Written by Barbara Newtown
Original Publish Date December 2014
Night racing at Evangeline Downs, July 3, 2010: Miss Bean Wah, Curt Bourque up, wins the one mile 70 yard Louisiana Distaff Showcase and sets a track record. In the next race, Star Guitar, Curt Bourque up, wins the 1 1/16 mile Louisiana Showcase Classic.
Curt jumps off Star Guitar’s back and says to trainer Albert Stall, Jr., “That’s it. I’m done. You might need to find another rider.”
Al doesn’t say a word, because he understands.
“I knew for about a year that I was going to retire,” says Curt in November, 2014. “But that last year was great. I won the Super Derby with My Pal Charlie. I won a stakes race in Dallas. I won the 2009 Louisiana Champion Classic on Star Guitar. I was lucky to have two very good people behind me, Al Stall and Evelyn Benoit. But I told my wife Rachael that I wasn’t going to be doing it long.”
That day in 2010 Curt’s wife and kids knew he was going to retire, but no one else had any idea. Curt didn’t want a long goodbye.
His 27-year career got off to a fast start. “I was the youngest of six, and never got to ride on the bush tracks, even though my aunt owned a bush track and my brothers rode there. I started riding for a year at Don Cormier’s farm, and then worked at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans for a month or so, and then I thought I was ready to ride. I called my father, got an agent, and got six horses that night. Most of them were favorites, and I didn’t win a single race!” The hardest thing to bear was that his brother, Kenneth Bourque, was already a successful jockey. People would say, “Oh, Curt will never be as good as his brother!” Curt says he “just hung in there.” Soon he got a call from a jockey agent in New Orleans who told him he could go ride for Kelly Broussard, who had about 60 head.
“Mr. Broussard was really good to me. I didn’t win right away, but finally I won on Idle Spin.” After that Curt’s career took off. He had a lot of good horses: a filly named Mia Farrow who was second in the Breeder’s Cup Sprint; a colt named Polar Expedition, who won the Jim Beam Stakes, the prep for the Kentucky Derby. “I rode in the Preakness. I never got to ride in the Derby, but I did get to ride in races on Derby day.” By the end of his career Curt had gone to the winner’s circle over 3,000 times.
Curt ties his good start to Kelly Broussard and the fine horses he had. He also became a winning jockey because he didn’t lose faith during his losing streak. “I believed that I was a natural and that winning would come. I had good hands, and I came from a good family. A good pedigree!”
But the jockey life began to take a toll on Curt’s body. His brother Kenneth never had any problem staying slim; he’s still 125 pounds today, even though he’s retired from racing. Kenneth now has a job driving new Fords off of boxcars, which he loves to do…but there’s no way that kind of job keeps weight off. “He’s a natural,” says Curt, with a bit of jealousy. “I’m an easy keeper.” Curt’s natural weight has asserted itself: 170 pounds. He looks great.
Curt says, “All that reducing…I was hospitalized twice. Al Stall, Jr., recommended a university nutritionist to me. I got a diet that took a lot of discipline. I ate three meals a day, but they were no bigger than the palm of your hand. That worked for a couple of years.” By the end of Curt’s racing career, he weighed 122 pounds and had 2% body fat, but the only way he could keep the fat off was to sleep, hit the hot box, race, and go back to sleep. Curt shows off a picture of himself at racing weight: he looks slim, yes, but old…
“He slept a lot,” says Rachael. It’s hard to share a life with someone who is constantly hungry, constantly exhausted, and constantly sleeping.
The minute or two that a jockey balances on a galloping horse is one of the most exhausting things the human body can do. How could Curt ride to win when his body was already dehydrated and running on empty from the dieting and sweating? He says, “Riding a horse is a lot of touch and feel. It’s all in your fingers and your balance. You can’t manhandle them.” Curt rode with finesse, which meant that he could conserve his energy.
The jockey life is also hard because of all the travel. “Come home Sunday night, leave again on Wednesday,” says Curt. He spent a lot of time on planes. He and Rachael also spent a lot of time in the car, driving back and forth from New Orleans to Shreveport or Dallas.
