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Horse Park’s leading rider almost didn’t return to racing after accident

After suffering an injury in 2010 while riding at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn., 46-year-old Don Proctor says “it feels good to be riding again.” Nick Wagner / The Forum

Fargo - North Dakota Horse Park jockey Don Proctor hadn’t slipped his boots into the stirrup of a race saddle since 2010.

The longtime rider was severely injured in a four-horse accident at Canterbury Park on July 3, 2010 – an accident marked as the worst in the Shakopee, Minn., track’s history.

Proctor broke his back and suffered miscellaneous other injuries. After only a couple weeks of recovery, he finished out the 2010 meet but then decided to retire from racing, moving to South Dakota and eventually starting work in the North Dakota oil fields, as a heavy equipment operator in Watford City, N.D.

But, earlier this summer, Proctor’s good friend and a top-earning trainer at the North Dakota Horse Park, Bob Johnson, called and asked Proctor to take up some mounts in the South Dakota meets.

Proctor obliged, and won his first out in four years in Aberdeen, S.D.

“I’ve rode for Bobby for 20 years,” Proctor said. “He’s a great trainer, a great friend. If he calls, I answer.”

Riding on the weekends, and continuing to work in North Dakota during the week, the 46-year-old became South Dakota’s leading rider for 2014, taking the win picture for 40 of his 60 mounts.

The quiet rider’s luck has continued north of the Black Hills when he won the first two stakes races on opening day of Fargo’s track and went on to win six of the 15 races in the first weekend.

Proctor said he never expected such a successful year.

“I thought I’d probably ride three or four and it’s been every race,” Proctor said. “It feels good to be riding again.”

The Wyoming native grew up with horses, but had never been around race horses until he heard of a nearby trainer looking for help.

He found himself riding his first race in Miles City, Mont., just out of high school. He won the race and was soon hooked on what would be his future business.

“That got me started and I fell in love instantly,” Proctor said.

He went on to ride at tracks in Canada and Minnesota, covering the western U.S. circuit.

When not wearing his jockey silks, Proctor’s slight frame can be picked out among any jockey colony by his black cowboy hat, a nod to his Wyoming and American quarter horse roots.

“I enjoy both (thoroughbreds and quarter horses) but I really, really like the quarters,” Proctor said.

Proctor is also rarely seen without his wife, Melissa, who has attended every race since they were married in 2005.

“They only one she ever missed was July 3 at Canterbury,” Proctor said. It was the day Proctor was injured. “(Now) if the family can’t go. I don’t go.”

The couple have three children, McKenna, 15, and 6-year-old twins, Hailey and Tucker.

“We stick together,” Melissa Proctor said. “We do this a family.”

The family recently bought a farm in rural Streeter, N.D., where they have slowly been making their home between racing and Don’s work in western North Dakota.

“I always say I’ve got a job, I (ride) for fun,” Proctor said.

While the three weekends of racing continues in Fargo, the Proctors leave are at the track on the weekends and on Sunday nights, Don must leave for Watford City to be ready to work a 14-hour day by 4:30 a.m. on Monday.

Proctor said he’s happy to ride at his new home state’s track where his family can watch.

So far, the six-furlong track has treated him well.

“You do have to ride a little different here, it’s a long straightaway,” Proctor said.

While Proctor knows firsthand, the perils of working with horses, he also knows working with the animals runs deep. His daughter, McKenna, is already showing signs she will follow in her father’s footsteps, doing well in rodeo competitions.

Proctor said if she decides to try racing, he’ll be the first to help her learn.

“If she gets old enough, I’ll let her give it a go,” Proctor said. “I’d prefer she pick a different profession but she’s really, really good (at riding horse.”

Proctor will be defending his leading rider role in Fargo again today with seven mounts on the eight-race card.

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and at CBS in Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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