As several of his students hot-walked horses in a barn at the Kentucky Horse Park near Lexington Oct. 16, Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron unveiled the North American Racing Academy, the first and only national jockey training academy in the United States. McCarron was accompanied at the press briefing by Kentucky Community and Technical College System president Michael McCall, Horse Park executive director John Nicholson, and the academy's inaugural field of 11 students. "Chris and fellow instructor, Dr. Reid McLellan, have set a mission to equip students to be top-quality riders, as well as train them in subjects such as equine health and nutrition, personal finance, track and farm management, and equine industry economics," said McCall.
"Even students who many never 'don the silks' as jockeys will graduate with skills that give them access to all levels of the racing world and a variety of equine-centered industries."NARA's classes, administered by the Bluegrass Community and Technical College, began Sept. 11. Its first class of students will graduate with associate degrees after completing a two-year program. "It's only fitting that the first academy of this type be located here in the horse capital of the world," said Nicholson. "NARA is not only performing a great service to the horse industry, but it's also performing a great service to these remarkable young people."Also on hand were members of the general assembly, Sen. Damon Thayer and Reps. Susan Westrom and Charlie Hoffman, who helped secure $300,000 from the Kentucky general fund to get NARA off the ground. McCarron is trying to raise $15 million through private fundraising for future facilities and programs within the academy.The Horse Park has agreed to give NARA 40 acres to build a 60-stall barn, 5/8-mile track, dormitory, classroom, admissions building, and an indoor arena."By partnering with KCTCS and the Horse Park, this program gained instant legitimacy," said Thayer. "If Kentucky is going to compete in a 21st century global marketplace, then we must engage in training our future workforce."In thanking all his supporters, McCarron said, "Your support and commitment to this program has been a huge leg up for us, so to speak."During the academy's first month in session, McCarron said it had been uplifting for him to see the expression on the faces of the students when they learned first hand of a horse's capabilities and quick reflexes. Next year, McCarron hopes to launch classes targeting other careers in the horse industry, such as grooms, exercise riders, and administrative roles. Of 90 NARA applicants, 20 students were interviewed, and of the 11 accepted, seven had no prior experience with horses. McCarron hopes some of his pupils, currently ranging in age between 18 to 28, will go on to pursue other equine programs at schools such as the Universities of Louisville and Arizona after graduating from NARA."When I was a kid, my grandfather always told me I should be a jockey," said Corey Mongan, a native of Hagerstown, Md. who is living outside his hometown for the first time. "I never really thought it was a realistic option for me--I was going to finish school and become a teacher."Mongan found out about NARA from a friend and soon found himself applying, interviewing, and being accepted into the inaugural program. Starting classes at 7 a.m. each day, McCarron teaches horsemanship to the students from a rider's standpoint, while McLellan provides a trainer's point of view. Mechanical horses are stationed around the barn to help students develop correct riding style, posture, and balance.While two of the horses used by NARA are Thoroughbred mares, the other 10 are donated Thoroughbreds and Mustangs, ranging in age from 2 to 12. McCarron said the annual funds for the program were about $600,000. While Keeneland and KCTCS have provided some of the resources and funding, other owners in the industry have offered scholarships to the students.Even with the money already raised, McCarron said, "We have a lot more work to do."