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RUS Riders's Blog


How racing under saddle has changed my role in the Standardbred racing industry

Published: June 19, 2015 9:18 am ET

Last Comment: June 20, 2015 11:48 am ET | 1 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

Back in 2005, I was returning home from a summer job in Waterford, Ont., working and showing reining horses and knew nothing about the Standardbred racehorse, much less how a harness was even put on. What I never would have dreamed of, was a lifestyle working in the racing industry, and a passion for everything Standardbred racing, leading me into what is now known as Racing Under Saddle in Ontario.

It was Bob Walker who first hired me on for help cleaning stalls, and jogging horses at the Walker family’s home farm in Allenford. I learned the very basics of how to harness, and jog a racehorse. Up until then, my entire horse background was lived in the show pen with quarter horses, traveling around Ontario and the United States on the ORHA and NHRA circuit. I did not come from a family background within the horse industry; it simply blossomed from the age of 6 when my mother signed me up for riding lessons after failed attempts with baseball, swimming, gymnastics, and the likes of any other sport. Bob provided me with hands- on work from day one, teaching me what would eventually lead me into a career as a full-time caretaker and Standardbred groom for trainer Ted MacDonnell less than a year later.

Working for Ted taught me so much about equine fitness, soundness, conditioning, and overall care of a racehorse in general. Ted and I worked very well together, trucking two hours or more one way to various tracks, multiple times a week to race. Ted gave me my first opportunity to train one in the bike alongside him and his father, how to identify and care for multiple ailments, and ultimately gave me my first of many trips to the winner's circle with the horses that I cared for at his stable. He trusted me to care for the stable in his absence, and gave me a strong sense of pride in my work by growing my responsibilities as my knowledge increased. In 2007, Ted nominated me for the OHHA Caretaker of the Year award, which I ended up receiving for the less than 10 horses stable. I was living the dream so to speak and never pictured myself happier doing anything else.

In 2009 however, when hints that the industry could be facing serious trouble, I started to reluctantly shift my focus to college. I took up the Veterinary Technician Program at Seneca College in King City, and bid farewell to what I perceived as the best job in the world, working outside, with the animals that have always meant so much to me.

I completed my Technician program with Honours, but during my time there, I could never quite kick the habit that was harness racing. I continued to paddock for people like Ted, and Pat Hudon on nights when my studying wasn’t too heavy, and I could sneak away to the races. Even after taking a job with the Grey Bruce Pet Hospital in Owen Sound, I still continued to fit racing nights in wherever I could amongst an already packed six-day work week.

One of my biggest hurdles in life has been overcoming my extreme shyness. Looking back, my time paddocking at the racetracks did not result in me reaching out and making many new connections in the industry. My job to care for my horse was always #1, and often times, I would sit hours with my horse, waiting on Lasix, or a late race, without ever speaking to anyone there. Working out of a family-run farm did not expose me to the training center environment, nor did living hours away from the tracks up North. I had mastered the care-taking aspect of Standardbred racing, but had not found a way to extend my knowledge, or involvement much further than paddocking. One person who does stand out amongst them all however, is Mr. Herb Holland, who was always sure to say hello, and now, in my days as a RUS rider, has provided me with so many opportunities to learn on, train, and race his own stock. He has given me opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them, and encouraged me to toughen up, and push through when things don’t always go smoothly. Herb has taken the time to build my confidence as a rider, and spend a great deal of time on the track with many different mounts. His support for racing under saddle was already in place long before I began riding there, and continues today. Whenever I am down in the area to ride, Herb and Carolyn offer me a place to stay and have become truly great friends as a direct result of the racing under saddle initiative.

This leads to the rather spontaneous and contagious idea that became RUS Ontario.

