There is a certain resiliency required to overcome life’s biggest hurdles. Some have it. Others don’t. Onlookers at the Canterbury trainers’ stand early this month had to look twice to believe what they were seeing. Katlin Bedford? After all, she was involved in a frightful spill on Sept. 16 of last year at Canterbury; a spill that left the jockey motionless in the upper stretch of the main track, and eventually transported to the hospital. Yet here she was, on horseback.
On that night last fall her mount, Drop the Gloves, was moving up the rail before clipping heels and dropping the rider. Bedford recalls being “face down in the dirt, being unable to move.”
And she was mad, still is. Mad at both the situation and the other jockey who she felt should have made room.
There was the pain as well. “A lot of pain, trying to move my legs,” she said. “I could then I couldn’t. I could then I couldn’t. I dislocated the c5 [vertebrae]. Rods and pins through c4 and c7. So I didn’t break it, I dislocated it. Broke my left ankle. Again. My left shoulder blade, and my left wrist.”
Her professional race riding career may have been in jeopardy but this would not be the end of her involvement in the industry; only the start of a new chapter.
Bedford made the decision a few years ago, after spending more than five years in the Marine Corps Reserve after high school and taking steps necessary to enter the officer program, that racing was her calling. “I had to make a choice. I decided I’d rather ride horses than do something where my heart really wasn’t and the Marines deserve your full attention and devotion,” she said. Bedford didn’t want to take the place of “someone else that needed it and deserved it.”
She’d been around horses since she was four. She was going to be a jockey.
“I started grooming about 10 years ago at Saratoga. Worked there for two years and then started at a farm breaking babies and sale horses and started picking up things all along the way and applying them,” said the native of rural New York. Bedford did become a jockey and rode her first race at Fonner Park in Grand Island, Neb. in April of 2016.
Fast forward to today and Bedford is now a licensed racehorse trainer, passing the trainer test last week. “It’s been a long time since I’d taken a test,” she said “There was a little anxiety but I knew most of it. What I didn’t know I studied on.”
Determination is not lacking in this young woman. Bedford had a strong base of knowledge. She learned a lot from those she has worked with over the years as well. “You don’t realize how much the people around you know until you start paying attention. Watching other people gallop. How a good hand handles a bad horse can make all the difference,” she said.
Bedford will saddle her first starter Tuesday at Canterbury.
Training was in the plans already last year, this trajectory however was not.
“My plan anyways was to just ride Oaklawn and get my trainers license this spring,” she said from her shedrow one morning. “It was getting hard to keep my weight down and I like horses. It seemed like the next logical step.”
When she was released from the hospital last year she spent a short time at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in the Twin Cities.
She then moved in with trainer Frank McKinley and his wife Annie in Dassel, Minn. determined to recover and get back to work.
“They called me the hermit in the basement because my dogs weren’t allowed in the house so I lived in the basement,” Bedford said.
No one told her she would not again ride a horse.
“I was going to do it. When I was able to start getting out and moving around I started going and doing stalls with a halo on. You don’t realize how much you turn your head when cleaning stalls until you can’t,” she said.
Near the end of January Bedford returned to Arkansas and was on a horse in no time.
“I was supposed to wait two more months. They were just worried about me falling off. I knew my horses so I wasn’t concerned with that,” she said. “It was a lot more anxiety [than fear.] Even on the track, a little quarter mile, my little horse is a little spitfire sometimes. I was like ‘Be good, please.’ She held it together so well, when we started walking out I almost started crying just walking around the track. She was so good. We jogged around there twice and you can tell she just wanted to buck and kick, but she didn’t.”
Bedford trains two horses at Canterbury and owns them both. Icywilburnyeh runs Tuesday in the sixth race. Timber Lady is ready to run, as soon as her race fills.
“I hope my two do well. I’ve got high hopes for [Icywilburnyeh]. Maybe one day I’d like to have an owner or two. I don’t want to have a big barn or a lot of people to manage. I like doing the individual care and paying a lot of attention to them. I’d like to claim one or find a gelding. I’ve got two Minnesota bred girls that both run long on the turf, so not much variety.”
If one can get her to stop working long enough to talk, a sense of humor quickly surfaces as does a laugh that often accompanies it. While there is some obvious anger remaining about how she got to this place in time, there is also a pure joy that is evident as she goes about her business. Horse racing is the business she chose, or the business that chose her perhaps. Katlin Bedford is now a racehorse trainer.
“When people ask me how I’m doing it kind of reminds me I’m lucky to be here. I try to keep that in mind; that helps.”