The world went silent the moment Aly hit the ground. It wasn’t until she was alone under the summer New York skies that she peaked out from behind her black eyelids, the western saddle pad that had been placed under her head dulling the ache that would soon grow from a nuisance to pure agony.
She was alone under the summer skies as everyone else took off to chase the loose filly who had so gracefully dumped Aly on the blacktop.
“Don’t move,” they instructed her.
She sat up anyways, adrenaline soothing the pain, and spat the mouthful of rocks she’d acquired in the fall into the grass. As she staggered to the bathroom it was only then she opened her mouth to realize it was her teeth laying in the grass out where she had landed – where she had spit them out – not rocks at all. It was a young filly everyone had taken off to catch that had thrown Aly to the ground, stomping on the back of her head, knocking her teeth loose, fracturing her jaw and causing a compression fracture in her neck…and yet Aly was – somehow- still alive and walking.
All she could think of the moment she hit the ground, was the innumerous amount of times the old adage had been drilled into her head, the one every equestrian knows from their first fall to their last: “You just have to get right back up – back on the horse.”
Aly Kirchner grew up outside of Saratoga, a horse crazy girl in a family of non-horse people. Vertically challenged, once Aly mastered being in the stirrups all she ever wanted to do was go fast – really fast – and gallop horses on the track. Though she had no connections in racing, she worked her way onto the backside of Saratoga working horses until the day she was in “the accident” – the one she should not have walked away from.
Though that accident ended her career on horseback, she did get back up on the proverbial horse when she re-evaluated her career and leaned back into the pre-vet work she had been going to school for. “It was always set up on paper to be a vet but I’m not entirely sure that’s what I wanted to do ever,” she recalls. So, instead, Aly took up work at a small racehorse farm in New York until one bitterly cold day during foaling season when the harsh realities of caring for horses in the winter made Aly rethink her career once again. When Aly was truly honest with herself it was the long tree lined driveways and foal filled fields of Kentucky, the home of horse racing in America, that called to Aly. She polished up her resume, and hopped up on a new horse – a different horse – once again.
Her first attempt at a job in Kentucky was with the Darley Flying Start program; “I didn’t get into the program,”Aly recalls, “which is a blessing in disguise. I came down [to Kentucky] during the sale and interviewed with a bunch of people. I ended up having a choice of who I wanted to work with, but my first job was with Taylor Made.” At Taylor Made, Aly found herself happily involved in the back end preparation for the sales in research and analysis.
But just over a year ago, after a myriad of other positions, Aly found her passion project – yet another “horse” – this one the one of her dreams. Sitting in her car at lunch, talking with a friend on the phone, there was an epiphany: Aly’s friend was interested in racing on the California circuit, but realized she had no connections and no clue as to how to find a trainer, or reputable horses, on the West Coast. And there was no directory, no resource, or network, to turn to. In that moment – in that need – the Thoroughbred Women’s Network (TWN as it’s known,) was an ember getting it’s first breath of oxygen. At the 2017 Saratoga meet Aly invited a group of women in the industry together to discuss the idea, and add fuel to the TWN fire.
“We invited forty women and even had a moderator,” she recalls of that first meeting, “because, well, we’re strong personalities in our own ways – but it was fabulous and we didn’t need the moderator. After the meeting everyone said ‘huh, why hasn’t this been happening for the last 10-15 years?’ And it sort of started this fire beneath us to really create something that hasn’t existed before. It’s so interesting looking back at it now because it was really one of those things that everyone seemed to be thinking about and then we just all finally did it.”
At that meeting TWN was officially born out of the minds and desires of a group of fiery, inspiring women.
Today TWN is well into it’s second year of existence, with a clear model and goal in operation. It’s three pillars of operation focus around the network they are building and an app to support it, a mentorship program to match women interested in the industry with women already established in it, and a grant program for women who are just entering the profession. TWN has already applied for their 501c3 status and are simply awaiting the final documentation – just another step towards being able to elevate women in the world of horse racing.
“We anticipate this being a force for years to come,” Aly says, “something that ignites a fire in multiple people that want to make the industry better, that want to cultivate the next generation and that want to have the industry around for along time.”
It took a lot of attempts for Aly Kirchner to finally find that one thing that made getting back up on the horse every time worth it. There was no easy way in for Aly, so she made it her life’s mission to make it easier for the next person: “I’m not from Lexington or Ocala or one of the main hubs of racing in America,” she says. “And my father doesn’t own a farm or is involved in racing so I just had a hard time finding my way in – finding the door and knowing the password – but with the Thoroughbred Women’s Network if I can make the path for some person behind me easier, then why wouldn’t I do that? And that’s my whole goal with the organization.”
Under the summer New York skies, when a young and wild filly dumped Aly Kirchner onto the earth, it was the last time she got back up on a real horse. “I shouldn’t have gotten up,” she admits, “but as an equestrian, when you hit that ground you just jump back up.” After getting back up on the proverbial horse – again and again – Aly had found the perfect one…
and the Thoroughbred Women’s Network was born.