Like millions of girls before her, Brittlan Wall can't remember when she fell in love with horses. If you force her to answer the question, she will tell you she was born loving them.
But unlike many girls who left horses behind for other pursuits, Wall never did. As a result, in a month, the now 22-year-old young woman will embark on a chance of a lifetime as part of the newest class of the Darley Flying Start program.
The racing industry has a reputation for being hard to break into. If you love it, you better hope you were born into it. However, 10 years ago Sheikh Mohammed founded Darley Flying Start to help young, motivated thoroughbred enthusiasts get a jump start on a career in the industry.
The management training program lasts for two years, and each class is made up of only 12 students. The students accepted into the scholarship program spend time in Ireland, England, the United States, Australia, and Dubai while learning about all facets of racing at its highest levels. And they do it on Sheikh Mohammed's dime.
As you might imagine, getting into the program is not easy. Everyone who is accepted brings something a little different to the table, but they clearly must have the mark of a future leader.
For Wall, who was one of three Americans accepted into the newest class, applying seemed like a natural fit as she started to contemplate what she would do upon graduation from college. However, fear of rejection also caused her to hesitate.
"The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do it, but for some ridiculous reason I just kept telling myself there's no way I'd get in, so I tried to suppress the desire to apply," she said. "About two weeks before the application deadline, I woke up and literally said out loud to myself 'the worst they can say is no,' and immediately started making a list of all the things I needed for the application. The entire process was pretty nerve-wracking."
Taking chances is nothing new for Wall. She was not raised in the thoroughbred industry but has watched the Triple Crown races since 2001 and during her junior year at the University of Georgia decided to make racing part of her life.
While on breaks from school, Wall took jobs in Lexington, Ky., as a training barn and broodmare groom for Vinery and as a marketing communications intern for Three Chimneys Farm. She currently is an assistant producer of the Jockey World Radio Show and an exercise rider for Blackwood Stables.
"I was blessed to get in contact with some very helpful and knowledgeable industry professionals who pointed me in the right direction from the start," Wall said. "For everywhere except Blackwood, it stemmed from me sending an email explaining what my ambitions were, what opportunities I was looking for, and whether or not their organization had any opportunities matching mine that I could apply for. It really was all just putting myself out there and seeing what came of it."
Although working for Blackwood is the first job she has had riding racehorses, Wall's talent on horseback has been years in the making. She began riding when she was 9, and her abilities earned her a riding scholarship to UGA. She rode for the Bulldogs' NCAA Division I varsity hunt seat team all four years, winning a team national championship her freshman year.
Wall has also picked up odd jobs as a way to learn as much as she can about the industry. For example, she attended the Kentucky Derby for the first time this year and did so as a photographer's assistant.
"It was an experience of a lifetime," said Wall. "Everyone talks about their first Derby and what it was like, but you never really understand just how amazing it is until you go. It might have been a dreadful day weather-wise, but seeing the field come thundering down the stretch while I was right on the finish line was surreal. I definitely got choked up when they sang 'My Old Kentucky Home.' Everything about the Derby was even better than I had heard."
The month of May was certainly a good one for Wall. Her professors worked with her so she would be able to take all of her finals as well as attend the Kentucky Derby. It was while she was driving to Louisville that she learned she had been accepted into the Darley Flying Start program. The next week, she graduated from UGA with a degree in sports management.
"I felt so many things when I got the call from Darley mostly a mixture of shock, excitement, and relief," she said. "I spent about half of the drive up to Louisville calling a good number of people to let them know I had gotten in. In my book of unforgettable moments, I'd say this ranks with the best of them."
Wall is almost certain to experience many unforgettable moments as a member of Darley Flying Start, and she will embark on her journey in Ireland at Kildangan Stud on August 19. She is interested in both the marketing side of the game as well as the hands-on aspect of training. No matter what she decides to do, the success of past Darley graduates has to be comforting.
Graduates are currently employed in the United States as well as Australia, Dubai, Japan, Brazil, France, UK and Ireland, and they have careers in areas including media, racing, breeding, bloodstock, sales, consultancy, veterinary medicine and marketing.
All graduates have received a Darley Flying Start diploma, but for the first time students will also be offered the Graduate Certificate in Management (Thoroughbred Industry) accredited by the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School.
"I am so thankful and humbled to have been given this opportunity by Sheikh Mohammed and the Darley operation," said Wall. "Pursuing my passion in the thoroughbred industry at the highest level is truly a dream come true. I love this industry, and I can't wait to see what the next two years have in store. I'm pretty excited about all the incredible live racing we will get to experience all around the world."
While racing may have a reputation for being hard to break into, the truth is there are countless people willing to help those who truly have a passion for the game. The Darley Flying Start program might be the largest example of that generosity, but it is far from the only example. In fact, it is likely Wall made it into the program due to what she learned while working for other operations.
For any horse crazy girl -- or boy -- out there who dreams of working in the racing industry, Wall has the following piece of advice:
"Don't be afraid to put yourself out there, and don't let the fear of rejection get in the way of your passion. Be humble, take opportunities, and learn all you can."
Amanda Duckworth is a freelance journalist who lives in Lexington, Ky. Among her other duties, she is an editor for Gallop Magazine. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.