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RUS Riders's Blog


My Colours: A Tribute To A Mentor

Published: September 10, 2015 10:12 am ET

Last Comment: September 12, 2015 1:06 pm ET | 6 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

I was introduced to harness racing when I was nine years old by Lynne Gibbings. She is a long-time race fan and believes everyone should be a fan. One Sunday afternoon at the Clinton races, she took me to the horse barns and introduced me to one of the horses who had just raced, and the horse’s owner, Frank MacDonald. Needless to say, I was an immediate fan. Luckily for me, the horse barns were located just beyond my backyard and it was only a two-minute walk for me to go and visit. But I didn't want to just visit the horses, I was a curious and ambitious young girl and I wanted to be "hands on". Frank didn't seem to mind me hanging around and asking questions. He took me under his wing, and with the assistance of Lynne and Frank's wife Isabel, I quickly learned how to muck the stalls and bath, brush and feed the horses. I couldn't get enough of it.

I started helping Frank most weekend mornings. He showed me how to harness a horse and how to wrap their legs. I was sooo thrilled when he got me my first groom's license. I was only 10 years old and the most exciting New Year's Eve of my life! It felt like the most important thing to me! I was travelling the countryside with Frank to race his horses. This man taught me so much and I absolutely loved every minute I spent with him and his horses.

One of my favourite things about racing Frank's horses was getting them ready to race. Frank and his family took pride in their racehorses and showed it by having some of the brightest and cleanest wraps and equipment, much of which was sewn by Frank's wife Isabel. Typically made in orange and yellow materials, I loved that you could easily spot our racehorses by those vibrant colours.

Frank and I became so connected by the racing industry that I earned a spot as an honourary granddaughter to him and Isabel. Which is why, when Frank passed away suddenly in 2007, I couldn't return to the horse barns for nearly a year.

I did get working again as a groom for Paul Taylor's stable, and occasionally brought some fresh yellow towels to the barn, amidst Paul's red racing colours, to use on my favourite horses. Other trainers who knew me would call for me to assist with their horses on various race days. Frank had trained me well and I loved grooming all horses.

But I wanted to do even more...When I heard about the Racing Under Saddle program getting started in Ontario, I knew I had to be part of it. I had done some trail riding at Home on the Range near Londesboro. A self-taught rider by trial and error, frustration and determination, I assisted at Home on the Range by breaking the young horses and getting them accustomed to being ridden so they could be used by other visitors. I figured if I could ride an untrained horse, I could probably ride a harness horse, and I had already jumped on the back of some of the racehorses. I would joke with the owners that I was going to ride these horses some day. But I hadn't expected to be racing them!

By the end of the summer 2014, with greatly appreciated assistance from Erin Watson and her family, I had found and trained a trotter under saddle and we were ready to race. But I needed colours to ride, and I new exactly what those colours were going to be. I went to my mentor Frank's wife and asked if she could make me a jacket as she used to do for Frank. Isabel did better than that! She pulled out one of Frank's old jackets from the attic and with a few alterations it fit me perfectly! I was elated!!

I was ready to race, and wearing the orange and yellow colours that were so dear to me, and in a jacket that Frank had actually was all just too exciting and heartwarming. I had come a long way from groom to rider and I know Frank would have been so proud.

I was honoured when Frank's family members came to watch my RUS races. They comment on my Facebook pictures how happy and proud they are to see “yellow and orange flying around the tracks” again. It is a privilege to wear the MacDonald colours and to know how happy it made Frank's family to see the colours have life again! Wearing the orange and yellow in my RUS races revived his families' interest in harness racing. My own family, who had never been involved in horse racing, also began to come to the racetrack. They brought friends and co-workers who had also become interested in attending the races and were keen to support my new venture of racing under saddle. I wear these colours with pride, knowing that my racing enthusiasts can easily find me.

Natalie Elliott and Tragically Shipp (outside) dead-heat with Marit Valstad and Radical Dreamer at Mohawk

With much thanks to my sponsor, John Patterson, orange and yellow shirts were distributed to many of my fans. The new found support for racing was evident in the number of orange and yellow shirts in attendance at each RUS race I participated in. The newcomers bought programs, food and drinks. They place their $2 wagers, and some bettors would get a little more bold and put down $5! They are gradually learning to read the race programs and make wagers on the other harness races. Racing Under Saddle will never replace harness racing, but I believe it can offer an exciting complement to any racing card.

