After the Fair

After the Fair

July 16, 2013  |  Local Interest

The Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton is over, and racing has moved on to the State Fair in Sacramento. But even while the fair was in full swing, most visitors had no idea that beyond a fence or two is a year-round world populated by trainers and grooms and up to 1000 thoroughbreds. The Backside at the Pleasanton fairgrounds is where trainer Natalie Houle looks after her horses, 365 days a year.

Natalie considered applying for stall space at Golden Gate Fields, but her horses seem relaxed and happy here, so she stayed. It means she travels to races, which can be challenging, but she does what’s best for her horses.

Every trainer has a different style, and a different set of priorities and values. Natalie is intuitive. She takes time with her charges, challenging herself to find out what makes them tick. She likes getting inside the horse’s head. “I feel responsible for these lives. They are not expensive cars. They are living beings,” she says.

The life can be lonely sometimes. It’s hard to make friends outside of the racing business, since people often don’t understand why Natalie is unavailable to do stuff. But Natalie is sure of her priorities. “I wake up every morning to find out how these guys are doing.” She loves to ride them in the darkness of an early morning. She loves to figure them out, to help them like their job as racehorses, to give them their heart.

So every day you’ll find Natalie in her barn on the Backside at the Pleasanton fairgrounds. The carnival rides and the crowds are gone, but she is there with her partner Carlos Vasquez and her dog Finn. Working with the horses. Giving them their heart.



  1. brilliant work Dorothy

  2. Thank you, Ray! You know how much that means to me. :-)

  3. Fantastic work, Dorothy. One of your best yet, I think!!

  4. Thank you, Brian! I really appreciate that. Natalie’s horses seemed to have such personality. It was fun to try to capture the mood of the place. I hope I can spend more time there.

    • Each horse has a distinct character and personality, just like humans. Spend enough time with them and it will become clear as day. In addition, being prey animals they have an acute and sensitive awareness of their surroundings. The close, playful, and tender images you made of them, especially with Natalie, are fantastic

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