LEXINGTON, Ky. – Urbana native Ron Hill developed his love of horses while riding his pony in 4-H as a child.
The first pony he ever rode was borrowed from his good friend, Kenny Underwood.
“I was nine years old when I borrowed it, and if not for Kenny Underwood and that pony, I don’t know where I would be now,” he said.
Today, Hill is a skilled horse handler as a ringman at the fabled Keeneland Association’s auctions.
During each auction, he and other ringmen gently parade Thoroughbreds during the bidding process at Keeneland Sales.
“It is exciting because you never know which one is going to be a (successful) one,” Hill told Keeneland.com. “That is why our crew does just as a good a job on the first day as we do the last day. We do our best every time we handle a horse.”
Hill said it is important for a ringman to comfort the horse during the bidding process.
“When the yearlings walk in there, they are looking for a friend,” he told Keeneland.com. “I let them stand there for a moment and take it all in. I wait for the horse to take the first step. I don’t want to move him – I want him to move himself. Then we have a little rapport. Another thing that helps is our black leather gloves. They can smell the previous horses on the gloves. I give them my hand and then they start to follow me around. After that it is usually all good.”
“I never look a horse in the eye,” Hill added. “To a horse, that is a challenge. I was told that when I was a little kid.”
Hill said that while growing up in Urbana, he was mentored by Dr. Wayne Nichols, who took him to race tracks all over the country.
Prior to his current job at Keeneland, Hill spent nearly 40 years as an exercise rider.
“Dr. Nichols taught me a lot,” said Hill. “He taught me about horses, and he taught me how to be a professional. He had a huge impact on my life. Here I am, a small-town kid from Urbana, Ohio, and I have traveled to 23 different countries.
“Hopefully, my story will help inspire others,” he added.
Hill is currently featured in a new exhibit at the Keeneland Library called “The Heart of the Turf: Racing’s Black Pioneers.”
The exhibit opened on Feb. 23 and runs through Aug. 31.