We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Carrie Edwards, trainer at Wayne Ward Kennel. Carrie provided so much wonderful detail of her time in the greyhound racing industry that we wanted to share it with you!
How and when did you first get interested in greyhound racing?
It was the winter of 1995. I had just finished my first year at the local hospital as an LPN. I was dating a guy whose family was into breeding greyhounds, but weren’t successful at it. He had taken me to the track to inquire about a kennel job for himself. After watching a race, all I could think was how I just wanted to pet one. To me, it was the most awe inspiring 30 seconds of my life. There was actual steam coming up off the track from the coils and it looked just magical. The greyhounds burst out of the steam in the far turn. I had never seen an animal more majestic than the greyhounds, which had just run that race. I actually felt the ground rumble as they passed me at the finish line. “Just let me pet one” is all I kept saying. Of course, the guy thought my reaction was hilarious. He had been around greys his entire life and thought nothing more of it than a race. He took me around to the cool out shed and asked someone if I could pet their greyhound. Of course they were hesitant, but they did let me. Back then, you had to know somebody or be kin to somebody to be in the “dog business.” It wasn’t customary to let strangers pet the dogs. I had been introduced to greyhounds before when I was much younger. My uncle was a big gambler at Southland and had taken me to Darby Henry’s house/farm to see greyhound pups. I was maybe 7 or 8. They had also adopted a retired racer from the Henry’s and when I went to my aunt’s house, she would put a racing blanket on her grey and let me walk her through the neighborhood. I knew they raced, but did not understand the connection till watching my first race.
You mentioned coming from a nursing background. What made you decide to change careers and join the greyhound industry? Why training racers?
The guy I mentioned before ended up getting a helper job with Wayne R Ward kennel. He had gotten permission from the trainer to bring me in while they did a turnout. They put me out in the pen with around 20 boys and I absolutely fell in love. They were falling all over each other to get to me. I was so overjoyed that I begged them to let them in one at a time, so I could pet and love on each one. The trainer’s wife was there with us. She told me, “You are a dog person”. She said that I could come to turnouts anytime I wanted. She also said that if I enjoyed turn outs that I should see morning schooling where the dogs were actually hand slipped on the track as opposed to coming out of the box. She explained that that is where the greys learn how to go around the track. That was it for me. I went to watch every chance I had, but of course that wasn’t enough; I wanted to be hands on. They did not need another helper and no one in the compound was willing to give me a job with no experience, so I spent the next 6 months volunteering just to learn enough to be a helper. I would have done it longer, but the guy and I broke up and I sadly went back to focusing on my nursing career. It didn’t take long for the guy to show up late and lose his job. So the trainer’s wife came and found me and offered me my first helper’s job. I did not even give a notice to the hospital. As to why training racers, where else could you see a greyhound run up to 45 miles an hour and be so happy doing it? That is all there was to do when it came to greyhounds.
Not having a racing background, were there additional challenges to learning everything you needed to know and getting your foot in the door?
One of the biggest challenges has and will probably always be getting respect from the older dog men, the ones that have been doing it all their life. Those are the guys that if you do earn their respect and trust, you want to pick their brains and spend as much time around them as you can. It has nothing to do with being a woman, in my opinion. So much as you weren’t born into it, like most of them were. Back when I started, the trainers wouldn’t share information. Anything they knew, whether it be flea and tick control or worming their dogs, it was a big secret and might give them the advantage over the competition.
Do you think that being a woman in the industry provided any additional challenges with the number of hours that trainers put in on top of having a family, etc.?
Back when I started, there were no women trainers that I can remember at Southland, for the first few years anyway. It was mostly families with the man being the trainer and the wives were just helpers. There were a lot of “kennel kids.” They would play in the cool out shed while mom and dad were doing their track work. We all kind of watched over them. Fast forward to today, and I am one of only two female trainers at this track. My husband is my assistant trainer and only works part time. I have the schedule set so that I am home with my daughter every night. Now that doesn’t mean that I’m not watching every race or constantly on my phone with my help. I am a mother hen in every sense of the word. My family comes first, but my child often sees me distracted from spending time with her because of the kennel. I’m sure it would be the same with the men and their families.
How many kennels have you worked with?
8 total, I believe: Wayne Ward, Thunderbird, Midsouth Greyhound Adoption, Rick Bartley, Bill Elliot, Gulf and Bay, Greymeadow, and Magic City.
How did you come to working with Julia Ward and how long have you been with the Wayne Ward Kennel?
