This month we’re introducing one of the people who keeps the farm going every day. Julia is an unsung hero who has been part of Stepaside story before the farm even existed.
Did you always know you’d work with horses?
No, I thought I was going to go into the medical field, but I always loved horses. I was born and raised in Singapore and learned to ride English saddle as a kid. When my family moved to California in 1982, I went into a seven-month program for medical assisting. On Saturdays and Sundays, I loved going with my older brother to the track where he worked.
Eventually, I started helping my brother feed the horses in the mornings before school. He taught me so much and made me work hard. When I finished my schooling, the medical program had a big test that I kept putting off. Instead of pursuing that career, stayed at the track working with horses and have ever since.
How did you meet Declan?
I worked with a number of trainers before Declan. We met because my brother and Declan played squash together while I swam laps. At first, he didn’t have enough horses to keep me busy. But he asked me if I’d work with him once he did. It took a few years, but I started working with Declan in 1985 at the Santa Anita racetrack.
As a groom, I was in charge of taking care of the tack, grooming, cleaning the stalls. A groom knows their horses inside and out—their mannerisms, the condition of their legs, everything. Although I used to ride yearlings, I learned quickly that you shouldn’t ride if you’re scared.
What was the racetrack like?
The hours were long. We started a 3 a.m., but it was really rewarding when the horses we trained ran well. It’s hard to believe now, but we worked at the racetrack for 25 years! It’s mostly the same work we do at the farm, but now we have cows.
What’s it like working at Stepaside Farm?
Well, when we moved from the Los Angeles area to Sanger, I thought I was going into semi-retirement, but on the farm I’m working more! At the racetrack, you finish by 10 am, come back at 3, so you had four hours to do what you want. The farm has a lot more variety than the track. I enjoy working with the horses and the flexibility of doing what I want.
The other main difference is how far we are from the city. Running to the supermarket takes up a big part of the day. I don’t go into town just for a few items anymore!
What do you do for fun?
I like to travel. Recently, I went to Alaska with my brother and also to Hawaii. It’s good to get away and take a break. While I’m useless with houseplants, I like to garden–flowers especially. My garden in spring and summer is really pretty. In the fall, my favorite thing is to plant bulbs—tulips, iris, daffodils—because they always surprise me when they come up in April. My other hobby is baking things like pudding and cakes. I’m also a dog mom to Sophie and Legs, my two Jack Russell terriers.