TOBA and TCA are two of Erin Crady’s favorite sets of initials. She started working with TOBA, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, in 2006 as the director of marketing and communications for the nonprofit trade organization. With 2,000 members, TOBA represents owners and breeders in the Thoroughbred industry. In 2009 Crady added TCA, Thoroughbred Charities of America, to her résumé. For five years, she split her time between the two organizations, although they are physically in the same office. “It was a juggling act, but it was good,” she said.
In January 2014 TOBA hired a full-time marketing person, so Crady now works exclusively for Thoroughbred Charities of America. She is the executive director of TCA, which is the charitable arm of TOBA. “I’m really lucky to be able to blend my hobby with my profession,” she said.
TCA raises and distributes money to charities in the United States that fall into one of four categories: equine research, backstretch/farm employee programs, equine-assisted therapy programs that use Thoroughbreds, and organizations that help Thoroughbreds transition from the racetrack to a new career. TCA granted over $515,000 to 67 charities in 2015. “Over the past 25 years, we have granted over $21 million to more than 200 charities across the country,” Crady said. “TCA is like the United Way for the Thoroughbred industry. We’re really all-encompassing. Our tagline is ‘One Helping Many’.”
TCA’s largest annual fundraiser is a stallion season auction that runs online the first full week of January, with a live event at the Keeneland Entertainment Center on Saturday, January 9th. “After the auction, I move right into grant season,” Crady said, referring to the grant applications that TCA receives from approximately 100 charities each year. The grant application is available on TCA’s website (TCA.org) from January through March 15th. Then, Crady spends the next two months studying those applications.
“We feel like it is 110 percent our duty to be good stewards of the money donated to us,” she said. “The application process is very thorough. I plug all data into a huge spreadsheet and share that with our grants committee. We go through and look at each applicant and determine if they meet our criteria. It’s a process we take very seriously.”
Crady’s respect for horses and the people who work with them started early on. Born in Rhode Island, she also lived in upstate New York. “Horses were always part of the family,” she said. “I competed at horse shows a couple of times a month, but it was probably not your average mom, dad and sister going to a horse show. We would pack up the horses, canopy tents, grills and food for breakfast or lunch, like tailgating.”
This type of family affair was a great way to grow up, Crady said. She owned an off-the-track Thoroughbred in high school, and rode on the equestrian team all four years of college at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York where she was an environmental psychology major. “When you’re competing at horse shows in high school or earlier, you’re competing for yourself,” Crady said. “This was my first team experience. It was unique and it was a great experience.”
After graduation, she knew she wanted to move to Manhattan. “I could see myself working in the city,” she said. She lived in the Big Apple from 1998 until the spring of 2001, working in marketing. “I think everyone should live in New York once in their lives. It’s my favorite city.”
In college, she lived abroad for a semester in Vienna, Austria. She traveled to Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Brussels, France, Hungary and other countries. “Budapest is probably one of my favorite cities in Europe,” Crady said, but still there’s nothing quite like New York.” As exciting as it was, Crady says it was a hard lifestyle. “It’s very expensive and constantly fast-paced.” So she packed up and moved west.
“I took a job as a wrangler on a dude ranch in Durango, Colorado,” she said. “It was fantastic. It was a great summer job, riding a horse in the mountains all day long.” Crady got hooked on the scenery and lifestyle of the Centennial State and found a job in Breckenridge, a ski town not too far outside of Denver. She worked for a lodging company for a winter and then decided “it was time to have a real grownup job again.”
Her mother had since moved to Florida, so Crady took off for Gainesville and worked in an advertising agency there. “I found that was my niche,” she said. “I really enjoyed interacting with different clients.” A family friend from New York was also in Gainesville and had horses, so Crady got to ride from time to time. Before long, Crady applied for the TOBA job in Kentucky, got it, moved to the Bluegrass and that was that. “Being in the horse industry, there’s really no place better to be,” she said of Lexington. “I’m not planning on going anywhere.”
Except to travel, of course. “I subscribe to the belief that travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer,” she said. “I try to take one major trip each year.” In 2015, it was a pack trip in Montana, glamping (with the convenience of camp showers and a chef) and riding in the mountains all day. She may just plan another pack trip this year, this time to Alaska. In 2014, Crady spent time in Europe. “One of my bucket list items was to ride a horse in Ireland,” she said. “Horses are such a way of life in Ireland, even more so than here. We went trotting through town, right down the center of Main Street, clip-clop, clip-clop.”
Crady knows she is lucky to be able to travel and has a lot to be grateful for, so she gives back as often as possible. She volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass. “My ‘little’ is a great 12-year-old girl who loves horses; we are totally a 100 percent match,” Crady said. “We’ve been to Keeneland and the Horse Park. She was thrilled when she got her picture taken with Calvin Borel at Keeneland.”
Crady has also fostered animals with the Lexington Humane Society. “I’m a huge animal lover,” she said. Gracious friends allow her to ride their horses when she can, and she is entertaining the thought of owning a horse again, which she hasn’t done in several years. “I have a feeling that my horse ownership drought may be coming to an end,” she said. •