Shannon Beauregard is the jockey version of the Horse Whisperer, a tough-as-nails competitor who walks the walk any time and any place.
To the casual observer, it might seem, as she terms it, “a little bit weird.” To the 33-year-old rider, who has seen her fair share of injury — both mild and serious — it’s completely natural, a conversation between two athletes seeking the winning edge.
“I definitely talk to the horses,” said the Quebec-born Beauregard. “It doesn’t matter where we happen to be, in post parade, around the first turn, battling down the stretch, or on our way back after the race is over, I’m talking to them. I’m sure some people think I’m crazy, but I truly feel a bond with every horse I ride.”
It hasn’t been an easy road to 679 career wins for Beauregard. Injuries, some of which have sidelined her for longer than a year, have been physically and mentally challenging.
In July of 2014, a morning training accident at Northlands Park resulted in numerous fractured vertebrae. It also put her career, one she dearly loves, in jeopardy.
The easy answer for Beauregard was to hang up her tack. That scenario, however, is not an option.
“It makes me upset when I’m not riding,” she said. “Whether I’m healthy and it’s the off-season, or if I’m sidelined by injury, I want to be out there. I’d have to be pretty busted up in order for me to not be competing.”
Beauregard, who started in equestrian at the age of 12, didn’t need to get a leg up to know what she wanted to do for a living.
“For as long as I can remember, even before I ever saw a horse, or rode one, I wanted to be a jockey,” she recalled. “There was just something about it that drew me to it.”
At the age of 22, Beauregard started riding professionally in Western Canada. She went nearly 50 races without winning a race, but it didn’t diminish her desire to succeed.
The decision, at the behest of a trainer, to make the switch to Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg in 2003 proved to be a pivotal moment in her career. Her confidence grew, and with it, horsepeople began to take notice.
Beauregard won her first race there. At season’s end, she had 42 victories as the track’s leading apprentice rider, notching 11 more in Edmonton after the Winnipeg meet concluded.
She decided to stay in Alberta and won 77 races one year later. It’s been her home base ever since.
“It just feels right,” she said, of Northlands Park, where she won 21 races in 2014. “It’s a very warm environment – great people, and I have such a bond with the horses. Every year, I learn more about the sport and myself. I strive to improve, to do whatever I can to achieve the best result. The goal, like it is for every other jockey, is to be the leading rider.”
On this day, just 48 hours before the calendar turns to 2015, Beauregard is heading back to Edmonton from Montreal.
She’s not fully healed from the injuries she suffered in the summer. But, you’d never know it in her voice.
“I want to get back out there,” said Beauregard. “That’s my goal and that’s my belief. It’s tough to sit around and watch races, but I can’t help myself. I love horses and I cheer for them, for the people I know, for the sport itself. It’s what I love and what I love to talk about.”
Some of those conversations, however, will be reserved for those she partners with on the racetrack.
“When horses win, a lot of them, especially the older ones, they know it,” said Beauregard, who jots down the words, ‘Show up, ride hard and win. Never give up!’ on every race day program. “You can see how puffed up and pumped up they are after a race. I like to talk to them wherever we happen to be on the track. It’s just something I do.”