Chicago Barn to Wire


Contact: Graham Ross
(847) 255-4300
Saturday, September 9, 2000
88th Day


"I guess I've sort of done everything backwards," admitted Nancy Steenhuis, a former trainer and former jockey who now serves primarily as an assistant trainer.

But when Steenhuis added certification as a licensed horse masseuse to her resume a little more than a year ago, a whole lot of thoroughbred racehorses started running better.

Her most famous and successful patient to date has been the Estate of Allen Paulson's Astra, a four-year-old filly who won four in a row including the Grade 1 Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap earlier this summer and was nominated to this year's Grade 1 Beverly D. Another star is Glencrest's Zoftig, who won the Grade 1 Selene at Woodbine Race Course last spring.

But the Steenhuis success story on the racetrack goes back a number of years, initially in the late 1980s as a trainer at Louisiana Downs after graduation from Louisiana Tech with a degree in Animal Science. Since that time, there has been an on-and-off career as a jockey, but in recent times she has been an exercise rider and as assistant trainer for Arlington conditioner Britt McGehee.

In 1997, for instance, it was Steenhuis who traveled to New York with Grade 2 Arlington-Washington Lassie winner Silver Maiden. That filly was owned by Frank Calabrese and trained by McGehee, who stayed behind in Chicago to oversee the Arlington string. Steenhuis accompanied the filly and was on her back each morning prior to her successful engagement in the Grade 1 Frizette at Belmont Park. McGehee arrived later, in time to supervise final training touches and saddle the horse on race day.

But the career in massage, both human and equine, continues to gather steam, and Steenhuis's schedule keeps getting busier.

"She is the hardest worker I've ever seen," said McGehee who relies heavily on her to help with the 15 horses currently in his shedrow. "Not only does she work full time with our horses, exercising them in the mornings and massaging them, but then she works on other trainer's horses for about three or four hours a day."

Interestingly, it was during her days as a jockey that Steenhuis was personally introduced to the benefits of massage.

"When I first started as a jockey, I really wasn't riding very well," Steenhuis said. "I was too stiff, and by the time I got to the quarter pole, I was already tired. I used to see Donna Barton get worked on by the masseuse in the jockeys' room, but I was afraid to ask for one. I thought people would think I was being a prima donna.

"But when I started riding again a couple of years later," Steenhuis said, "my riding really improved. Suddenly, I could finish on a horse."

Proof of the benefits of equine massage came shortly after she received her equine massage certification from Equisage, Inc. in Virginia. "I was galloping this old mare and she was so sore I was holding her up," Steenhuis said. "I started working on her, and she really responded. Suddenly, she didn't stumble anymore. I said to myself: 'Hey, this really works.'

"Massage stimulates circulation in horses," Steenhuis said. "It also increases their appetite and that's always a good thing. Also, it just generally improves their disposition. Horses are in their stalls usually about 23 out of 24 hours a day. A massage gets them outside for at least another hour, and it feels good. It's really not too hard to figure out why they have a better attitude."


Mrs. John Magnier's Giant's Causeway won the Group 1 Esat Digifone Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, Ireland earlier today. Lord Weinstock's Greek Dance finished second in the fifth leg of the Emirates World Championship that was simulcast to Arlington International Saturday morning, and Godolphin's Best of the Bests was third. The winner returned $3.40 straight.

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