I left the dog business in 2005, my daughter was two and it did not work out for her to be a kennel kid. She was terrified of the dogs. The barking scared her and I’m sure their size. I was a stay at home mom for a few years before going to work at West Memphis police department as a 911 operator. I met my current husband there who was a police officer. I spent 7 years there. One day, my husband came in and was telling me about a stakes race that he had went and watched with one of his trainees. It just so happened to be Tim Thorne (his father owns Robert Thorne kennel). Tim had asked if they could stop and watch the race and Sam came to tell me all about it. I had not shared my dog racing past with my husband because when I spoke about it, I missed it more than anything. We had only been married almost a year. Sam said the moment he mentioned racing, I lit up and the grin that spread across my face was priceless. I told him all about my dog business career and began pulling out my photo album of dogs and telling him all about it. He told me he knew right then that racing greys was where I needed to be, that he saw the passion in my eyes. A few days later I read an ad for someone looking to employ a person that loved dogs. I did not know until I asked to apply that it was for a kennel at Southland. It turned out to be for Magic City Kennel. I applied and got the job as a helper. I gave my notice at the PD and went to work for Magic City. After about 4 months, Randy said he had to let me go, but had told me that his partner, Julia Ward, was opening a kennel at southland and was going to need a trainer. I didn’t get the trainers position; Julia brought in her own trainer from another track, but like so many trainers before him that came from other tracks, he didn’t do so well. After about 6 months, Ron Otto called me and offered me the trainer’s job. It was April of 2014, I believe. The kennel opened January 1st of 2014. I have been with her since she opened the doors.
Have you worked at tracks other than Southland? How would you compare the experiences?
No other tracks; Southland is my home.
You have worked with some greyt athletes, including Festival of Stakes Crittenden Super Sprint Consolation winner, RF NIX. Do you have any favorites from over the years? Best memories?
RF NIX was also the 334 track record holder until he was beaten in October by my WW’S SOUR PATCH who still currently owes the record. I can’t tell you how proud and honored I am to have been Nix’s trainer. I credit Jerry Cole with sending me that boy. He told me Nix was the fastest 3/16ths dog he had seen in a while. My husband and I drove our SUV to Illinois and picked him up personally. He had blankets and a knuckle bone to chew on all the way back. He has class, from the moment I put my hands on him, I could tell. He carried his self like he was all business. Nix got off to a slow start at southland, but when he got his timing down, he was unstoppable. He has been one of the few 334 dogs that I have seen that can come from behind the rest and win the race. He is retired now, heading to Australia to become a stud dog. I cried putting him on the haul. I also got to handle OSHKOSH SLAMMER at Southland briefly before his retirement. I have had so many favorites over the years that it’s hard to name them all. One of my fondest memories was being a greenhorn and being drug around the starting box by a 100 lb OSHKOSH HARMONY. The first rule in the dog business is “don’t let go”. Well, I didn’t and that big lug drug me all the way to the finish line. He just wanted to run and didn’t have to waste coming out of the box, or waiting on the lure.
What is your favorite thing about working with racing greyhounds?
Making the greyhounds happy and receiving that unconditional love that they give. It doesn’t matter what type of day you have had, they are always happy to see you. The greyhound’s passion for running will always be mind-blowing to me. If people put as much passion into what they love to do like greyhounds do, they would be unstoppable and happy all the time. I also look at it like this: someone will do this job if not me. If i can do it better, then I will do all in my power to keep them healthy and happy. My kennel manager, Ron Otto, told me to just take care of the dogs, and they will take care of you. Now I live by that motto. My ultimate goal is to find what makes them tick, what really stimulates them and makes them happy. Each greyhound is different and each greyhound has their own personality. I’ll give you an example: I got a little female from another kennel that was a grade D. She didn’t seem to have much personality, just kind of stayed to herself, but she wasn’t spooky or shy. She just didn’t demand attention like most of them. She was happy just doing her own thing. I started out with pulling her out of the group of girls to make her feel special, to see if she would come around and start being an attention hog. That didn’t seem to work, so I started laying in her crate every morning after we fed. Now that started getting her attention, it wasn’t long and she began to expect me to do that every morning, which I did. She slowly began to win races. I promised her a new collar and matching muzzle if she made it to AA. She did just that. Not because of the collar I’m sure. She also started carrying around that new muzzle in her mouth and playing with it. She stayed in AA for me until she retired.
Do you have any interesting stories about any of the greyhounds you have worked with? Funny habits? Quirks?
We have one now, WW GO PACK GO, aka Banks, aka Bleach Bottle; my first stake race winner. Now I don’t want anyone to take this as being cruel. It was for his own good so that he didn’t get hurt jumping fences. This wonderful little black boy loved to do his business and jump the fence in the turnout and come find us, even if we were in the other pen. Me, being the worry wart I am, started asking some old timers how we could solve this problem. The fences are well over 6 feet tall, and I was convinced he was going to get hurt or even worse, get loose. They all recommended the same thing…an empty bleach bottle attached to his collar. How in the world that was going to work was beyond me, but I was willing to try it if it meant keeping him in the fence. It actually worked. I was in disbelief. The best I can figure is it was distracting enough to keep him occupied. It did not take him long to figure out that all he had to do was drag thru a pile of his own poo and we would take it off to wash it and there he go over the fence. He did indeed fool us all a time or two. We ended up losing the bleach bottle and spending every turnout in the pen with him. As long as we did that, he never tried to jump the fence again. He is newly retired and I promise you, I will miss that boy and never forget him. I have others, we have one now, WW VESPA, aka Red that loves to lay in the paper trash pile at the back door. After we finish beds and sweep up all the loose paper, we intentionally sweep it to the back door just so he can lay in it awhile. Mind you, he has a perfectly papered bed to sleep in, but he prefers the dirty paper. One more that I adore and has a little quirk is WW BORNTO BOOGIE aka Hanks. He loves to go behind every dog and cover their poo with sand, just like a cat. We play hunt the poo with him every morning. I know, gross, but I am a proud certified poop picker upper. All in a day’s work. There are so many and have been so many over the years. They are all individuals and have their own personalities.