Rachael grew up in a family that loved watching horse races. She met Curt at the track, when he was a successful jockey. She had no idea what came with being a jockey’s wife. “She got a rude awakening!” says Curt. Rachael says, “I learned – aha! – that it’s not the jockey’s fault all the time!”
When Curt’s time to retire arrived, he said to Rachael, “I have a vision. My dream is to get a little farm and break babies.” Rachael was 100% behind him, but she admits that when Curt first showed her the empty 44 acres outside Opelousas, Louisiana, that would be their new home, she didn’t get the same vision. Rachael says, “But I believed in him, and I loved him, and I wanted to make it work.”
She says that, as the months rolled on, and they built the house, and then the barn, and then the track, she began to see Curt’s vision, too. “It’s really happening! It’s real fresh for us.” Now the farm boasts a walking wheel, a round pen, two 16 x 16 foaling stalls with video monitoring, two barns that hold 27 head, sturdy paddocks, and a safe, sandy half-mile track. In the back of the property there’s a rolling hill where the babies can run up and down. “What I like about our setup,” says Curt, “is that you’ve got a nice walk from the barn to the track. After a gallop, you can walk back, and the babies cool down and settle on their way back to the barn.”
5B Farm is named for Curt, Rachael, and their three children, David, Chastity, and Skylar. The farm is secluded and quiet and neat. “We have our own little world back here,” says Rachael. Both Rachael and Curt’s families like to come out to the farm to relax. Curt says, “When horses come here, they just seem to drop their heads.”
Curt got his start breaking babies for Lee Lange, Norman Stables, and Brittlyn Stables, and here he is, starting babies all over again. “I’m not that interested in training,” he says. “You ride for 27 years, then jump off a horse’s back, and say you’re going to train—for me it didn’t work like that.” If he’d planned to be a trainer, he says, he would have had to work from the ground up again.
Life on 5B Farm is a different world for Curt. He used to reduce, ride, and jump from horse to horse. He didn’t have to look for horses—an agent brought them to him. But now the pace is slow, and the commitment is long. “We stay with the horse,” says Curt. The rhythm of life on the farm starts in January, when the babies start coming. The two-year-old training sale comes in April. By June, July, and August, things are slow, and Curt and Rachael can get away for a few days of vacation. In September, breaking starts, and, as Curt says, it’s crunch time, straight through to the next summer.
Curt and Rachael foal out pregnant mares. Most of the time the two of them take care of everything, although, of course, they have several veterinarians available and nearby. Curt says they’ve been lucky so far—and he knocks on wood. But he’s realistic: giving birth is the most dangerous thing a mare can do. “Most of the time the mare does it herself,” he says. “But if she gets in a bind, there’s a thing or two my dad taught me.”
After so many years watching horses from a distance, Rachael loves being an important part of the 5B Farm team. Her friend Lynn Boutté has taught her a lot about taking care of mares and newborns, as well as judging conformation. Although Lynn is in Florida, “she’s just a phone call away” if Rachael has any questions. Lynn and her husband Chris were among the first breeders to send horses to Curt and Rachael.
“Rachael is very open-minded and she catches on quick,” says Curt. “I’m not afraid to ask questions,” says Rachael. She reads all the time, studying up on nutrition, the newest supplements, problems in delivery, and conformation.
Rachael worked with bodybuilders in a fitness center. She has transferred her eye for human muscle development to equine structure. “At first, when I started watching body-building competitions, I couldn’t see why one person got first and another got second.” Eventually she realized it was about harmony: all the muscles need to fit together. And ideal horse conformation needs harmony, too.
When the babies are ready to be started (at 18-24 months, depending on maturity and the clients’ wishes), Curt introduces them to the round corral. He puts on a surcingle and drives them and works both sides equally. Once the babies are obedient in the long lines, Willie and Coby Leverne get on. Only rarely do they have to mount up for the first time in a stall. The long line work seems to make it easier for a horse to accept a rider. “It’s like you’re on their back,” says Curt. “You’re feeling them with your fingers.” When they’re settled in the round corral, Willie and Colby ride the babies out to do figure eights and play in the pasture.
