By Breanna Boer
Harness racing involves many helping hands to ensure the safety of all horses and drivers on the track. One of those helping hands, quite literally, is the outrider. An outrider’s role is an important part that is often overlooked. An outrider is responsible for maintaining a safe environment for all athletes on the track during early morning training hours and live racing. They enforce the rules of the track, chase down loose horses, make sure all horses get to the gate, oversee the daily opening and closing of the track, help with anxious horses, and any other situations that they encounter on the track.
Sis Arnold of Chesterfield, Indiana is an outrider for Harrah’s Hoosier Park Racing & Casino. She grew up in harness racing with generations of her family racing Standardbreds all over the country. Horses have become a way of life for Arnold. For as long as she can remember, she has been and always wanted to be around horses. She began her outriding career at the age of 18 as an outrider in the Chicago circuit and ponied both Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds.
Arnold ponied at some major tracks including Hawthorne Park, Maywood Park, and Balmoral Park. She has also ponied horses in major events which include the Breeders Cup and the Breeders Crown.
Arnold began outriding for Harrah’s Hoosier Park in 2017. She says she loves working with the drivers and trainers at Harrah’s and enjoys the camaraderie with them.
“We’re like family,” Arnold noted. “Everyone has each other’s backs and we all get along. It’s a great atmosphere to work in.”
An outrider’s position is not for everyone or every horse. To be a successful outrider, a trusted mount, superb riding skills, and strong keen senses are imperative. Outriders typically use their own horses which are often handpicked and trained specifically for the job.
“It’s simple but complicated,” she expressed. “If you don’t have the right horse, you don’t have a job.”
According to Arnold, finding the right horse is one of the hardest obstacles she faces. An outrider’s horse needs to have a calm disposition and a nonchalant personality. Not every horse has the skills needed for the job.
For Arnold, she uses two horses for the job: a black, off the track Thoroughbred named Blackie (23) and a bay Quarter Horse named Brown (20). Arnold trains the horses that she uses herself. Once she finds the right horse with the right disposition, she begins training it by ponying other horses the same way she would at the track. Once she feels like the horses are ready, she will then take them to the track and familiarize them with the surroundings and their new job. Currently, she is in the process of training an 11-year-old paint named Boss to begin working at Harrah’s Hoosier Park.
“I have gone through several horses trying to find the right one,” Arnold mentioned. “Either they pick it up pretty quickly or they won’t. It’s not something that you can force.”
According to Arnold, while it may look rather simple, being an outrider is not as easy as it looks. An outrider needs to be calm, cool, and collected in what sometimes can be very stressful situations. An outrider needs to always be on the lookout for the unexpected and be prepared at a moment’s notice.
“The first time I caught a horse my knees were shaking,” Arnold remembered. “It still scares me a little but I don’t think about what is happening at the moment—I just care about the safety of my friends and the horses. I am out here to do my job and will do whatever I have to do to make sure everyone is safe.”
The next time you have the opportunity to visit the track, be sure to make an effort to look for those who are working hard and unnoticed behind the scenes. While they might not always be in the spotlight, outriders are one of many that play a crucial role in ensuring that everything runs safely and smoothly.