100 years young: the oldest lady trainer in the world

6 min read
Jo McKinnon sits down with Barbara Blackie, the oldest lady trainer in the world to talk all things racing, retirement and the secret to her longevity.

On Saturday July 20 up bobs an image in my twitter feed of a woman in a lounge chair who is celebrating her 100th birthday. I stare at it for a moment, look away and then find myself gazing back at it with a sense of disbelief.

Sitting tall and proud, there’s something stunningly youthful and elegant about her appearance. I start to wonder how it is possible to live that long let alone look like her after a century on this planet. She could easily pass for someone aged in their seventies.

As I read on through the social media post, what becomes even more staggering about this woman by the name of Barbara Blackie is that it also states she’s just renewed her racehorse trainer’s license for the next season in New Zealand making her the oldest lady trainer in the world.

After tracking down her telephone number I speak to her 71-year-old daughter Angie who tells me I am most welcome to chat with her but warned me that she’s quite deaf so it might be a little difficult communicating.

Retirement wish

We give it a try and as it turns out, Mrs B, as she’s known in NZ racing circles, hears me loud and clear down the landline. She's as sharp as whip.

“I never thought I would make it to 100 but I’m glad I have,” said Barbara.

Not long into our conversation she tells me she has just one wish before she dies and that is that Diplomat (NZ) (Alamosa), the only horse she has in work, wins a race.

“I was pretty determined to renew my license and I am going to hang in there until my horse wins a race.

“If he wins, I will retire. Happy,” said Barbara.

“If he wins, I will retire. Happy." - Barbara Blackie

Barbara, a highly respected equestrian who helped start the Riding for the Disabled Association in NZ and was awarded a Queen’s Service Medal in 1983 for doing so, made a late start to racehorse training. It wasn't until she was aged in her fifties that she took out a license.

“I had it thrust upon me by a friend with a young horse they wanted to place. I went to one of the trainers here and said would you be interested in taking this horse or who would you recommend and he said why don't you give it a go yourself and so I did.

“I gave up all the other things except dressage judging and I have been interested in racing ever since.”

Barbara has never trained more than two horses at a time. Not out to set records or win premierships she’s simply enjoyed the journey and won her fair share of races along the way.

Enjoying the journey

“I have never had more than two because I did everything myself and two were enough.”

To date, Ayrgo (NZ) (Sumayr) has been her best horse winning four in a row.

“It’s an interest and a hobby. There’s something about it and if you have been successful it really gives you a lift. If you are not being successful, well, you have just got to take it on the chin and wait for another day.”

Jockey Terry Moseley has been instrumental in the success she’s enjoyed over the years. The 52-year-old has ridden track work and races for Barbara for more than half his life.

“She's always been easy to work with. She’s so inspirational to people of all ages young and old. She loves her horses.

“She's so charismatic and you can talk about everything from horses to the Royal Family, Great Depression, and World Wars or Faberge Eggs. You can talk about anything, she just knows,” said Terry.

"She’s so inspirational to people of all ages young and old. She loves her horses." - Jockey Terry Moseley

Barbara is extremely grateful for Terry’s dedication.

“He’s been my track work rider and jockey for God knows how long. He’s a really good rider and he's loyal. He turns up at 6am in the morning every morning rain, hail or snow, to work my horses. I owe a terrific lot to Terry. He’s kept me on the straight and narrow training horses.

“When I was not having much luck and down in the dumps, he’d say only the tough survive in this and I think he was quite right.”

No battle for Barbara

50 years ago, it was virtually unheard of for women to train racehorses. I ask her whether it has at any stage been a battle being female. Her answer was definite.

“No,” she laughed.

“It was a battle for trainers and women jockeys here for quite a while but they are accepted now. And in fact, if we didn't have female track workers and a high proportion of female jockeys, I don’t know how the industry would cope.”

"If we didn't have female track workers and a high proportion of female jockeys, I don’t know how the industry would cope.” - Barbara Blackie

Around the NZ racing traps Barbara is spoken of highly as a lady who has a deep love of horses.

During my conversation with this wise old woman, I ask her what it is about these animals that she enjoys so much.

“You get obsessed with them the same way people do with their dogs. I have always had horses and always loved them and enjoyed them. I don’t know, it’s just something.”

Until December last year Barbara attended her Riccarton stables every day helping tend to her horses. According to her daughter Angie she was still so strong then that she would be able to carry a heavy water bucket.

But a recent fall that fractured her vertebrae has slowed her up and means she is unable to be as hands on as she would like to be.

“Now I have to be helped to get around the house but hopefully I will improve. When I am able to be around the stables I just stand and look and work out his feed and exercise program.

“I have a wonderful helper (Karen Peters) and she does all the work.”

At any level, training horses is tough. So much so, that some will tell you that it can take years off your life. But not so for Barbara, it seems more than evident it has added years to hers.

At the end of the phone interview it’s evident that Barbara is starting to tire. She passes the phone back to her daughter and I ask her what she thinks might be the secret to her mother’s longevity,

“I think one thing is that she has always been active and never stooped and rested on her laurels and she’s incredibly fit.

“She's a slip of a thing and weighs about 40kg and has always been wiry and fit. She grew up on a farm with a good healthy diet and no junk food.

“And one brandy every night, that helps too,” said Angie.

The best tonic of all is her racehorse Diplomat. He had his 14th start on Tuesday at Ashburton and finished fourth in a 1400m maiden. That elusive win still looks a while off so Barbara will have to hold on to her trainer’s license for a bit longer yet.