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  • Writer's pictureJo O'Neill

Sam Trainor of the Northern Horseracing College and Racing Staff Development Program


Racing brought Sam Trainor to North Yorkshire at the age of eighteen. Today, she’s fully ingrained in the Middleham community, initially working as a groom and having been a roving assessor for the Northern Horseracing College. From its beginning, she has been implicit within the Racing Staff Development Program, offering training as rider coaches and mentors. The scheme is forever evolving, striving to offer staff in racing yards – and hopefully beyond in offices and racecourses – ongoing education.

Reiterating that, like a owning a dog, working in racing could be, and should be, for life. ‘I was relentlessly told not to go into racing and that it wouldn’t make me a living. At school, my husband Paddy was told that he wouldn’t make anything of himself but it was all so untrue.’ Racing gave Sam and Paddy their careers and also was the lynch pin that brought them together.

Sam, 36, laughs when asked how she and Paddy met. ‘As we were riding out, he was shouting across the different strings and I thought he was being mean to me. One of my colleagues actually asked Paddy out but he texted back, saying ‘No, but I’ll take your friend out’ – who was me. My first reaction was that Paddy was too fit for me, plus everyone was ribbing me… ‘What? Paddy from Johnston’s? Loud Paddy?’’

But it was meant to be and they married in 2010. Paddy, 41, is the Paddy Trainor, long time employee at Mark and Charlie Johnston, winner of Employee of the Year at the Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards in 2022. The previous year, Sam was highly successful, reaching the top three in the finals for the Community category.

In a marriage that can ‘feel like passing ships’ due to the hectic hours, busy schedules and with no family living locally, Sam hints at a tussle to share time together. Sam was told she couldn’t have children and after numerous operations, heartaches and procedures, by chance fell pregnant. The miracle baby, daughter Shannon, is nine, and loves the outdoor life, but is also adapt at entertaining herself, most recently learning to knit and sew.

Becoming a mum changed Sam Trainor’s outlook to life. ‘If I fell off and Paddy was away driving then who would look after Shannon?’ It’s the grim reality of working in a risky job but nothing can keep Sam away from the racing industry she loves so much, so she has thrown herself into it every other way possible.

The Trainor family live in West Witton, in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales, with twelve-year-old beagle Benji and black Labrador puppy Ozzy. Shannon has a twenty-four-year-old pony called China and Sam a fifteen-year-old part-bred Welsh, called Tiger.


Did you have a horsey childhood? I started riding at the age of four at a riding school with my mum. When I left school, I went to a normal horsey college, Bishop Burton in Beverley, to study Equine Business Management.


How did you get into racing? During my first two years at college in the summers, I did two weeks work experience at James Bethell’s and caught the bug. At college, there was no encouragement to go into racing so that made me want to do it even more.

After finishing college, I did a conversion course for two weeks at the NHC, where I learnt to convert my riding into racing. After that I wrote to a load of trainers, and Micky Hammond offered me an interview.


Which roles have you had in racing? I was at Micky Hammond’s for a year and a half. Then, I was losing my confidence a little bit riding out and, having done my NVQ Level 3, I wanted to learn more and I was thinking, what’s next?

I was dating Paddy at the time, who said I could definitely be an Assistant Manager on the yard at Mark Johnston’s, and why don’t I apply? My immediate reaction was that I wasn’t good enough to work there but I applied anyway, got the job and stayed for seven years as an Assistant Barn Manager. I had one year shadowing Andy Larnach and then I slid into someone’s place who’d left.

Sam and Copperwood


What were your favourite racehorses? A Group horse called Lovelace took me to Royal Ascot. He even ran in Singapore and Meydan but I unfortunately couldn’t go as I was running a yard by then.

My most favourite of all was Copperwood, who was just a handicapper but who ran 151 times and won ten races. Just recently, I found out that a friend of someone who was on a coaching course has him in retirement in Epsom. One day, I’d love to visit him.

Sam and Lovelace


What was your favourite racecourse? It has to be Ascot during the Royal meeting. I love Royal Ascot.


What was your favourite canteen? Catterick always did good cakes – I’m a cake person! The canteen ladies were really lovely too, it was good value for money and the food was hearty too.

Sam at her beloved Royal Ascot, a finalist at GSSSA in 2021 and with daughter Shannon


How do you feel about the Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards? I feel that yards and individual people should nominate more. For Paddy, I nominated him as well as the yard nominating him; over the years, he’s been nominated five times.

In 2021, I actually was guilty when Paddy hadn’t got through again so I probably didn’t celebrate as I should have. I felt bad because Paddy had been in racing so much longer than me and he’d worked so hard.

