Harness career a balancing act for Barclay


Success can be measured in many different ways, especially in harness racing.

And in terms of the harness racing industry aiming to recruit new blood, Southland trainer and driver Kirstin Barclay would certainly be classed as a success.

Her story is one that clearly illustrates that a love of horses can translate into a successful career pathway into harness racing, even if you grew up in a family with no equine involvement.

Despite her family not having ties to horses Barclay found herself drawn to them.

“I always loved horses even though I’m not from a horsey family in any way,” explained Barclay. “I got involved in pony club early on and all of that sort of stuff. Then when I was 14-years-old our family moved to St Clair in Dunedin it was only a short walk away from Forbury Park.”

It would be that fortuitous move, and a persistence that has become one of her many strengths, that would drive Barclay toward a career with Standardbreds.

“I started hanging around the track and pretty much just bugged the trainers to let me have a go,” explained Barclay. “Initially after school I worked for Alan Clyma who was a hobby trainer in Dunedin, then moved to Invercargill to attend the Southern Institute of Technology. That’s when I really got started.”

Whilst studying in Invercargill, Barclay (then Kirstin Green) started working part time for local trainer, Doug McLachlan.

“Doug gave me so many opportunities driving wise and really got me under way. I owe everything I’ve been able to achieve to him really, he treated me like a daughter,” explained Barclay.

“I then did a few years with Tony Barron and that’s where I really learned how a big stable runs and about getting young stock up and running. I then did a short stint with Murray Brown which was a more relaxed way of doing things, before I joined Tom Kilkellys team initially as an employee.”

It would be the move to Kilkelly that would open a new opportunity for Barclay to focus on becoming a trainer in her own right.

“After a few years working with Tom he decided that he would semi retire. That’s when I got the opportunity to train his team,” explained Barclay. “Initially I was just solely training his horses, then at the end of last season he sat me down and we discussed the possibility of me going professional and leasing his property, running my own business.”

“I’m pretty blessed to have Tom as a mentor and owner. He’s a very successful business man so it’s great having that help and knowledge when I am stuck on that side of things. I wouldn’t have been able to make the leap I have without Tom and his wife Julie behind me. They have been amazing.”

Kilkelly continues to support Barclay by having generally eight to ten horses in work with her, and Barclay has also been able to grow her owner base to outside horses. She’s currently working 28 horses and has a lot of young stock going through the breaking process at the moment.

When it comes to the challenges she does admit that this season has been tricky.

“It’s been a bit of a tough season when everything that can go wrong has, so staying positive at times has been a challenge.”

But the highs that come with the good times of course are worth it.

Barclay declares her favourite win was her success with El Nino in the 2009 Kindergarten Stakes. The horse was trained by Doug McLachlan and defeated Mapua Legend to win in 1.55.5.

“My other highlight was training three winners in one day at Winton in February last year. All of the winners were either part of fully owned by Tom and Julie so that made it even more special.”

Barclay has trained 43 winners, and has driven 215 winners in New Zealand in her career to date.

But perhaps the real success lies within the balance that she brings to her career and family life. Juggling a hectic harness racing career along with being a mother to two boys Aidan and Benji, and a wife to husband of eleven years, Nick.

“It’s very tough at times and it seems like there just aren’t enough hours in the day,” said Barclay. “I’m very lucky to have a supportive husband and with his job as a firefighter we seem to make it work. Also having a right hand man in Tyler Dewe working for me it has made it easier. He has really stepped up and is more than capable of keeping things running along if I have to shoot away to get the kids.”

“I’m not actually sure how it all works sometimes, but the kids are alive and happy so I must be doing something right!” laughed Barclay.

Going forward in her career she has some lofty targets.

“I’d love to get to the next level with my training career. It’d be great to have a competitive horse to line up in the bigger races as a trainer.”

The sky is now the limit for the former Forbury Park sideline enthusiast.