretty well.

There was only one time she stopped working—when she was kicked and in a hospital. While her recovery was long, I will never forget the day she was well enough to come back to work. She took control of her barn as if she hadn’t missed a day of work.

She cared for all horses equally. It didn’t matter if one was headed to the Triple Crown or running at the bottom. She gave the best to all of them and always expected others to do the same.

To never give up hope and never stop trying to do the best she could was all that mattered. She was a horseman and proud to be part of the racing community.

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