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From Rags To Riches

Published: February 18, 2014 7:29 pm ET

Last Comment: February 19, 2014 11:15 am ET | 3 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

No, the dog never ate Kelly Hoerdt’s homework. But there was a time when his horses did eat his bed.

For an explanation you have to go back to 1984 when the Alberta harness horseman, who was just named Canada’s Horseperson of the Year, had ventured out on his own to find his fame and fortune.

“I was 18 years old,” said Hoerdt, now 47.

“I had taken five cheap claimers to Regina, Saskatchewan. I got there on a Thursday and had four of them in to race on Friday and Saturday. By the time I paid for the shipping of the horses I was broke. But I wasn’t worried at all. I was planning on those horses to get me some money so I could get a hotel or something. Even if they only made $50 or $100 I would have had enough money.

Instead, fate conspired against him. It poured – the rain coming down sideways and cancelling the races.

So, with nowhere to stay, Hoerdt said “I had to come up with a different plan.

“I got three bales of hay and put them crossways to make a bed in the barn, which fortunately was heated and indoors. The bed was nice and wide and at the time I didn’t think anything about it.”

But the horses had to eat so the three bales of hay quickly became two bales of hay.

“The horses always ate before I did. And anyway, two bales were still plenty wide to sleep on,” said Hoerdt, who was also named co-champion Trainer of the Year with Travis Cullen at this past weekend’s Alberta harness awards dinner.

Unfortunately, the rain kept coming and the horses weren’t any less hungry; it wasn’t long before there was only one bale left and that last bale was to skinny to sleep on.

“My bed disintegrated as I fed the horses.”

Now Hoerdt needed another plan and there was only one solution: “I slept in my car,” he said of a 1979 Camaro.

“I ended up sleeping in that car for two or three weeks.

“Looking back it was poverty and not the lifestyle you want to live. I would even eat sweet horse feed mixed with milk.

“It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time.

“In some ways that was the best of times. There were no mortgages to deal with. I just had to worry about myself.

“It was the way a lot of young horsemen lived while trying to get into the business. You would do anything to keep going,” said Hoerdt, who had worked with horses with his dad, Fred, and his older brother Glen – the latter a former trainer/driver himself – from the time he was six years old - “Ever since I was old enough to pick up a horse’s foot and clean it up.”

The Camaro itself is a story.

“I bought the car for $3,900 when I turned 16. It was just about all the money I had.”

The money had come courtesy from Sarepta Mile, the first horse Hoerdt ever owned.

“My dad, Fred, gave me half of the horse when I was 14. I would jog the horse after school and before school,” said Hoerdt.

Sarepta Mile was a life changer.

“That horse did real good for me. I had money in my pocket for a change – the first money I ever had from the work I had done. I ended up selling half of the horse to Glen so I had even more money. That’s when I bought the car.”

It was also when, much to the chagrin of his father, Hoerdt quit school after Grade 8.

“Horse racing was too easy; I figured there was no point in staying in school.

“I went to work with my brother and then with Ed Tracey for two years,” he said of the legendary Alberta horseman.

Then Hoerdt went to Saskatchewan.

“To get your driver’s license in Alberta you had to work as a trainer for two years. In Saskatchewan it was just one year. That’s why I went there.”

Eventually the rain stopped and the money – albeit a trickle – started to come in.

“I hooked up with another trainer, Glenn Lutz. We pooled our money and got a hotel room. At that time, to me, that was the high life.

“Glenn and I did pretty good. We weren’t going for any money but it was enough to get by. And I wasn’t sleeping on bales of hay anymore.”

When the Regina meet ended Hoerdt went to Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“I had pretty much blown all the money I made in Regina, so I was broke again.

“I phoned my dad and said ‘I’m starving; could you send a guy $50?’ But my dad told me ‘You went on your own to try and make it so you’re on your own now. I can’t help you.’”

But Hoerdt refused to let go of his dream and in 1986 he came back to Alberta.

Continuing to find more Sarepta Miles, Hoerdt has never looked back.

“I ground it out at first with a bunch of cheap horses. But I found good partners and owners that invested with me,” he said of the likes of Erna and Blair Corbeil and Mike McAllister.

Hoerdt is also a partner with the Corbeils in Bedrock Training Centre, just southeast of Beaumont which has stalls for 101 horses, an indoor pool and a five-eighths mile training track, which is built to the same specifications as Northlands Park.

“It just snowballed,” he said of getting horses like Nealies Smartie and Rays Promise. Hoerdt bought Nealies Smartie for $15,000 and ended up making $350,000. He bought Rays Promise for $7,000, made $100,000, sold for $20,000 and then bought back in to win another $100,000.

Then there were pacers like Idle Promises, who won $300,000 in 2005, Blue Star Majesty, who set a single, Alberta-season earnings record of $275,000 in 2006, Trust The Artist, who won the Western Canada Pacing Derby in 2007 and retired with earnings of $600,000, and River Lass, who was named Alberta Horse of the Year in 2010 and holds the track record at Alberta Downs in Lacombe for aged mares.

This past year he also campaigned horses like National Debt, who was named Alberta’s top two-year-old at this past weekend’s Alberta harness awards banquet, and Premium Attaction, who was voted the province’s top three-year-old and is now getting set to campaign at The Meadowlands in New Jersey.

(Curtis Stock / Edmonton Journal)

February 19, 2014 - 11:15 amKelly Hoerdt...Truly a


Kelly Hoerdt...Truly a Great,Great Horsemen and First Class Gentleman Right From The Start...It Gives Me Extreme Pleasure To See Him Properly Recognized For His Talents And Abilities.......God Bless ya Hoerdt ...Always Enjoy Following Your Career!!!...From "A Huge Fan"

February 19, 2014 - 9:25 amWhat a great and heartfelt

Norm Brunet SAID...

What a great and heartfelt story. A great example of hard work and persistence paying off for a person that won't let a little adversity get in his way.

February 18, 2014 - 9:23 pmKelly you deserve everything

brian hancox SAID...

Kelly you deserve everything you have achieved. Regardless of your situation your horses always looked good and were well attended to. I was in Regina when you arrived there and believe me it was a breath of fresh air to see the enjoyment you brought the harness racing fans at Queensbury Downs.

The only thing I am feeling really bad about is if I had any inkling that you were having it as rough as you shared you were when you arrived at the new Queensbury Downs I would have opened my own doors up to you in a minute.

Best of luck on your continued success.

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