Blair and Springer use their extensive Thoroughbred backgrounds and education to balance the demands of racing and parenthood and help equine athletes live up to their full potential.
Jordan Springer begins a massage on 3-year-old filly Blue Shine
Riding horses has been a lifelong passion for Jordan Springer. The self-described “hunter-jumper girl” started when she was 4, and after earning a degree in Equine Science and Racing from what is now Morrisville (N.Y.) State College, she worked as a gallop person for Juddmonte Farms and, later, trainers John Ward and Frank Brothers.
Springer became a jockey in 2004, earning her first victory the following year at Tampa Bay Downs aboard a filly named Sadies Lad. She had limited success over the next five years, riding 80 winners from 1,152 mounts.
Despite breaking her back three times in 2007 in morning-training accidents, Springer kept coming back. But after giving birth to daughter Hunter last March, Springer knew it was time to reorder her priorities.
“It’s a risk every time you get on a horse, whether it’s a Thoroughbred or a pony,” said Springer, who married trainer Jordan Blair two years ago. “I still love riding, but I have to start thinking about stopping. I’m getting older and sometimes I hurt in the morning.
“Jordan still likes me getting on his horses, and breezing horses is my favorite thing to do. But with us having Hunter, I’m trying to stay more on the ground than up on their backs.”
Although she hasn’t set a timetable for giving up galloping duties, Springer has branched out into a new vocation: performing full-body massages on racehorses. Certified as an equine massage practitioner, she works on most of their stable’s horses a day or two before they race.
“A lot of people are skeptical of it, but it works on our horses, especially if you do it right before they run,” she said. “I think it makes them feel better. It’s preventive care and it helps them relax, makes them feel good.”
Springer has performed equine massages for other trainers, including leading Tampa Bay Downs conditioner Gerald Bennett and Keith Nations, who used her services recently on Blue Shine, a 3-year-old filly.
Although the young horse appeared on high alert at first, she took a quick “shine” to Springer, allowing her to make a thorough examination of her neck, shoulders, back, gluteal muscles and hamstrings.
Springer starts each exam with light pressure, getting a feel for how a horse is going to deal with being touched in an unfamiliar manner. She increases the pressure gradually while looking for tightness or tension. “Every horse is different, but most of them figure out you are trying to help them,” she said.
After a few minutes, Blue Shine starts sticking her tongue out, a sign she is relaxing and becoming more aware of the good feelings associated with Springer’s touch. “They’ll let you know what they can handle,” she said. “Some horses are more sensitive and they’ll move away from the pressure or even try to kick me.”
Springer uses a variety of massage techniques called compression, jostling, zig-zagging and percussion, in which she uses a firm but soothing karate-chop motion. She stays sharply attuned to her patient’s reactions, making a mental note when Blue Shine pins her ears back after she applies pressure to her lower back.
“They are athletes. They’re going to feel sore somewhere,” she said. A few minutes later, though, Blue Shine looks completely relaxed, yawning and twitching like a ticklish child. “The main thing is being able to read their reactions. I think I can read one pretty well after all these years.”
Nations, whose wife Cheryl uses a Magna Wave PEMF (Pulsed Electro-Magnetic Field) machine on their horses as a form of therapy, is a strong advocate of equine massage. “We do it because we’re looking for better performances from our horses,” he said. “Some horses have a big, long natural stride with a good way of going, and others have a little shorter stride and are more tightly muscled and built more like a Quarter Horse.
“There is a lot we can do to help our horses mentally and physically if you are open to new ideas,” Nations said. “We had (Springer) massage (4-year-old gelding) Irish Major, who would get tight in his back area, and he broke his maiden after Jordan worked on him. I think the Magna Wave and the massages are both great therapy. We’ll also bring in a chiropractor if we think it will help; whatever it takes to get them feeling right and improving their chances to win.”
Blue Shine expresses thanks the best way she knows
Bennett asked Springer to work on each of his three stakes entrants before last week’s Skyway Festival Day card. His 3-year-old filly, R Angel Katelyn, won the $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes, while 3-year-old colt Chance of Luck and 5-year-old mare Royal Jewely each finished second, in the $100,000 Pasco Stakes and $50,000 Wayward Lass Stakes, respectively.
Their relationship goes back to when Springer rode for Bennett when she was launching her career as a jockey.
Bennett and his wife, Mary, have used equine Laser therapy and a Cytowave Equine Therapy machine to improve healing time and quality of tissue repair and relieve inflammation before returning an injured horse to training. When he learned of Springer’s methods, he didn’t hesitate to allow her into his barn.
The results have exceeded his expectations.
“She did a good job with all of them, and I think it definitely helped R Angel Katelyn,” Bennett said. “Even though she is 3 years old, she is still having growing pains and can get sore muscles. A horse might develop shoulder soreness here if the track is a little loose because they’re trying so hard. The massage relaxes their muscles and keeps them in alignment. It’s part of a combination of things we do to keep their motors running.
“Jordan is a good hands-on horsewoman, and I noticed that when she enters the stall, she is very quiet and calm and the horses sense she is there to help them,” Bennett added. “After seeing what she does, I am happy I know her.”
Meanwhile, back at Barn 23 on the Oldsmar backside, Blair is in the process of painstakingly building a public stable that can compete on a consistently high level. Beginning his fourth full year, the 36-year-old conditioner manages a stable of 12 Thoroughbreds for about a half-dozen ownership entities, most prominent the Donegal Racing outfit of Jerry Crawford, owner of such Grade I winners as Keen Ice, Paddy O’Prado, Dullahan and Finnegan’s Wake.
