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Equine grad charges out of the gates at Churchill Downs

November 2, 2012
by Coleman Cornelius

Caroline Kamer graduated in 2009 with a bachelor's degree in equine science and a minor in business administration. After graduating, she landed a job as a brand development and marketing coordinator for the Kentucky Derby.

'One thing I realized, even working at Churchill Downs, is 98 percent of people don't know anything about a horse,' said Kamer. 'So I became very valued because I do have that knowledge.'Like many students in CSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, Caroline Kamer did not grow up on a farm or ranch. But she did grow up in Louisville, Ky., home of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. So it’s probably not surprising that Kamer developed a love for horses and started taking English riding lessons at age 5. She later showed American Saddlebreds, a breed developed in Kentucky. Kamer also became a racing enthusiast and was smitten with Silver Charm, a legendary gray Thoroughbred who won the 1997 Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes in the Triple Crown. Little did the young horse lover know that Silver Charm would lead her to enroll in the Colorado State University Equine Sciences Program – and on to an amazing first job at Churchill Downs. While visiting campus last summer, Kamer, 26, sat down with Coleman Cornelius, College of Agricultural Sciences communications director, to discuss her upstart career.

Cornelius:  You grew up across the country in Louisville, Kentucky, so what drew you to majoring in equine science at CSU?

Kamer: Because of my love for Silver Charm and racing, in high school I had the opportunity to tour Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Kentucky. Silver Charm had retired to stud there. I was talking to a stallion manager, and I asked, ‘What university do you hire the most people from?’ She said, ‘Colorado State University. Their equine program is great.’ I started looking at it and fell in love. My family always came out to Colorado to ski. I already loved the state, and I came out for a visit my junior year, and I was like, ‘This is the place I want to be.’ It’s funny how Silver Charm linked it all in.

Cornelius: So you were charmed by Silver Charm, and then you were charmed by Colorado and CSU. But why did you decide to major in equine science, rather than some other discipline?

Kamer: I just knew that I couldn’t have a job that didn’t involve horses. So whether that be business, or marketing, or actually working in the barns, I just knew it had to revolve around the horse to make me happy for a lifelong career. After searching and finding out more about CSU, I just thought it would be great. There were so many business classes involved that I knew it would be a well-rounded degree, and definitely the best in the nation.

Cornelius: How did you wind up at Churchill Downs and in the particular job you have?

Kamer: During the summer between my freshman and sophomore years at CSU, I worked on the backside at Churchill Downs, in the barns. I found out that a woman I had ridden Saddlebreds with was working in the Brand Development and Marketing Department. The next summer, I reached out to her and asked for a networking interview, and she said, ‘Absolutely.’ I kept in touch with her, then she reached out to me probably six months after I graduated from CSU and said, ‘Hey we have an opening for a seasonal employee. Are you interested?’ So the very next day I had an interview with the entire team, and I was lucky enough to get the position. It really taught me the importance of reaching out. Don’t be scared; it’s OK to network. Most people are happy to speak with you.

Cornelius: For people who are not in communications, explain what it means to be a brand development and marketing coordinator.

Kamer: Sure. Not only do we carry out marketing for all the events at Churchill Downs racetrack – including the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks – we also develop new products and strategies to extend the reach of our brands and marketing. I play a large role in rebranding and creating new strategies for all of our websites, which includes, and I also took over our social media. We call our fans Derby Nation, so it’s Derby year-round. It was very cool taking that over at 55,000 fans, and today it’s over 220,000 fans. I developed our strategy with Twitter, and developed our mobile applications for iPhone and Android, for both Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. My team supports all the different departments, and we’re always developing something new to build our fan base.

Cornelius: You started down this career path because of your love for horses 'I'll wake up early and go see the workouts of the Derby horses before work. Just being close to these amazing horses has been a dream come true for me,' Kamer said.and horse racing. Now you are truly in communications – and fairly technical communications at that – so your expertise has gone down another path. How are the two fields linked for you?

Kamer: One thing I realized, even working at Churchill Downs, is 98 percent of people don’t know anything about a horse. So I became very valued because I do have that knowledge. I do know how to make information both understandable and accurate for horsemen and our core horse player, as well as for the horse enthusiast and the entertainment fan. All our fans are horse enthusiasts. That’s the common bond, and that’s where I think I bring a lot to the table.

Cornelius: In what ways do you think your degree in equine science and your minor in business administration prepared you for your job?

Kamer: My classes – from Intro to Equine Science, Equine Reproduction and Equine Disease Management – gave me the background to answer a lot of fan questions without even having to look it up. I can answer clearly and concisely and make it understandable to the fan. That’s been essential. The business classes were also great – Marketing, Management, Entrepreneurship – and gave me a strong base for this job. So it’s a really well-rounded degree. I feel like I left CSU with a lot of flexibility.

Cornelius: To what degree are you drawn into industry and national debates regarding racehorse health and scandals over drug use, and how do you address those issues in your role?

Kamer: I’m very tuned in to it. I feel like if I’m going to educate our fans through social media platforms, I need to be. A lot of people ask, ‘Why would a horse even be on bute?’ (the anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone.) So I need to be able to explain things clearly, and also represent my company the way I need to.

Cornelius: What has been the most fun aspect of your job at Churchill Downs?

Kamer: I am in charge of the Kentucky Oaks Survivors Parade, for ladies who have survived cancer.The Kentucky Oaks, as a race for fillies, is a day to celebrate women. The Survivors Parade is on the track right before the race. There’s a lot of coordination, and I get to talk to these ladies for months leading up to Kentucky Oaks Day. So that’s really rewarding. Also, as a horse fan, it’s great just getting so close to the athletes. I’ll wake up early and go see the workouts of the Derby horses before work. Just being close to these amazing horses has been a dream come true for me.

Cornelius: What a place to work as a person in the horse industry. Congratulations to you.

Kamer: Thank you. It’s been a dream since I watched Silver Charm race in the Kentucky Derby and saw the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs. I’m the only person on my team who goes back to work to watch the races. This is where I want to be, even on my day off. I just love it through and through.