Ashley Burns is enjoying her first job since graduating from Western Kentucky University in May doing what no doubt would delight the many children who visit Keeneland.
“I kind of jokingly call it ‘professional tractor driver,’ ” said Burns (left), who has held the position of Keeneland Equipment Operator and Track Maintenance Worker since July.
With a degree in agriculture and a focus in animal science, Burns said she never pictured herself working a conventional nine-to-five job, which solidified her decision to apply for the Keeneland position she saw posted online.
“I was just looking for jobs and it sounded interesting,” she said. “I like to be outside, and I didn’t really want to do an office job. Even when it’s cold, I’d rather be outside working than in an office in front of a computer.
“I had a little bit (of tractor experience) prior to the job,” she continued. “We have a small tractor at home, but not anything like these – these tractors are fancier than my truck. It was definitely a learning curve. You just get here and you go out, you learn it as you go, because there’s not really an easy way to teach you to do it until you do it. I’m still learning a lot.”
A typical day for Keeneland’s 10-member Track Maintenance crew, which is under the direction of Track Superintendent Javier Barajas, amounts to a 13-hour shift.
“I get here at 3:30 in the morning to open the track and prepare the surface for horses to come work on it,” she said. “We have to be off the track by about 5:15 a.m. because the horses come on at about 5:30 a.m. It’s important to get everything put away before they come out.”
Burns and her co-workers return to the tractors to groom the main track during the renovation period from 8-8:30 a.m. and after the track closes at 10 a.m. They wash the tractors, tend to the turf course if needed and perform other tasks to prepare the track for the afternoon’s racing and maintain it during the races. (Click here for Keeneland’s daily track maintenance report.)
After the final race, the team prepares the track for the evening and moves the inner rail on the turf course as necessary for the following day.
Burns’ day continues when she arrives home at her family’s 20-acre farm in nearby Georgetown.
“I have five horses at home, and I do barrel racing with them,” she said. “That’s what primarily takes up my time (outside of work) – I go home, then I ride. The other night I got out of here at 7 p.m. and got home at 8 o’clock, saddled up my horse and rode in the dark using the headlights on my truck as arena lights.”
Burns says one sight at Keeneland is worth such a busy schedule.
“My favorite thing about the job is the mornings,” she said. “It’s so beautiful, and the sunrise is something you don’t get to see in a lot of other jobs. Most people aren’t up anyways to see the sunrise, or if you are you’re normally on your commute to work. So to be able to see it while you’re at your job and surrounded by horses is great.”