Blair gives one of his owners the "inside scoop"
A native of Lexington, Ky., Blair fell in love with Thoroughbred racing when he attended his first Breeders’ Cup in 1988 at Churchill Downs. His mother Debbie Blair, who is working this winter in the Group Sales Department at Tampa Bay Downs, worked for more than 20 years as the Breeders’ Cup Vice President of Customer and Event Services.
“I was 7 years old and it was raining and almost pitch-black when Alysheba won the Classic,” Blair recalled. “That’s when I became a fan of horse racing, and he became my favorite horse.”
Blair first attended the University of Kentucky, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics. He continued his education at Mississippi State, receiving a Master’s in Agribusiness Management. During the summers, he worked at various farms and several sales, working for such prominent consignors as Bluegrass Thoroughbreds, TaylorMade, Gainsborough Farm and Pin Oak Stud.
In 2006, Blair was hired by trainer Ken McPeek to work at his Magdalena Farm in Lexington. It was an education virtually beyond compare. “I learned so much from Kenny and the people I worked with, and I was fortunate enough to move up the ranks from hotwalker to groom to foreman to assistant.”
Blair got even luckier in 2009, when he accompanied top McPeek trainees Noble’s Promise, Bridgetown, Beautician and House of Grace to the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita. It was there that he met Springer, who had moved her tack to the West Coast in an effort to ignite her career.
They socialized with mutual friends and soon began dating, and in 2010 they both joined the stable of Kentucky-based trainer Mike Maker. It was the kind of opportunity they had dreamed of. But although they were part of a successful, high-profile outfit – Maker won the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with Hansen at Churchill Downs – they yearned to go out on their own.
“It wasn’t really glamorous, because we had to do so much traveling,” said Blair, citing seven changes of residence in one year as traveling assistants. “We never knew when we were leaving and we would only get a day or two notice, and we might not have a place to live when we got there.”
If anything, the experience strengthened their resolve to work as a team, and it didn’t hurt that they had fallen in love. Springer jokes she isn’t sure why it took Blair so long to propose, but they married in September of 2014 in a small ceremony at their house near Churchill Downs. Good fortune struck again when they got a chance to purchase the house, which they had been renting, enabling them to focus on competing at Churchill Downs, Ellis Park, Turfway, Kentucky Downs and Indiana Grand throughout much of the year.
Jordan and Jordan share a winning moment with gelding Perfect Execution
Blair and Springer (she decided to keep her maiden name to avoid confusion) began competing in Oldsmar during the 2013-2014 meeting. They kept their horses at Classic Mile Training Center in Ocala the following season, shipping in to race, then returned to the Oldsmar backside last season.
They have a number of promising horses, but no stakes winners yet. Would they like more horses? No question about it. But they enjoy having owners who are realistic about each horse’s potential and who understand the numerous obstacles lining the path to the winner’s circle.
What makes good owners? “They are happy with the way we care for the horses,” Springer said.
“We want owners who care about the horses, are happy to be involved in the game and love racing,” Blair added.
Patience is a prerequisite for a long career in racing, and having someone to share the day-to-day challenges is a blessing.
“Jordan is real grounded, and she keeps me grounded, keeps me in check,” Blair said. “She has no temper, which I do. We share a love of animals and the outdoors and like to go hiking or to the beach when we get the chance. She is a special woman, just one of a kind.”
“We are sort of opposites, but we do keep each other grounded,” said Springer, who was previously married to a racing journalist. “Jordan is pretty independent, and I was attracted by how well he does his job. He gallops some of our horses and has a feeling for what each one needs. I never saw myself getting married again, but it (their relationship) just works.”
In Oldsmar, Blair’s mother takes care of Hunter while Mom and Dad work at the track in the morning. Springer’s mom, Lola, assumes the same caretaking role in Kentucky. Jordan and Jordan enjoy taking Hunter to the park on their off-afternoons, accompanied by their Jack Russell Terrier mix, Anna.
Springer handles the brunt of the feeding and after-midnight duties, allowing Blair to get to the racetrack by 4:45 a.m. on most mornings. Raising their daughter gives them a richness of life they never knew.
Blair and Springer share fun time with daughter Hunter and frisky Anna
“Your priorities change,” Blair said. “I never thought I wanted children until I started spending a lot of time with our nephews, and I began to think I would miss out on something if we didn’t try. We knew it wouldn’t be easy. We’ve seen people in the industry for whom it has been difficult, but. …
“There is less time for naps, no going out to movies or for drinks, but we didn’t do that much, anyway,” he said. “There wasn’t a whole lot of time before, but now there is less.”
Blair started only 20 horses here last season, winning three races with seven seconds, and is 2-for-13 this season. In terms of raising their profile – to paraphrase poet Robert Frost – they have miles to go before they sleep.
But they are optimistic about their future in racing, employing their education, backgrounds and belief in doing the right thing by their horses to forge a strategy that will enable them to win enough races to keep growing their business.
“I had a meeting with Jerry Crawford in his suite at Churchill Downs, and he said ‘Your numbers are good here and bad here, good here and bad here,’ ” Blair said. “I said, ‘Please don’t judge me on numbers. Only judge me on the horses you give me.’
“I try to do my best for my clients based on what they want. Jerry wants to win, so that’s what I strive for. Other clients, it’s just as important seeing their horses run, or not getting claimed. We provide good customer service to all our owners and want to always be there for them,” Blair said. “But I am not going to compromise my ethics and beliefs on how to care for our horses just to keep an owner.”
It isn't always 75 degrees at Tampa Bay Downs in January!