LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX18) — A day after Keeneland's Spring Meet wrapped up in Lexington, Kentucky, the staff at the track are thinking about an exercise rider who passed away during a training event there Friday.
"Everybody's heartbroken," said horse trainer Wesley Ward.
Callie Witt, 20, died Friday while "performing a routine gallop of an unraced 2-year-old filly," according to Dr. Stuart Brown, Keeneland's Vice President of Equine Safety. Brown said the horse shifted her stride, "causing Callie to be dismounted, landing on the inner synthetic training track material."
Witt was a Nebraska native from the town of Rodgers. She also attended North Bend Central High School, where she graduated in 2020.
Friends of Witt praised her work ethic and passion for the sport. Witt aspired to be a jockey and was a student in the Equine Program at Bluegrass Community and Technical College,
"She was an exemplary student," Dixie Kendall, a coordinator at the BCTC Equine Program, told LEX 18 Friday. "Always positive, always the first one to show up, last one to leave. Eager to learn."
Ward said she did not know Witt personally, but his exercise riders had nothing but praise for their friend.
"She was a very young hardworking gal who was chasing a dream," Ward said.
Ward has been a trainer for more than thirty years. Before that, he was a jockey who had his fair share of spills and falls.
"Thank God I came out unscathed," Ward said. "But many friends of mine have lost their lives and have been severely injured."
Ward explained that although incidents like the one that unfolded Friday are rare, the sport comes with inherent risks.
"You're sitting six feet above the ground," Ward said. "You're going from ten to twenty to thirty to even forty plus miles per hour. It's very dangerous."