How trainer Kristen Buchanan went on a different course in life after the tragic death of her father

A tragic event pushed Kristen Buchanan towards her destiny and after more than 15 years of training she’s aiming to enter a new chapter, hopefully starting on Saturday at Rosehill.

It’s been a tough road for the provincial trainer, which started on the other side of the country.

As a teenager Buchanan was an equestrian rider who was planning on going to Europe and training to become an Olympian.

But money was needed to reach those dreams.

“My riding instructor said ‘you’ll need a good job or a rich husband’ so I went for the good job and went to university,” she said.

Buchanan started studying a Bachelor of Science in Human Biology and Exercise Physiology and while working at a bar at night, she was riding trackwork in the mornings.

She was on an academic pathway, but with horses still in her heart and in the back of her mind she was wondering what she really wanted to do in life.

Then her father Russell died.

“He suffered from depression and unfortunately he ended up committing suicide,” Buchanan said.

“At that point, I decided to do what I love doing and I didn’t care about what I was supposed to do. I wanted to do what I loved and that was working with horses.

“It was a heart decision, not a head decision. I wasn’t going overseas after dad died. I couldn’t leave Australia.

“I thought, I’ve got to do this or I’m not going to cope. I don’t talk about it often but it was horrendous.”

Kristen Buchanan, with South Grafton Cup winner Jazzland, says training horses gives her great joy.Source:News Regional Media

Buchanan was only in her early 20s at the time and said horses saved her and gave her more than one life lesson.

“I miss dad every day,” she said.

“I wouldn’t be training if he didn’t die. I’d be overseas somewhere and life would be very different.

“A lot of the time people make choices and they’re not about what makes them happy but rather what they think they have to do.”

Buchanan had been learning under Perth trainer Neville Parnham when she applied for her trainers’ license at 24 following her father’s death and she did finish her degree as well.

At the time she thought the stewards in WA gave her a license out of compassion, but she did have enough experience to kick-off her training career.

“Horses are amazing and I poured everything in to getting my business started and I kept busy rather than getting depressed myself. It was a big turning point in my life,” she said.

“It’s important to know that everyone, in some point of their life, deals with mental health issues.”

She came over to NSW in 2007 “to start getting serious” about training and the now 41-year-old is based at Wyong on the Central Coast.

“I just had to get through it one day at a time,” she said.

“I was very head strong, threw myself into the deep end and skilled up as I went. I had a lot of support from Andrew Marshall, my ex-partner.”

Buchanan has trained a lot of handy horses in recent years like Two Blue, who won the Group 2 Sapphire Stakes in 2016, Lucky Liaison, Lucky News, Niccobelle and Echo Effect who just got piped in the 2017 Hobartville Stakes.

Buchanan has trained 20 winners this season and is on target to beat last year’s tally of 24.

She trained one winner in town last season and another one this season but wants to up that in the coming years.

Jazzland winning the South Grafton Cup last year.Source:News Regional Media

While Buchanan has a good reputation in the industry, she wants a different one.

“I’ve built a reputation of turning a difficult horse around and winning with it. It’s not the best business model for people to send horses to you,” she said.

“I don’t want to be known like that.

“I’m trying to up the quality so we’re racing more in town. It’s a big step up.”

It can all start on Saturday at Rosehill when she sends two horses around, Fumiko and Jazzland.

Fumiko is young horse who won her debut race at the provincials in fine fashion and will run in the second race for two-year-olds as a $15 chance.

“It’s satisfying to win a race with a horse that’s difficult but getting horses like Fumiko is different. They’re ready to go and it doesn’t require me to be a genius, just to be a good horsewoman,” Buchanan said.

“I’m trying to get to mould some nice, well-bred horses. It’s the next step in my career and I still feel like a young trainer who is starting to get more opportunities.”

Jazzland ($20) runs in a Benchmark 88 Handicap (1500m) and he’s first-up, where he’s already won twice and ran second from five attempts.

Rod Scott is a part-owner of Jazzland and has been a big supporter of Buchanan, who has trained the six-year-old to seven wins from 19 starts.

He can push through the $200,000 in career earnings with a win on Saturday under Mikayla Weir who will jump him from barrier one.

“He’s won a Benchmark 70 first-up at Wyong over 1350m so I think it’s a nice distance for him after that trial the other day,” Buchanan said.

“He trialled very well and he seemed comfortable and relaxed. I had him quite forward for the Tamworth Cup first-up but he had a little issue at the barriers so that put a hole in his preparation.”

Jazzland cut his shoulder before the Tamworth Cup and had to be scratched, which forced him not only out of that race but the Scone Cup last Friday.

He put in a nice winning trial at Randwick over 1200m last week when looking very comfortable and running good enough time.

“We’re on Plan C now. He steps out in good company which is what he’s used to and I feel he’s up to it and he goes well fresh, so off we go,” Buchanan said.

It may have taken a tragedy for Buchanan to find what she needed most in life but she’s had fantastic support from her family and don’t forgot daughter Mackenzie.

“She’s been at the races with me since she was nine days old,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan, like most trainers, works long and tough hours but still considers herself lucky.

Lucky because she doesn’t have to get out of bed in the morning, drive to work and sit in traffic on her way to a job she hates, like most people do.

“Some people have to work and this isn’t work. It’s fun and I pinch myself when I see how lucky I am while riding horses early in the morning,” she said.

Originally published asHow tragedy drove Buchanan to follow her passion

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