It meant so much to me when, the following year, he won. He represents everything I love about racing – he’ll help anyone and never thinks of himself, the horses are at the heart of all he does and every day, he breathes racing. He deserved it so much.


How has racing changed over the years? Nowadays in yards, there are loads of working mums, they make their hours up through lunch whereas there used to be little negotiation and pay was always cut.


Where does there need to be more change? Yard-based jobs need to be promoted. In racing, it’s all about being a rider but more down the line, the RSDP want to expand the coaching onto the yard. If someone has the knowledge and skills to swim, break in, etc then they can add the skill of speaking to people and teaching. This will mean we can also help studs. There’s so much promoting of riding and jockeys but young staff don’t look beyond this and just leave racing.


What made you leave working fulltime in a racing yard? One of the reasons I left is being a mum. After having Shannon, after finishing evening stables and paying for childcare, I couldn’t even contribute towards the rent; I had £10 left. I then worked for the RSDP on a self-employed basis and I could mix paperwork with looking after Shannon. I was always fighting with sending Shannon to nursery because it’s good for them but then all the money I earnt was just solely going on nursey fees.


How did your role at the NHC start? In 1012, I started working for the NHC a little bit and had a couple of students in Middleham to oversee through their L2 and L3 in my lunchtimes, plus I was undergoing training for the college. I’d always loved helping people at Johnston’s with the skills matrix system and I was assigned to teach people there. It was my first bit of teaching, and I really enjoyed it.

I was then offered enough students to make it a fulltime role. I used to do Middleham, Lancashire and the Scottish Borders.


Describe your input in the RSDP: I’d often spoken my views that people shouldn’t have to return college to continue their training, that more ideally it should be taken out to the workplace. With the support of the former Chief Executive of the NHC Dawn Goodfellow, Andrea O’Keeffe and Gill Greeves, in 2016, I was given a small pot of money with which to pilot workplace training and in ’19, it was taken countrywide. It’s all built up from there and in 2022, we rebranded it from Regional Staff Development to the Racing Staff Development Program.

Initially we supported 280 employers but then we made it much bigger. We aim to eventually have five pillars of training: the rider coaching and mentoring, a non-yard based apprenticeship like ground staff and business administration, work-riding training and supporting the rider coaches already in yards (developing them to develop staff), the online platform of Racing 2 Learn and free webinars to change the experience of learning that was often so negative from schooldays and an equine first aid qualification for head lads and trainers mindful of the Horse Welfare Board.


How are the Rider Coaches making a difference within yards? It was all originally funded by the Racing Foundation and then the BHA took over, which has massively helped in the promotion. I sometimes felt I was sat in my Middleham office, telling everyone to do it, that it was a good thing but it felt like I was forever pushing a wheelbarrow up a hill. It’s been slow to come but I think now the coaching has really taken off. It’s brilliant to see older staff getting their motivation back and bringing their communities together with coaching and fitness hubs.

Family Time is hard to come by but treasured


What is not highlighted about working in racing? In other horse jobs, people don't realise how much free training there is in racing. In other disciplines, you have to pay for training, there's no wage structure and there's a lot worse working conditions. Racing has so much to offer. The new people strategy will help but there are so many projects and amazing opportunities that staff can take advantage of, but not enough people know about them.


In your opinion, why did the staffing crisis in racing occur? For me, everyone skimmed over the staff – no one acknowledged that without staff there would be nothing. Staff on the ground are the heart of racing; without them there'd be no racing. Owners, trainers and jockeys are in the limelight all the time but they can only do so much without stable staff. They overlooked staff at the forefront and something had to be done.

I must add that money is not a motivation for everyone – trainers could not keep affording to pay more so recognition had to come in different forms.


What is the one thing you would say to younger staff? If you work hard, are passionate about racing and love horses then you’ll make a life – you’ll have your own family, your racing family and lots of opportunities ahead of you. Please, always ask for help – don’t just leave racing. We’ve all been there: Racing Welfare is brilliant, the retired Ray Wilky from there helped me lots and I work closely with Sarah Fanning from CATs – the help is out there so use it.


What do you love about working with younger racing staff? My favourite part is seeing them overcoming doubting themselves. They often think they can’t achieve something and to me, it’s about building a rapport and helping them achieve it, and then showing them the videos at the end of what they’ve learnt.

I love it that even after completing their L3, my former students still run up to me and want to chat, which goes back to how racing is all one big family.


How do you juggle being a mum and working? I’m lucky because my job is flexible and I can type away during the evening or when Shannon is having a swimming lesson! She's is such an independent, brilliant girl. She's always fitted into my life and she likes everything that I enjoy. We spend time together riding the ponies and walking the dogs.

The Trainors in 2014



with Copperwood at York

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