Days are long for Marte Solhaug — she’s up at 5:30 a.m. and feeding hungry Thoroughbreds at the racetrack and she doesn’t finish until 5 p.m. each day.
Solhaug, 24, started riding as a child, playing around on borrowed ponies before getting her own and dabbling in show jumping and dressage. When she had outgrown ponies and needed a larger horse, she became fascinated with Thoroughbreds and acquired one.
“It might not have been the best decision at that point for a 13-year-old girl, but I figured it out,” she joked.
A native of Norway, Solhaug spent her first week on the racetrack at the age of 14 and was instantly hooked on horse racing. She attended Ridskolan Stromsholm (the Stromsholm Riding Academy) in Sweden, giving her a chance to perfect her equine education while remaining on track academically.
Two years into high school, Solhaug got her National Steeplechase Association rider’s license and rode her first race. She took a job in Australia working with 2-year-olds and young horses, then spent six months with international racing operation Darley. Seeing horses at different life stages and in different contexts gave Solhaug a unique perspective on raising them. When she was ready to work in the States, that international background made her a hot commodity.
“The first day I was here I got a job with Jimmy Corrigan,” she said. “Two months later I was an assistant trainer for Jimmy and I got to saddle my first winner [a horse called Elmor] at Turfway Park. I saddled my first stakes horse the same year at Churchill Downs, and another one at Ellis Park in the summer finished second.”
Solhaug said one of her best moments thus far in her career was saddling Impeached ahead of a win at Churchill Downs in June 2015.
“It was a childhood dream come true,” she said. “Getting to saddle out a horse at a track like that, where all the greatest horses have run.”
Solhaug is a jill of all trades for Corrigan — she gallops horses on the track, walks them after exercise to cool down. She handles communication for Corrigan between veterinarians, farriers, and owners. She enters horses in races and deals with the paperwork in the track’s racing office — and that’s all before lunch. Then, she’s off to Corrigan’s farm in Central Kentucky, exercising young horses, cleaning stalls, checking on mares, and whatever else needs to be done. Then, it’s back to the track to feed the racehorses. During foaling season, she’ll jump in to help mares deliver their babies, and in the fall she puts the first training on young yearlings.
“i’ve been v fortunate to try out everything,” she said. “It’s incredible watching babies when they’re born, then two years old starting on the racetrack. Then we had one go to the Thoroughbred Makeover [for retired racehorses] and he did really well there. It’s the job of the lifetime.”
In future, Solhaug wants to continue in a dual role like this one — enjoying the buzz of the racetrack and the relaxation of the farm. It’s the variety that keeps her going through the long work days — that, and her devotion to the animals.
“I love the horses,” she said. “I love knowing they’re always there when I come in in the morning. A horse won’t judge you. He’ll love you for who you are.”