Over the past two years, I have happily participated in several under saddle races and I can honestly say that one of the few things that makes me smile more than the race itself, is hearing someone say, "Hey, aren't those Frank McDonald's colours?" There's just something special about orange and yellow!

Natalie Elliott
Clinton, Ontario

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

September 12, 2015 - 1:06 pmA nice story with a simple

A nice story with a simple yet profound theme. Many people being influenced by the positive attitude of one person just being themselves. A few years ago I devoted a Rewind to the late Ron McGee. At the time he was still with us and we shared a number of conversations and reminiscences. Among them was him remembering Frank MacDonald and what a fine individual he was. Although not identified I believe Frank appeared in the 1959 picture Ron supplied that accompanied my story. He served as the groom of Poplar Flash C winner of the 3 year old Supertest at Goderich, one of Ron's seven wins that Labour Day afternoon 56 years ago. Thanks for sharing.

September 12, 2015 - 12:33 amThanks for sharing your

Nancy Brown SAID...

Thanks for sharing your story, Nat. For such a quiet man he taught us all a lot of important life lessons as well as to appreciate orange and yellow and how to hook up a horse!
Mostly it is his passion that I see in you and in others he has influenced. Be it passion for horses, passion for family, passion for other hobbies or work.

He was our hero.

September 11, 2015 - 11:18 amThank you for the very nice

Fred Beacham SAID...

Thank you for the very nice story. My uncle Bruce Nicholson used to stable at Clinton. Frank MacDonald drove my father's first winner as an owner, Marjean Bars, over London in '62 or '63. Fred Beacham Jr.

September 10, 2015 - 10:40 pmThoroughly enjoyed your

Lynne Davies SAID...

Thoroughly enjoyed your wonderful story Natalie.... brings back so many special memories with lots more to come!! In addition to Frank, Isabel & the MacDonald family, I'd like to give honorable mention to the dear people who "fueled my passion" for standardbreds. First & foremost, my parents, Harold & Lois Gibbings who bred, raised & raced harness horses in the Clinton area for several years and were big fans of all who dedicated themselves to the horses & sport. Also, my great aunt & uncle, Jean & Ben Feagan, who warmly welcomed me to their world and taught me so much!! Every day I am grateful that the relationship between my Dad & your Grandma led to Dad introducing us. As my adopted niece & best friend, I am SO VERY PROUD of you and proud to be associated with the fantastic people in harness racing and RUS!! My regular RUS wager is $15.00....small price for the entertainment, excitement & thrill of wearing orange & yellow in tribute to Frank! Best wishes to all RUS riders & horses for continued success!!

September 10, 2015 - 4:50 pmWe might be just a tad

Lynne Magee SAID...

We might be just a tad biased, but we think you are pretty special Natalie and so proud to have you, in your almost 'glow-in-the-dark' colours riding aboard our horse. Frank McDonald would, indeed, be very proud of his protégé with the determination, big smile and even bigger heart when it comes to standardbreds, harness racing and now Racing Under Saddle. The Orange And Yellow team aka Beauty and the Beast is one to be reckoned with in any given event. Thanks so much for being so patient and dedicated to Harry (Tragically Shipp). And thanks for your great story about how you got there. Well done!

September 10, 2015 - 10:42 amWhat a wonderful tribute to

What a wonderful tribute to Frank McDonald. I used to hang around the barns in Clinton as a teen back in the late 60's early 70's helping Mac Sewers. Frank was always there with horses like Rhythm Brooke C, Judy's Mighty Mac, Miss Belle Bars and Shadow Bars. Without doubt he had time to answer a question and talk a little racing strategy. As a 16 year old announcing races in Goderich I had to remind myself I wasn't allowed to cheer for Frank while calling the action! You could see that orange and yellow moving on the outside clearer than any other colours of the day. Natalie, you have earned a new fan today. You can bet my voice will be among those urging you on as the orange and yellow streaks to the finish line. And I might even be among those that can now put $2 or even $5 on you to win! Harness racing has always been home to great people like Frank McDonald. Now we have RUS to add to the game and it is great to hear the story of someone up and coming. May your love affair with horses continue as long and as clear as your memories of Frank McDonald.

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