Kirkpatrick & Co. Presents In Their Care: Once Filled With Anxiety, Hotwalker Freeman Says Horses Give Him 'Great Calming Effect' - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Kirkpatrick & Co. Presents In Their Care: Once Filled With Anxiety, Hotwalker Freeman Says Horses Give Him ‘Great Calming Effect’

Jordan Freeman with multiple Grade 1 winner Cyberknife at Keeneland prior to the Breeders’ Cup

Jordan Freeman never imagined his work as a hotwalker would provide a livelihood while being medicinal. That is the way it has played out.

The 27-year-old Toronto native has not had an easy life. He was diagnosed at a young age with Asperger syndrome, a developmental disorder on the autism spectrum that affects the ability to socialize and communicate.

Freeman coped with that as well as he could. He felt he was just hitting his stride academically at Northern Secondary School when it became clear to him that something else was very wrong. Suddenly, he felt he was not recognizing people he knew well or places he had been. He was forgetful.

And it did not end there.

“I'm having thoughts I can't explain. I was having really strange and irrational thoughts,” recalled Freeman. “I was worried all of the time.”

Doctors ultimately diagnosed him with generalized anxiety disorder. “I've always dealt with Asperger syndrome,” he said. “To add that on was a punch to the gut.”

Still, Freeman fought on. He had appeared in a television commercial when he was six years old. He decided to attend George Brown College in downtown Toronto, where he studied acting for stage and screen. He graduated in 2015 only to find that opportunities for him were few.

“I realized it was going to be a lot more challenging than I hoped,” he said.

With all of that as a difficult backdrop, Freeman tuned in to watch American Pharoah's Triple Crown bid in 2015. The young man came from a long line of racegoers. Some of his fondest memories revolved around spending hours with his father at Woodbine racetrack in their hometown.

The two of them had always appreciated the majesty of Thoroughbreds. American Pharoah was a sight to behold during the post parade leading to the Belmont Stakes, and he ran to his imposing appearance. He broke sharply for jockey Victor Espinoza and was never threatened during his historic run as the 12th Triple Crown champion and first in 37 years.

Freeman watched in awe. He could not believe what he had just seen. And, suddenly, he had a clear vision for himself. His parents, Sharon and Michael, had always encouraged him and his younger brother, Jacob, to follow their passions. Jacob, now 22, is regarded as one of the world's finest young bridge players. Jordan would look to work with horses at Woodbine.

He learned a great deal during a two-year stint as a hotwalker for Kevin Attard, one of Canada's leading trainers. That experience led Brad Cox to hire him sight unseen.

Attard and Cox were excellent fits.

Jordan Freeman: “You get to be around these phenomenal athletes who can sense when you've had a rough day.”

“Jordan's not the easiest guy. He works very hard, but he's a little quirky and sometimes doesn't get along as well as you'd like him to,” his father said. “Kevin and Brad had tremendous patience with him. They understand him and what he's all about and he's been fine.”

Cox has won consecutive Eclipse Awards as leading trainer in North America. Freeman said of him: “He's a teacher. If you're struggling, he's going to show you what to do. He's not one of these people who is going to leave you to figure it out for yourself.”

Cox has entrusted Freeman with many of his finest horses. Freeman is particularly proud of his handling of Cyberknife, one of the nation's leading 3-year-olds, in helping the colt to overcome early behavioral issues.

“I love having my picture taken. I love being associated with winning horses,” Freeman said. “It's a huge thrill for me.”

His itinerant life is not at all easy. He typically lives in track dormitories and laments that their condition falls well short of what he enjoyed at Woodbine. He has struggled to save enough money for a car, leaving him to walk far and wide. But he followed his passion and is grateful he did.

“This job is kind of two-fold. It's a way to make money. It's also a way to relax myself, to be calm,” he said. “You get to be around these phenomenal athletes who can sense when you've had a rough day. They can sense when you're tense and they help you with that. They have a great calming effect for me.

“I never feel anxious when I'm around a horse. I never feel the slightest bit of anxiety when I'm around a horse.”

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His father, an attorney, was impressed by his son's interactions with horses and humans when he visited him at Churchill Downs in late May. “Jordan has found friendships and community that he never really had here, even as a child or a young man,” he said, noting that his son learned some Spanish to help him communicate with many co-workers.

Freeman could not take his responsibilities more seriously. He emphasized the importance of spacing as horses circle the shedrow and the need to be alert at all times for anything that might spook the horse being walked.

Once horses are cooled out, Freeman does not consider his work to be over. “I've always been a believer that you never say, 'That's not my job.' If something needs to be done, before you leave the barn you make sure it's done.”

The financial rewards for his toil may be few, but Freeman is finally at ease. For him, that is priceless.

Tom Pedulla wrote for USA Today from 1995-2012 and has been a contributor to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Blood-Horse, America's Best Racing and other publications.

If you wish to suggest someone as a potential subject for In Their Care, please send an email to [email protected] that includes the person's name and contact information in addition to a brief description of the individual's background.

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