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Ilka Gansera-Leveque

Ilka Gansera-Leveque takes time out of her very busy schedule of her 7 day a week job of wife, mother, veterinarian and race horse trainer to speak with Equine Info Exchange.

Ilka's story is a unique one where her road less travelled spans the world. She is a native of Germany where she first apprenticed under European race horse trainer Bruno Schuetz. She then moved to California where she spent a year learning from Monty Roberts at Flag is Up Farms.

Afterwards, she moved to New York and worked primarily at Belmont Park but also in Florida and Kentucky where she was a freelance rider and assistant trainer. Ilka was then offered a full scholarship in Hannover Germany for Veterinary Medicine where she graduated in April 2009. Her experience also included a Diagnostic Imaging Internship at Rossdales Newmarket, UK Pferdeklinik Muenchen-Riem, an equine veterinary clinic in Germany.

Since September, 2011, she started her own company, Gansera-Leveque Equine Services, which offers the “full package” including vet work, sales work, training, and equine consulting.

In August 2012, she obtained a trainer’s license and established a training operation in Newmarket, UK. She is currently the only female race horse trainer in the UK who is also a veterinarian.

With her husband Staphane, she also began a partnership training business with her husband. Her 4 year old daughter, also loves horses.

A new young girl also entered Ilka’s life this spring when her mare Tosca, the racehorse that put her “on the map” gave birth to a beautiful filly foal by first season sire Maxios.

Ilka Gansera-Leveque

Here, she tells Equine Info Exchange about her career and vast experience with horses.

How did you first become involved with horses? Were your parents horse people?

They were/are racing fans. We used to go racing regularly on weekends when I was a kid. Even when I was a baby! My mother rode sports horses growing up, so my love for horses is hereditary.

How did you find your first horse related job? Can you describe your role?

I did a traditional jockey apprenticeship in Germany, left home right before my 16th birthday…. I learned everything from the bottom up, the hard way. Old school.

How did you decide to become a veterinarian and then a trainer? Please let us know a bit about your career path.

A pretty unorthodox career path I know. I always wanted to be a jockey when I was growing up, so I went for it. Then after working so many years on the backside, I wanted to learn and know more about horses so I went back to vet school. First I had to find a way and get all of the undergrad “stuff” out of the way. Where the is a will there is away… It sure was the road less travelled to say the least! While I was in vet school I made a plan to combine all three disciples and incorporate everything. I love what I do so it never feels like I’m working.

You have a reputation for having a terrific understanding of a horse’s problem, no matter how obscure. Is this something learned or innate to you?

I always wanted to be the best at what I do, and I always worked hard. Without the horses we are nothing. Understanding horses comes easy to me, maybe it is a gift. But you never stop learning, every horse teaches you something. And that’s how I look at it: The horses are our teachers. Now, with the veterinary understanding it opens up a bigger window and I can help them more than before.

Ilka Gansera-Leveque

In Europe it appears that there is a dearth of female trainers and jockeys versus the United States. In fact, when your name is in a racing program, you have the prefix of ”Mrs.” whereas there is no prefix of “Mr.” for male trainers. Do you have any theories for this reason?

It’s an old boys club over here, especially in the UK that’s for sure. I guess it’s a cultural and historical thing. I put on my blinkers every morning and say “I Am a TRAINER”. I need a few more owners to give me an opportunity and I will grab it and transform it. I actually chose to have the prefix Mrs. When you first take out your trainers licenses they (the BHA) ask you how you want to appear in the program. I didn’t ponder, I thought formal was a good thing. It could’ve been casual Ilka Gansera-Leveque or I. Gansera-Leveque but I thought since I have such an unusual name I might as well make sure everyone knows they are dealing with a woman. In the beginning nobody knew who I was so at least that way they knew it was the little blond standing on her own in the paddock!

How is your husband involved in your business?

Over the past ten years he has been an exercise rider for Godolphin and has all the trainers qualifications just as myself. He has just started working for me as assistant trainer and he will be training a small string of racing Arabians himself next season.

Do you believe the racing landscape is changing for women in Europe?

There is still a long way to go, even though I don’t run around with the gender issue in my head every day. There are not many successful self-made professionals in the game, and that is what I strive to be. The question I can’t answer is why owners would still rather have a male trainer, because I am certainly as qualified as any of the guys out there.

Ilka Gansera-Leveque

Tell us about the racing partnership you created. How do you involve new people and how do you find horses?

Finding horses is relatively easy. I have created some good relationships with smaller reputable breeders and they are happy to support my syndicate ideas. I launched the first ladies only racing syndicate in Newmarket which I couldn’t believe it was never tried before. I wish somebody had the answer on what is the best way to recruit and involve newcomers to our sport. I think that is one of the hardest things and I wish I was better at it.

When a horse’s racing career is over, what is the next step for him/her?

I always feel responsible for the horses that are under my care and that expands into their retirement. I know I can’t change the world but I can make a difference within “my radius” So I am actively involved in rehoming them, which is time consuming but I feel I owe it to them.

Who do you most admire in the racing business and why.

My husband Stephane for his courage, strength and dedication, jockey Chris McCarron (my childhood hero) how he conducts himself in public and deals with the media, and The Chief (Hall of Fame Trainer H. Allen Jerkens). I would see him in the afternoon (when driving into the back gate at Belmont) picking dandelion for his horses. What more do I have to say? A true Horseman, that’s what I want to be known for.

Tell us about your proudest moment as a trainer.

Every time I have a first time starter and it says something dismissive in the Racing Post like “best watched” and I think to myself: “You can Watch this! Watch this filly from behind cause that’s all you’ll see”.

What are your near and long term goals?

To get my numbers of horses up to about thirty head so I pick up momentum and people don’t write me off as a “little” trainer. To work closely together with owner breeders developing their female families, and making use of my knowledge of European and American racing. I want to compete at the highest level and make it to the top. I want to have runners at Saratoga and classic winners in Europe

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You can find more interesting stories in our section on Horse Racing.

Ilka Gansera-Leveque

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