Shane Ryan: 'It gives me immense pleasure to see horses arrive at the starting gates on race days'

Irishman tells Amith Passela about the process for getting horses ready for races

Powered by automated translation

As the race starter for the Emirates Racing Authority, Shane Ryan has had his eyes on every horse that arrives at the starting gates to race in the UAE.

Ryan does this by visiting stables around the country to watch horses go through their starting gate drills. He also schools young and problematic horses that are challenging to load into the barriers.

Ryan says he enjoys his job as the starter, but he admits his passion is to school young horses into the starting gates.

"Me and my team travel around the country visiting the local stables and farms, which is normally during the horses' training hours from 5-9am," Ryan told The National.

“You need to school and teach them before they come for the races. It gives me immense pleasure and satisfaction to see them arrive at the starting gates on race days. It makes my work when you know the horses.”

When it comes to international arrivals, Ryan has a worldwide database to check records of each horse, or watch videos in order to load them into the barriers as quickly and easily as possible.

“I am in contact with starters from all over the world,” he said of his network. “I get in contact with them and find out details of the horses arriving for the races. If there’s any further clarifications, I discuss with the respective trainers.”

Ryan’s team at the races comprises his assistant starter, Tino Berninger, 16 handlers, two tape-men at the back and a flagman a furlong away in front, two vets, a ferrier and an ambulance crew.

“For 16 horses we give ourselves around two minutes to load,” Ryan said. “If a horse is hard to load, he comes under an official stalls test. He has to be schooled and do it properly again on race day. That’s repeated if the horse is hard to load.”

Ryan doesn’t get to watch the race but makes a point to watch every race in the breaks in-between in the stewards room.

“My job is done once they are off,” he said. “After the race, I go to the steward’s room and look at each start.

“If I see something like a horse is slow away or if some horse is fractious at the gate, I’ll take notes and speak to the trainer the next day and try to get him for more schooling.”

Ryan, 45, has filled a few roles in the racing industry before his current job of 17-plus years.

Born and raised in Tipperary, Ireland, he grew up with horses, since his father bought a pony when he was 10-years old.

“I used to go Irish fox hunting, got into show jumping and then into race horses when I was around 14 to learn about them from a local trainer,” Ryan said.

At 16, he moved to England for his first job with trainer Jimmy Fitzgerald. He received his jockey’s licence at 18 and rode as a professional jockey for around seven years.

The highlight of Ryan's riding career was to compete at Cheltenham Festival and in some Grade A races at Sandown Park.

“I did ride winners at the big tracks but not at Cheltenham but riding at the Cheltenham Festival were some of the best moments in my riding career,” he said.

Ryan had a desire to work overseas. His objective was to travel to the United States or Dubai, but he eventually found employment in Japan. He worked there for a few months, breaking horses and as a work rider.

He arrived in Dubai in 2000 to work at the Dubai Stables of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid.

“That was also for breaking new horses before they were sent to race all over the world,” Ryan said of his role that consists of teaching a young horse to accept a saddle, a bridle and the weight of the rider on its back.

“At that time you could even get a second job and that’s when I worked as a stalls handler, and then as a foreman before I was offered the job of the starter in the 2003/2004 season. I was at the right place at the right time.”