Curt says, “I used to be the one to get up on them the first time. And I was pretty good at it. But one evening I just came in and said to myself, you know, I rode for 27 years and only broke my collarbone once. All I need is to get busted up on a baby on my own place!” Says Rachael, “Just when we’re trying to start a business!” “We are agreeable on that,” says Curt. “I do ride a pony back and forth to our track with the babies. When you get older, you get wiser. Not that you get scared…you just get cautious. You don’t move as fast as when you were young. And when you’re messing with babies, you’ve got to move fast. Well, you move slow around them, but your reactions have got to be fast!”
After the young horses have gotten used to a rider and can go around the track safely, Curt and his able farm hands load them up and take them on trips to the Evangeline Downs training center, ten miles away. By the time the horses go to the trainer, they know how to haul and are used to other horses and new things.
“When they leave here after being broke,” says Rachel, “the trainer doesn’t have a whole lot to do. It helps the client and it helps the trainer. The horse is ready to go to work.”
The core of Curt and Rachael’s business at 5B Farm is selling the right horse to the right person. “We are fair to our clients. Honesty keeps people coming back.” The client decides when to sell or which trainer to choose. “We’re here to get our clients into the winner’s circle,” says Rachael. “We don’t put any pressure on the owners about where the horse is supposed to go. The owner makes all the decisions about which trainer to send a horse to.”
Some clients prefer big horses. Curt doesn’t have a preference. “Polar Expedition was a little bitty horse, but he beat all the big ones!” Color doesn’t matter to Curt, either, but some clients have favorites, and some prefer chrome or no chrome at all. In reality, Curt says, you don’t know what a horse has until you get him in a race. “When you break a horse, or when you breeze him, you get an idea of what he can do. I’ve seen horses that can’t get out of their own way—and guess what? They win. A horse will make a liar out of you!”
One win that means a great deal to Curt is one he didn’t ride. “One of the biggest thrills I’ve had is watching My Gal Charlie, a little baby we bred, win her first time out. I rode her daddy, and I was working her mom, too. I caught the chills, I got a knot in my throat like I wanted to cry. There’s no feeling like that, there’s no drug, that feels like getting to the winner’s circle!” Rachael says she has never seen him react the way he did when My Gal Charlie won.
Curt remembers riding some great races on great horses. But, says Rachael, for her, the ride that seemed the most important to her husband was the one on the last day of his career, when he rode Miss Bean Wah to a record-breaking victory. “Yes,” says Curt. “That filly meant a lot to Miss Evelyn Benoit. And the filly retired to the breeding shed right after the race.”
Curt and Rachael have had great people behind them: Evelyn Benoit, Al Stall and Al Stall, Jr., Lee Young, Kelly Broussard, Don Cormier, Neal McFadden, Sam Breaux, Scotty Gelner, Lee Lange, and many others, including Lora Pitre, who found 5B Farm for the Bourques… Curt and Rachael also have a great family: brothers and sisters and in-laws, children David, Chastity, and Skylar, and grandkids Chloe, Chandler, and Kohen, “whom we love to death!” says Curt.
Curt is amazed at how far 5B Farm has come in just four years. The money they make goes right back into the farm. “We don’t have money in the budget yet to go out of state for breeding, but we’ll get there. And Louisiana has good, solid stallions.” He has high hopes for a Star Guitar “in the belly” and babies on the ground by Custom for Carlos, Kodiak Cowboy, Gemologist, Spring At Last, and Warrior’s Reward.
“We are where we need to be,” Curt says. He praises the “good hands” who keep the farm going. “We get up at 5 AM and work until it’s done. Hard work and dedication…and my wife behind me. She believes in me.”
Above all, Curt says, “You’ve got to love the horse.” Then the work is easy.