Natalie and Heni following her win in the Group 3 Valachi Downs Breeders Stakes.   Photo: Race Images

Natalie Smith: Strapper, Rider & Acknowledged Retrainer

5 May 2022

How did you first become involved in the racing industry? 

I got asked by a friend to help a team out travelling to Christchurch for Grand National Week. Having never worked with racehorses I thought why not give it a go, and 8 years later I’m still here! 

Tell us a little about your current role. 

I am a full-time strapper/stablehand/trackwork rider for White Robe Lodge. I am also a NZTR Acknowledged Retrainer, which takes up the other parts of my day when I’m not at WRL. 

What's your favourite part of your role? 

I love riding and seeing horses progress. Watching your favourites go on to win races is very rewarding and exciting! 

You're a NZTR Acknowledged Retrainer. Tell us about this. 

I haven’t been in this role for long, but prior to becoming an acknowledged retrainer, I had rehomed retired racehorses for a few years. It’s a pretty cool team to be a part of - we do our best to give these horses the best life after racing, whether they go on to be a safe happy hacker or a top-level competition horse! 

What do you love most about the thoroughbred breed?

They are just so versatile and trainable. It doesn’t matter what you do with them, they adjust to it so well. I don’t think you could find a better breed! 

What advice would you give someone looking to rehome an off the track thoroughbred? 

Show their versatility, get good footage/photos and be honest! Not every horse is easy, but people are willing to look past quirks if you are honest about them. 

Is there a particular horse who has a special place in your heart?

Heni. She just gave 110% every race and gave me my first group level win as a strapper. One of the most opinionated mares I’ve had the pleasure of working with, but I wouldn’t change her for the world! 

Or Raise You Five. He was one of the first horses I rode trackwork on at White Robe Rodge. My partner Jake won a race on him not long after I started and it was pretty special. He is now my hack and very much part of the family! 

Natalie and Raise you Five.

What is your favourite racing memory to date?

I have too many! A standout would have to be when Heni won the 2017 Group 3 Valachi Downs Breeders Stakes and then backed up three days later to win an open handicap! She’s just so tough.

What advice would you give someone looking to enter the racing industry? 

Work hard and listen. If you are keen to learn and apply yourself to the job people will take you under their wing and help you as much as they can. It doesn’t matter how much experience you have, you start from the bottom and work your way to the top! 

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