Elise Santiz grew up in a small town in Michigan and started riding when she was just 5 years old. As her family moved from the suburbs to the country, her parents let her take riding lessons to help make the move more fun, and it didn’t take long for Elise to catch the horse bug! She started eventing when she was 10 years old but has competed in just about every discipline through 4-H and her high school equestrian team.
Elise was only 15 when she purchased a 4-year-old off-the-track thoroughbred named Leo. Leo is now in Kentucky with Elise and they compete on the University of Kentucky eventing team together.
“Leo has been the perfect example of how amazing thoroughbreds are and although he wasn’t an exceptional racehorse, he has the same traits as one: athleticism, resilience and a work ethic that never quits,” Elise said. “The joy that Leo has brought into my life is the biggest reason why I became interested in the industry.”
Other than watching the Triple Crown races, Elise didn’t have a strong interest in racing until she adopted Leo and quickly became intrigued by pedigrees and race records. During her freshman year of college, she met Abbey Huffman, who happened to live next door. Abbey, a member of Nexus and dedicated racing fan, took Elise all over Keeneland and mentioned Nexus Racing Club—Elise instantly became hooked on the sport. Abbey and Elise have continued to dedicate themselves to racing and even traveled to Tampa Bay Downs and Palm Meadows this past spring break.
Another big influence in Elise’s life is her barn manager where she boards her horse, Sarah Macharg. Sarah’s business works with retraining OTTBs and has given Elise significant insight into the industry. In addition, she regularly works the Keeneland sales, gallops at the Thoroughbred Training Center and ponies horses for big races like the Kentucky Derby/Oaks and the Breeder’s Cup. Sarah’s an inspiration when it comes to trying to have it all in the horse industry!
Elise is now an intern at Hill ‘n Dale Farm, where she worked in the foaling barns for 3 months before moving to her current role of prepping yearling fillies. Her job includes a little bit of everything: working with the vets and farriers to everyday farm work. Now that Elise is with yearlings, she helps prep and train them daily. Elise had the chance to learn about the breeding side of the business from the mares/foals and now is learning about the sales side.
Elise believes that an important objective that racing should pursue is to make it more common and accessible.
“Keeneland is so close to UK that you see many college students enjoying the races every weekend during the meet,” Elise said. “However, growing up in Michigan, I never had that opportunity. While Kentucky is a great place for racing, many other states aren’t and I think that people aren’t aware of the sport beyond the Triple Crown and may not have access to the experiences that I’ve been so lucky to have, and those experiences are crucial to getting people interested and involved on a greater level. In addition, events like night racing at Churchill are a great attraction for people who don’t have horse experience or have not been to the track because it includes other entertainment and isn’t solely about the racing, so it probably brings in a different crowd than the usual.”
Elise also believes that if you are in the industry, it is important to take the time out to bring people into the paddock, the backside, and morning workouts and show them how special racing is.
Her piece of advice to young people looking to start in this industry would be to take every opportunity you can. She believes there is so much to learn outside of the classroom, so say yes to anything and everything that comes your way. Elise has always tried to attend any event, race, and tour she can because she knows they’re all opportunities for hands on experience and learning.
“You can learn something from everyone, so try to be there and be attentive,” Elise said.
It is a pleasure to have Elise as a part of Nexus Racing Club, where she quickly became a dedicated horse racing fan. It is Nexus’ goal to continue growing our sport and having our members become lifelong participants. Thanks for your passion for racing, Elise!
Photos courtesy Elise Santiz.