SCIOTO COUNTY — To be truthful, by air or by land, Erica (Herrforth) Rabillard has traveled — and continues to travel — many miles.
All for the enjoyment of riding the fastest race horses —in only two minutes.
The 28-year-old Rabillard, billed from Portsmouth but having grown up and attended school all over Scioto County, is carving out a name for herself in professional horse racing — that being the thoroughbreds the casual observer sees on television.
The 2011 East High School graduate is back in the saddle of the United States, residing in Louisville (Ky.) and racing at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky. —while working at Ellis and historic Churchill Downs.
For those into mileage, that’s quite a bit —and especially given gasoline prices these days.
But, that doesn’t deny Rabillard in the least.
“I am driving a lot right now. It’s (commute from Louisville to Henderson) is a little under two hours. I make the drive a few times a week,” she said, in an interview via social media this past week. “A lot of driving yes, but it’s worth it to get to do something I enjoy.”
Indeed, travel and mileage has been of minuscule consequence — in not only Rabillard’s Scioto County childhood, but in living a labor of love in riding horses.
More on that latter fact in a moment.
Rabillard “grew up all over the area”, attending elementary school in the Northwest district —while graduating high school from East and residing in Franklin Furnace.
She said she has ridden horses since the age of three, but has ridden racehorses for only five years now —following her graduation from Marshall University in 2016 with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science, and from Bluegrass Community & Technical College in Lexington (Ky.) with an Associate’s degree in Equine Studies.
It was there at North American Racing Academy where Rabillard began her race-riding pursuit.
“It (North American Racing Academy) is a stepping stone into the industry. It gave me the groundwork for what I needed to be successful when I entered the workforce,” she said. “They taught me the basics of what it was to ride racehorses. Once I graduated they placed me in a job. Through job experiences outside of school, my skills have grown to what they are today.”
Outside of school, and outside of the United States as well.
Her husband, Ben Rabillard, is from England —but had traveled to France and Australia to ride racehorses before meeting the then-Herrforth.
Erica originally met Ben through an employment interview, and again through a mutual friend, as both were working in the industry at that time.
The couple’s romance blossomed, and Erica said “the decision to go to Australia together was spontaneous”.
“We decided to go to Australia together, because we could both live and work there and we wouldn’t have to do long distance. Australia has visas that allow young people to go there to travel and work, so that is what we did,” recalled Rabillard. “We randomly looked up the price of a plane ticket to get there in February 2019. It just so happened that it was cheap enough for us to afford right then and there. So we bought them and started planning our trip to go in November of 2019.”
While in Australia, they gained employment with renown trainer Peter Snowden, but in March of 2020, the coronavirus pandemic had reached all around the world —and ultimately a six-month visit to the country turned into two years.
Ben and Erica couldn’t return to the United States during COVID, unless it was as a married couple.
“We couldn’t return to England or the U.S. No one was letting non-citizens or non-residents back into said countries. So I couldn’t go to England, and Ben couldn’t come here (United States). With the amount of time COVID would last being uncertain, and not knowing how long travel bans would last, we decided to stay in Australia,” Erica explained. “When COVID happened, marriage had not been brought up. It came later.”
Speaking of later, the coupled married —and left Australia in September of last year, “to visit the United States for a few months.”
Erica spent this past winter with Ben in England, while they still wait on Ben’s visa, although Erica returned to the United States in March —because she had an opportunity to become a jockey.
“Ben still lives in England and I live in the U.S. while we wait for his visa to come live with me,” Erica said. “Ben visits regularly, and I plan to remain here to race ride.”
One of his regular visits was ongoing as of Thursday, as Erica —per her Facebook page — raced at Belterra Park in Cincinnati, with a few family members and friends in attendance.
For Rabillard, there is MUCH more to racing horses than simply being a jockey.
“The training styles in every country (United States, England and Australia) I have ridden in have been different. I have had to adapt to these training styles, which has given me a challenge, but it’s also made me a better horse person. We have to exercise horses daily. This includes walking, jogging, galloping and breezing them. All depending on what they need for the day,” she revealed. “It’s around five hours each morning, so we wake up around 4 a.m. to get there around 5 a.m., so we have time to get ourselves ready. Horses can be really strong, so you do have to maintain a certain degree of fitness in order to truly be able to ride them.”
But Rabillard has done just that, and two months ago (May 20, 2022) in fact, captured her first career race —riding her first-ever mount.
At Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, Rabillard raced Carry On to the winner’s circle.
“My most notable accomplishment is winning my first-ever race,” she said.
Rabillard rides regularly for trainer Joe Sharp, and even spent time with Sharp to help groom Carry On —before that Friday’s fateful victory.
Carry On returned $12 to win — in the 1 1/16-mile and $16,000 claiming event.
Indeed, Rabillard’s travels to and from different countries — and to and from horse race tracks —are numerous.
But, by striving to be the fastest for every two-minute race — it’s all worthwhile to this Scioto County gal.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved