By Kristin Bechthold
Dean Butler is currently the leading jockey at Canterbury Park. He was Canterbury’s 2013 Leading Thoroughbred Jockey, a title he also held for 2011, 2010, and 2009. He spends the summer at Canterbury Park and the winter at Tampa Bay Downs in Tampa, Florida.
Growing up in Saratoga Springs, New York, Butler spent much of his childhood tagging along with his father and his friends to Saratoga Race Course. He knew from a young age that he wanted to be a jockey and never really considered doing anything else. “I loved the horses and of course, saw the little guys that were on them, so I tugged on his pants when I was about five years old and said, ‘That’ll be me someday.'”
When he was fifteen years old, Butler got a job working for Jack Van Berg through an acquaintance of his sister’s. He worked in New York for his first year, then spent his summers on the farm in California. When he graduated from high school, he bought a car, packed his things, and made a solo trip across the country to pursue his dream of being a jockey.
Butler has now been racing for 22 years, starting at the age of 21. “I didn’t have any weight trouble or anything like that,” he said. “I got into it late, so I wanted to take my time and make sure I was ready when I started.”
Since the beginning of his career in racing, Butler said that he’s learned many lessons. “You learn something new every day in this business,” Butler said. The biggest lesson he’s learned about riding is to listen to the horses that he works with. “They’re creatures of habit, but they’re also smart,” he said. “They’re a lot smarter than we give them credit for.” The biggest life lesson he’s learned from horses is to be patient and to learn as much as you can.
Other than racing, Butler’s main focus is taking care of and spending time with his daughters, Kayleigh, who is eight years old, and Kendall, who is four years old. He also enjoys building things, completing outdoor projects, and relaxing with some well-deserved down time.
If he wasn’t a jockey, Butler would like be work with small animals like dogs and cats. Since his brother owns a small animal veterinarian clinic in Tennessee, he could see himself doing the same. If he was to take a year off from being a jockey, he would like to travel, particularly to Hawaii, the Cayman Islands, or Australia.
Butler’s hope for the future is to continue to enjoy his job and be happy and healthy. “The day you think you’ve learned everything and you’re not enjoying it anymore, then it’s time to quit,” Butler said. “In that case, I’d come across something else that would make me happy. I know I want to be there to watch my daughters grow up, provide for them, and give them the best life that I can.”