What does a typical work day look like? How many greyhounds are you personally training at one time?
A typical day starts at 5:30 AM and ends around 10 AM. It consists of doing first turnout, just letting everyone out to use the potty. As they come in, I weigh my racers. It all takes about an hour. Then we sprint the dogs. Any dog that is going longer than 7 days between races gets sprinted. A lot of the other trainers prefer every 3 to 5 days to sprint, but we do 7. It all varies by trainers. We have a break from 7AM to 8 AM, this just gives them time to relax and calm down; most of them go right back to sleep. At 8 AM, we turn just the girls out into the pens and we do their beds, we sweep out each crate every morning, change wet beds, etc. We have 3 groups that we turn out, so there are never more than about 25 in each pen. We do our main kennel of boys and their beds and then my puppy room comes last. Each group takes around 30 minutes to do as far as the beds. Unless it’s extremely cold or extremely hot or raining, then we break down the groups into about 10 dogs so they aren’t out in the weather for long. I always try to start mixing feed at 9 AM while my assistant trainers do the puppy room. Feeding is the last thing we do before we leave. There is nothing they love more than getting their bellies full and going back to sleep all tucked in. We return at 2 PM for a nice long afternoon turnout. They love laying in the sunshine in the afternoons. We weigh in our racers from 3:30 PM to 4 PM. The races start at 5 PM on a typical day. I have a guy that only catches the racers, he is there from 5 PM until the last racers cool down and can be fed. The kennel workers get back at 7 PM for a last turnout and their nightly tuck-ins. It takes an hour to an hour and a half.
Does training for a typical race day vary from training for a stakes race?
It should not; it should always be just another day at the races. If the greyhounds are talented enough they will get there on their own. All you have to do is make sure they’re healthy. For all the kennels that I have worked for, I have never won a stakes race. I have had dogs make it to the finals over and over again, but blow it the final go around. I have 3 consolation wins under my belt this year with Wayne Ward, but that’s it. Terry Green, my trainer at Thunderbird Kennel for years, my mentor told me years and years ago that I get too excited and the dogs pick up on my emotions. He said my number one downfall would always be my emotions and how the dogs are so in tune with me. My ultimate goal has always been to have a stakes winner in my kennel. He cursed me I think, and said I would never win a stakes race because I can’t contain my feelings. After my first consolation win with Ww Go Pack Go, I announced that the curse was broken, so we will see what the future holds. A trainer is only as good as the greyhound they snap at the end of the lead, or so I have been told.
Do you own any retired racers?
I have two retired racers that I own. MOCHICAN SOUR BOY and WW THINBLUELINE. I broke my golden rule with both of these two, I always said if I couldn’t bring them all home I wouldn’t bring any home, because it’s not fair. Sourboy and Blue I broke in as pups here at southland. Blue was named by Julia Ward for my husband, who at the time was still a police officer. My husband made that poor dog love him and when he retired, my husband had to bring him home. We also foster all my racers and any others that Cheryl Plunk with Everything Greyt Greyhound Adoption brings over here. We turned our garage into a kennel with heating and air. We also have a six pack of crates and several fold-up crates as well. Having a kennel in the garage to foster out of is so much less stressful on the dogs. They have plenty of time to settle down before being introduced to the home environment. We are able to get them potty trained, introduced to hard wood floors, and we can even teach them stairs. I also have a small mixed bred that we can small dog test them. The biggest bonus is I get to be involved in my racers retirements.
What are your thoughts on the unfortunate passing of Amendment 13 in Florida?
This is a tough question for me to answer because reality hasn’t set in yet. I think the people in Florida were blinded by Grey2k. If I had seen the commercials and read the articles that they wrote without knowing about the racing greyhounds, I would have believed it all too. They took our pictures and some of our words and used them against us. That’s all they had. And unfortunately, that’s what most people saw. That’s just my opinion. I think we should have had more involvement with the public long before Grey2k came along.
We would like to thank Carrie Edwards for speaking with us about greyhound racing and his experience in the industry. One of our main goals is to promote the greyhound industry. Do you work in it or know someone who does? Would you be interested in being featured in our blog? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.