Expat Tales: Riding high in the USA

SPARE TIME? Horses are a 24/7 lifestyle between working at the track then at home on the farm.
SPARE TIME? Horses are a 24/7 lifestyle between working at the track then at home on the farm.

Emma Lyster grew up riding in Manawatu, and now does it for a living in Kentucky.

What inspired your move, and how long have you been there?

I have ridden horses my whole life, and from a young age was hooked on horse racing. Kentucky is the horse-racing capital of the world, so where else to go but there? I have been here just over four years.

BLUE-GRASS HEAVEN: Emma Lyster says the best of her industry are on her doorstep.
BLUE-GRASS HEAVEN: Emma Lyster says the best of her industry are on her doorstep.

What do you do there?

I break in horses to ride, and train thoroughbred race horses to race. I am lucky enough to work at Keeneland Racecourse.

I start work at 5.30am to muck stalls, groom, tack and ride my horses, and I normally finish doing that by mid-morning. I then head home to my father-in-law's farm and help feed the mares and young stock (yearlings and foals) then head back to the track at 3pm to clean stalls, water and feed the race horses.

When we have horses racing, I go and spend the whole day with them - saddling them and sending them off on the track with the jocks, and cooling them down afterwards.

What are the greatest advantages to living there?

The best of the best in my industry are right on my doorstep. There are always clinics being held by world-class horsemen so you can learn more, and some of the best veterinary practices in the country are here. The people are great, the whole town here is really based on racing so there are lots of people from all over the country and the world. I have met and worked with a few other Kiwis as well.


It is extremely hard to get visas to be able to live and work here.

How expensive is it compared to New Zealand? How much is a beer?

I honestly can't answer that because I was 17 when I left New Zealand, and I lived in England for four years before I came here. So it's difficult for me to remember New Zealand costs! But a bottle of beer in a bar is normally around US$2.50 ($3).

What do you do in your spare time?

Spare time? Horses are a 24/7 lifestyle between working at the track then at home on the farm. It's definitely not like a 9 to 5 job with weekends off. But when I can get time off, which is rare, my husband and I like to take the four wheelers (ATVs) out to the mountains and go trail riding.

What's the local delicacy and would you recommend eating it?

Apparently the local delicacy here is a Kentucky Hot Brown ... but I only know this thanks to Google, and my husband. I have never tried it and am now going to make a point of it. It is a variation of a hot sandwich made with turkey, bacon, cheese, tomatoes and sauce and can be open or closed.

I love a good steak from the steak houses round here, but you can't beat good Mexican or country home cooking from Cracker Barrel.

Easiest way to get around?

It's best to drive around, and fly out of state. This country is huge.

What's the shopping like?

The shopping is fantastic and I have been told by other visiting Kiwis that you can't get deals in New Zealand like you can here. I love American Eagle outfitters and Buckle, they have some cool urban trendy clothes. I live in clothes from the Boot store, which sells western clothes - Wrangler's, cowboy boots, button-downs, etc.

Best after-dark activity?

During the summer it is definitely county fair tractor pulls. You get to have the fun of a fair and watch rednecks play with their super-strong tractors and big diesel trucks.

Best time of year to visit?

Towards the end of summer, getting close to fall, as the summers here in Kentucky are ridiculously hot.

What are the top three things you recommend for visitors?

Go to the Keeneland fall meet to watch some world class horse racing at an amazing facility. Do a driven tour of the Lexington horse farms to see the stallions and facilities here - the farms are gorgeous. Take a walk around downtown Lexington - they have some pretty cool statues all around town and huge Victorian houses interspersed between the modern buildings.

Besides family and friends, what do you miss most about home?

New Zealand food, definitely the food. I tell anyone who asks to send me Toffee Pops, Jet Plane lollies and Pineapple Lumps.

How easy is it for you to get back to New Zealand?

A pretty easy one-stop flight, according to my parents, but I haven't taken it yet. I landed here and fell in love with the place.

For Kiwis looking to move there, which industries are seeking fresh talent?

It is extremely hard to get visas to work here. You have to find employers willing to sponsor your stay here and it really takes coming over on a holiday and scouting for opportunities.

If you know an expat who wants to share inside knowledge about their home away from home, email escape@star-times.co.nz with Expat in the subject line.

Sunday Star Times