Melanie Giddings has had a variety of horse racing roles, including a short, but coveted career as a jockey. These days, she is playing a key role in the success of champion conditioner Mark Casse.
Born in Cobourg, ON, Giddings’ affinity for all things horses dates back to her pre-teen years growing up in the town that lies just under 100 kilometres east of Toronto.
These days, over a career that’s spanned more than 15 years, she’s part of one of thoroughbred racing’s most successful training outfits, contributing to plenty of memorable moments and trips to the winner’s circle.
When did your love for horses begin?
“All my life! My parents would take me out to my aunt and uncles place where they had a small barn of horses. From there, my parents took me to a farm to start lessons when I was six or seven years old and I was all over it. I was hooked!”
Talk about your current horse racing career.
“I’ve been an assistant/exercise rider for (trainer) Mark Casse for roughly seven years and it’s been an eye-opening experience, to say the least. One year, I think I had about 10 different track licenses from shipping around. To experience a lot of big races I’ve only seen on TV was a very surreal time for me.”
What did your time (112 races) as a jockey teach you?
“I feel like the short time I rode taught me a lot. I think understanding how important it is to have your horses at 100 per cent for theses jockeys is so important. It’s easy to criticize from the stands, but to be on their backs trying to control 1,000-pound animals with their own minds is a whole different story. All the foundation work comes from us working with these horses seven days a week and for the jockey to ride at his/her best, the horse needs to be at its best. Teaching them to behave in the gate, sit behind other horses and get dirt in their faces, or be in between horses are all important things for these young horses to learn from us in the morning to make it easier for a jockey in the afternoon, which sometimes is something people don’t think about.”
What’s your most memorable moment to date?
“The first Kentucky Derby I ever watched live. There is no feeling like the feeling of thousands of people singing ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ and the volume of the crowd when they turn for home at the quarter-pole. No matter what stage of life you’re in, you realize that this is why we do it. We work hard every day to have that one special horse for this historic race.”
The best advice you’ve ever received is…
“Someone told me, ‘This is a tough game, not only physically but mentally, and if you can remember why your here in the first place, it will never get old.’ I’ve been working on the track for 16 years and to say it’s tough is without question. I’ve broken my hand, my elbow, completely separated my shoulder, tore the ligaments in my knee, herniated a disc in my back, broke my ribs a few times and live with screws in my shoulder for the rest of my life. Tough would be quite an understatement. But when I say I love the horses, it’s still my answer. In all the years it’s still ‘not old.’ I look forward to breezing a horse or running the babies first time. I love the horses and that is what this game is about.”
What are your hobbies/passions away from the racetrack?
“Everyone who knows me, knows I love my dogs. I have two complete opposite dogs and I love to take them on little hikes when I have spare time and my newest hobby in the last couple years has been hot yoga. I love a good challenge and yoga is very challenging and has its benefits, too.”