Monday, May. 27, 2024

Tracey Corey Is Making Up For Lost Time

This renowned medical examiner harbors a serious passion for eventing.

Tracey Corey could be the poster child for time management as she shuttles back and forth between her job as the Kentucky chief medical examiner, full-time wife and mother to two teenaged boys and her eventing passion.

“I haven’t been bored in years,” said Corey with a smile. “My husband would say I’m motivated for the horses. You make time for what you want to make time for.”
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This renowned medical examiner harbors a serious passion for eventing.

Tracey Corey could be the poster child for time management as she shuttles back and forth between her job as the Kentucky chief medical examiner, full-time wife and mother to two teenaged boys and her eventing passion.

“I haven’t been bored in years,” said Corey with a smile. “My husband would say I’m motivated for the horses. You make time for what you want to make time for.”

During the day Corey supervises four state offices. A forensic pathologist, she regularly performs post-mortem examinations and oversees administrative issues throughout the state.

“I’m involved in mass fatality preparedness for our state because if something happens like the Comair 5191 crash [in Lexington, Ky., in August of 2006], it’s my office’s responsibility to deal with that situation,” she said.

Corey appeared on Dateline NBC on Aug. 20 in the show “Dead Men Talking” as she gave viewers a look at how real life crimes are solved on the autopsy table.

But there’s another side to Corey, one that disappeared for almost 25 years. She lives in Louisville, Ky., the heart of horse country, and rode extensively as a child. She even competed at the 1978 North American Young Riders Championships in eventing.

“When I got ready to go to college, I wanted to take a year off and see where I could go with my riding, go be a working student for somebody,” recalled Corey. “My father thought about it for about a millisecond and said, ‘No. You’re off to college.’ ”

So Corey went to school, earned her degree from the University of Louisville School of Medicine, and steadily worked her way up to chief medical examiner. But in 2004 horses came back into her life.

“My dad had a horse, and I started helping him once a week,” said Corey. “But for me, riding is something you can’t do part time. You’re either in or you’re out. Once I started riding again, it was just a few months before I got an off-the-track Thoroughbred and was right back in it.”

Most adult amateurs returning to the sport after a long break might choose an experienced horse, but not Corey. She was drawn to the wealth of talented Thoroughbred race horses in Kentucky.

“Being from Kentucky, the Thoroughbred racing industry and the Thoroughbreds give Kentucky so much,” she said. “I’ve always loved Thoroughbreds, and I felt duty-bound that if I was going to get a horse, that’s the horse I should get.”

So Corey connected with Second Stride Inc., a non-profit organization that finds homes for retired race horses, and she took home Patriot’s Pride, a then 5-year-old by A.P. Indy.

“He was pretty much right off the track,” said Corey. “He’d been worked a few times and jumped cross poles once. So what’s a better horse for a 43-year-old to go back to riding on than something that’s done nothing?”

Corey started taking lessons with Martha Lambert, a top local trainer and acquaintance from childhood. It wasn’t long before she acquired a second off-the-track Thoroughbred to go with “Houdini.”

“I was out of town teaching in Illinois when I got a phone call,” recalled Corey. “My autopsy tech, believe it or not, when he’s not working for me, he works for D. Wayne Lucas. He called me and said, ‘Wayne wants to know if you want a horse?’ ”

The horse, Super Nova, was an injured 3-year-old who had had a knee operation and needed six months rest.

“This was a horse that was personally owned by Wayne, and the horse hadn’t done so well in training that it was going to be worth it to him to wait that additional time and then try to bring him back. So he gave him to me,” explained Corey.

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Mind Over Body

Returning to riding wasn’t an easy transition for Corey. “It was very frustrating because my brain still knew what it should feel like, but I wasn’t 18 anymore, and my body wasn’t 18 anymore,” said Corey. “At first I couldn’t even feel my diagonals. I knew in my brain what it should feel like, but I was unable to do it. I took a lot of longe lessons.”

Corey had kept physically fit by running half-marathons and even the Chicago Marathon, but it wasn’t the same.

“You use a lot of different muscles, and the flexibility is different,” she said. “You get really tight through your hips when you’re doing distance running. I’ve had to work on that a lot. That’s one area where you have to have a lot of suppleness to ride.”

Fortunately, Corey is a natural rider and athlete.

“Her stick and stickability on bucking horses really makes her stand out,” said Lambert. “Her two horses are both [relatives of] Storm Cats. They can let out bucks that I don’t know if I would stay on. She can stick in the saddle. Most amateurs could not do that.”

And because she approached riding with the same discipline that carried her to the top in her career, it wasn’t long before Corey was ready to compete again.

“When we work on things in lessons, she takes it to heart and tries 110 percent. She always improves on it over time,” said Lambert.

