Nearly 30 years before paralyzed jockey Dennis Collins turned to training Thoroughbreds to continue his lifelong passion with horses, Donna Zook took that journey, one she’s still on. Racing primarily at Mountaineer Park and Charles Town Races in West Virginia, she has saddled 205 winners from 2,617 starts, with earnings of nearly $1.5 million, all after her terrifying riding accident nearly took her life.
Her journey – made even harder by prejudices against women trainers - gives hope that others can also train Thoroughbreds from a wheelchair. And others have, indeed, followed that incredibly difficult path.
Isn’t training Thoroughbreds hard enough? “I wouldn’t tell anybody to become a trainer,” said California trainer Dan Hendricks, whose successful career has continued despite a motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed in 2004. “It’s a tough way to make a living. It’s 24/7. And it’s become harder, much harder to start out than when I did.”
He had considerable success before his accident, but two of his best horses, Brother Derek and Om, came after Hendricks was forced to train from a wheelchair. “The one advantage I had is I had been training for a while,” he said. “I had owners who stood with me. I didn’t lose a single owner.”