When Julie Walker and I first started playing with the idea of Standardbred trotters going under saddle, it was very much a trial and error effort. Julie had witnessed first-hand the excitement and popularity of it while visiting Sweden, but neither of us had the first clue, or understanding of how much work and dedication it would take to develop strong, competitive riders and mounts. Trainer Riina Rekila had already planned, and executed several exhibition-style under saddle races in Ontario, but the development of it into something bigger, and part of the race card was still a long ways off waiting in the wings. One thing that RUS Ontario had on its side was a strong suit of Monte-licensed riders already living and working here in Ontario from Finland, Norway, and Sweden. These girls provided invaluable skills sets and insight to the development of RUS Ontario.

In such a very short time from those beginning rides in 2012 until present, RUS Ontario has snowballed into something much bigger than life, than I would have ever dreamed of. RUS has lead me to becoming so much more involved in the industry, making connections with its governing bodies to propose, and approve rules, licensing, and wagering for the first time in North American history on racing Standardbreds under saddle. I have learned so much more about the rules, regulations, and intricacies of the racing world that I otherwise may never have educated myself to such lengths on. I have grown into a much different person, becoming more open to meeting people in the industry, growing my confidence, and knowledge of the Standardbred from a racing point of view quit literally. I enjoy each and every opportunity to meet new people in the industry, rather than shy away from it. I have made friends for life, and shared opportunities like a trip to Sweden earlier this year with fellow rider, and good friend Marielle Enberg to explore the popular world of under saddle racing in her home country. I have since left my job as a veterinary technician, for a part-time position in a Hospital Emergency department, where my time can still be shared with my true passion that is the racing industry.

Ultimately, the doors that RUS Ontario has opened for me, and countless other women and men cannot be discounted. Friends and family who might have otherwise never been involved with the racing industry now not only follow the racing under saddle, but continue to follow many of the trotters involved when they have race dates back in the bike. It has given new insight on a sport that has long been popular and thrilling in many parts of Europe. RUS has connected riders, trainers and owners from across the border and across the world to share their love of all things Standardbred racing.

At a time when I once thought a quarter horse was the only way to go, a new appreciation has grown for the very versatile, very wonderful breed that is the Standardbred. RUS Ontario proved to me that dreams can and will come true if you follow them through. What seems impossible so many times, what highs come with periods of defeat, and what endless rewards come from the places your dreams can take you is what will drive me to be better, and always looking to improve myself as a RUS proponent. The difference it makes for the horse is an entirely different story in itself.

I look forward to watching RUS Ontario grow, the friendships that it creates, and the involvement that it generates for younger generations, and those already involved in the industry looking for other ways to expand their participation. RUS Ontario has brought people from all corners of the equine world into the Standardbred realm, and helped to build on an industry already so rich with history and exhilaration. If we can all work together, Standardbred, thoroughbred, and quarterhorse racing all have the potential to come together in the coming years with the RUS Ontario program continuing to gain momentum. What other breed can go with a jockey and a driver from one week to the next?

I feel overwhelmingly fortunate to be growing with a part of history in the making, all because of the versatility of a Standardbred.

Sarah Town

RUS rider and past-Vice President, 2012-2014

The views presented in Trot Blogs are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Standardbred Canada.

June 20, 2015 - 11:48 amWell done Sarah! Your love

Lynne Magee SAID...

Well done Sarah! Your love and dedication to the Standardbred industry is obvious from your written statements and your participation in racing under harness, in saddle and the special care and management of these amazing horses. Hopefully, others both in the industry and outside of it will learn to enjoy the many aspects that Standardbreds offer to the equine industry. They are truly wonderful, talented, steadfast, honest, hardworking and versatile horses. Those traits make them suitable for so many disciplines outside of racing when they either don't make it to the track under harness, may be finished with their racing careers or just looking for a way to enhance a harness horse's training with something different. Horses are like people in that sometimes 'a change is as good as a rest'. RUS has opened a new door for harness horses with many of our current contenders racing in harness and under saddle. RUS is an exciting, new aspect to racing our horses at the trot--something that is quite unique to the breed---and a way to expand our product for bettors, owners, trainers, riders and grooms. Thanks for your input Sarah and all the best on the track!

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