Corey wasn’t even sure she would go back to jumping when she first returned to riding, but the eventing bug soon hit her again. She entered her first event in 2005—the Indiana Eventing Association Horse Trials in June at beginner novice level with Houdini.

“I think we came in fourth, and I was absolutely shocked,” recalled Corey. “At that point I didn’t even remember the letters on the dressage arena. It wasn’t like starting brand new as an adult, but I felt a lot like Rip van Winkle.

“When I left there wasn’t even novice level; there was pre-training,” she added. “When I left, the [U.S. Eventing Association] was the [U.S. Combined Training Association]. The equipment had changed; a lot of things had changed. With my first event I was just thrilled to not forget my dressage test and not go off course.”

But Corey is competitive by nature, so she quickly started to work on moving up the levels and improving her scores. She moved up to novice in April of 2006 at River Glen Horse Trials (Tenn.) and won with Houdini.

Last winter she sent her horses to Ocala, Fla., to train with Leslie Law and Lesley Grant. Corey flew down over long weekends to ride and compete.

“She’s totally dedicated to her riding,” said Law. “You’d almost think she was a profes-sional because of her dedication and will to want to improve. She leaves you speechless. Over last winter she improved no end. She brought Houdini and Super Nova. [Super Nova] was quite uneducated when he first came, and the amount of work that she was willing to put into him, we saw huge improvement.”

Corey moved Houdini up to training level in March at Rocking Horse Horse Trials (Fla.) and completed, although it wasn’t smooth sailing.

“He didn’t stop at the fence, he shied from something about five strides out from the fence,” said Corey. “I was focused on the fence, so it totally caught me by surprise. It was slam on the brakes, duck to the right, and I went off his left shoulder. Then he took off and ran away.”

She was about to give up and head back to the stable in the technical delegate’s car to find her horse when he came galloping back to her on course.

“So I jumped out of the car and jumped back on,” said Corey. “I finished within the time allowed, although obviously I had tons of time penalties. But I did make it through the finish flags.”

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Corey continued at training level, and by August she had won an event at Penny Oaks Horse Trials (Ind.). She also had good placings with Super Nova, at novice.

“By nature I’m a competitive person, but mainly I compete against myself,” said Corey. “If I’m going to undertake something, I want to do it to the best of my ability, and so I push myself to make the time to commit to the horses to do that.”

Keeping It All In Perspective

Lambert has tried to temper Corey’s enthusiasm so that the sport remains fun for her.

“My concern for her was to keep some fun in the rigorous schedule that she was setting up for herself, especially when she got the second horse,” said Lambert. “I had a talk with her about it, and then I let time take care of itself. After a spring and summer season this year she might see that not pressing herself so hard every single weekend might be more fun.

“She’s doing it, and she’s doing it well, but I also think she’s coming to terms with the time constraints and the long days with no relaxation time,” continued Lambert. “It’s a lot, walking two courses, learning two dressage tests, hauling two and taking care of two.”

Corey boards at an indoor arena so she can ride both horses whether it’s light or dark. And she relies on her family’s support to get the job done.

Her husband, Don Burbrink, a police captain with the Louisville Metro Police, grooms for Corey at the events. “There is no way that I could go to an event and manage two horses in two different divisions without him,” she said.

She recalled one event where there was less than an hour between one horse’s cross-country and the other horse’s dressage time.

 “When I looked at the times that week, I said, ‘OK, you have to learn to tack up this week, because you have to tack up the novice horse while I’m riding cross-country.’ He’s always been good about helping muck stalls and holding horses and things like that. He learned and was just great,” said Corey.

Although it’s tough to make the whole family’s schedule work, she said that her sons and husband understand how important eventing and horses are to her.

“It takes a lot of juggling,” said Corey. “This afternoon, I’ll leave work shortly because I managed to get my lab inspection completed a little bit early. I’m going to run out and work the 7-year-old Thoroughbred and be done in time to go to my 12-year-old son’s cross-country meet and then to my 17-year-old son’s football game.”

But Corey said the benefits of riding and being with horses again make up for the scheduling hassle.

“It’s made my life more hectic, but it’s been a tremendous stress relief. There’s nothing that I enjoy more,” she said. “The horses don’t care what kind of day you’ve had. They want you to pay attention to them. They don’t let you do anything else. They’re 1,200 pounds, and it’s all about them.”

Both of Corey’s horses are qualified for the American Eventing Championships in 2008, so she hopes to attend that event in Wayne, Ill.

For now she doesn’t see herself competing above preliminary level, but Corey would like to work her way up at least that far with both her horses.

“If the horse goes further than I’m comfortable going, I’d love to see a good pro like Leslie [Law] or Martha [Lambert] ride him. I think it would be great fun,” she said.

Sara Lieser

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