By Dean Greenaway
Like many women, Vertia Turnbull love horses. Unlike many women throughout the Virgin Islands elegantly dressed attending horse races decked out in the latest fashion with high heels to races to cheer their favorite horse, she cannot be counted among them.
In fact she although she’s on the track, she’s so busy that she doesn’t even have time to sit in the stands nor cheer. Instead, she’s dressed in a polo shirt sometimes in shorts with knee length boots and carries a clipboard with a pencil, a Walkie Talkie and a cell phone.
Following a stint living in Atlanta, she returned to the territory a few years ago to live with her father Darrell “Dabby” Turnbull, who a horse trainer. He goes to the stables early every morning and she began tagging along and he noticed her budding interest in horses.
One day he asked her about joining the BVI Horse Racing Association and pointed her in the direction of Claudius “Claudie” Smith. Smith said he could use the extra help, assigning her to the role of Assistant Clerk of Scales. The rest has become history.
“That entails helping weighing in the jockeys, getting their weight, confirm who’s riding on which horse and then passing the information on to track announcer,” she explained. “I also get the fractions and other stats.”
One can easily spot Turnbull on the track with her distinguishing boots. “I’m not a high heels girl,” noted Turnbull who added the roll of saddlecloth to her list of duties on Boxing Day. “I wear them if I have to. I have a collection of booths and my dad bought me my first pair, which were ankle length. A trainer said I needed to get some rider boots. Then my dad went to Mr. Berry’s where they got riding equipment. My boots cost over $100,” she recalled.
“I remember the first time I put them on the horsemen asked if I was a rider today,” she remembers. “I said ‘no, I’m not a rider. I’m just wearing my boots that my dad bought and then I got some expensive Coach boots and those are what I’ve been wearing a lot.”
In reacting to her presence on the track, Turnbull said her boots is the first attraction and men want to know what a female is doing out there. She said since they are distinctively uniformed, when they see the Horse Racing Association logo, she’s often told she’s on the wrong side of the fence and need to be by the ticket booth or in another position.
“Since I have my clipboard, a pen and I’m writing down race fractions, I get that ‘wow, it’s really a female doing that. I don’t see much of that at all,’” she noted. “The women love my boots and some of my friends ask about my heels and if I’m going to change. After the races I could change, but I love to be comfortable so I walk around in my boots and get my food and drink and party like everyone else.”
Turnbull is inspired by Antonio “Tonito” Cordero’s confidant Nayili Verez and says she wants to do more with the horses. “Nayili actually deals with the horses one on one by herself, I never did that,” Turnbull pointed out. “I come around, help set up the feed, put out the water bowl. A couple times I used to be around Shaka (Selwyn Christopher) and I’d walk a couple of the horses but that’s kind of dangerous. Once a horse feels you are tense or they can get over you, they react and they are a couple times they went in the air with me so I stopped walking them,” she explained. “But, she bathes the horses, grooms them, set the feed, give them medicine—she does it all. I just want a good 2-3 months to be around her. She goes in the stables one on one and there’s no fear at all. Tonito sometimes is not even there and by the time he returns, all the horses are groomed and ready to feed. So I want to do more.”
Turnbull thanks her dad for motivating her to becoming active in an area where there aren’t many women and to Claudius “Claudie” Smith for giving her the opportunity.