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Faces Of Racing: Mary Hawkins

Published: June 19, 2019 9:55 am ET

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Leading up to the National Caretaker Appreciation Day events that will be taking place during the weekend of July 19-21, Standardbred Canada will be profiling caretakers from across the country in our ‘Faces of Racing’ series. The series is continuing with Mary Hawkins.

Mary Hawkins, originally from Saint John, New Brunswick, was first introduced to harness racing in 2006 when her grandmother bought into a five-year-old Make A Deal gelding, Fittipaldi. Mary enjoyed the sport as a spectator over the next several years, but in 2018, she relocated to Prince Edward Island, where she was given an opportunity to be hands-on with the equine athletes.

Mary currently works part-time for her brother-in-law at the Nicholas Oakes Stable, located in Warren Grove, P.E.I., while also pursuing a career with Cox & Palmer Law Firm in Charlottetown.

“I would do the odd chore (around the barn) for Sam Hodgin in Saint John, but it was Nicholas Oakes who gave me a chance to be hands-on in the industry and taught me how to handle the horses,” she says.

Mary Hawkins, pictured with Celebrate Your Bet.

With a little over a year in the industry as a caretaker, Mary has been able to experience the sport in a variety ways from foaling season to yearling sales. “Being on foal watch (for the first time) was a life-changing experience,” she says.

While foaling season ranks as one of her favourite times of year in the industry, she is quick to point out that watching the yearlings progress is also quite rewarding. “Seeing the yearlings we brought home from the Atlantic Classic Yearling Sale start from nothing and turn into horses that are ready to qualify anytime now, that is something.”

“My favourite moment as a caretaker was the first time I sat behind a horse, just this past spring. Nick took me on the double-seater jog cart around our farm track and let me hold the reins for the first time. I wasn’t sure if jogging horses was something I was even interested in, but now I can’t get enough of that feeling.”

Mary emphasizes that working with Standardbreds comes with its rewards and challenges, but appreciates the fact that all the horses she encounters have their own personalities, pointing out that no two horses are ever the same.

“As a caretaker, the most rewarding aspect of working with the horse is the relationship you build with them. They recognize you as soon as they see you and they learn to put their trust in you.”

Mary Hawkins, pictured while jogging A Fiesty X Ample.

Coming to Prince Edward Island from New Brunswick, Mary was able to see the vast difference between harness racing on the mainland compared to that on the island. “The fact that we have so many people fighting to keep the industry alive and prosperous, especially on P.E.I., keeps me enthusiastic about harness racing.”

“Nick’s dad, Kent Oakes, is the Standardbred Canada track director for the Atlantic provinces and he works for the P.E.I. Department of Finance on the harness racing file; seeing someone like Kent dedicating their entire life to the betterment of the industry makes me dream about just how bright our future in the sport can be, especially coming from New Brunswick where provincial support for the industry has been a struggle,” reflects Mary.

Surrounded by strong roots and a flourishing future of harness racing on the island, Mary has set short and long-term goals for her continued involvement in the industry, all while being content with her position during the present.

“Ideally, I would like to have my trainer’s license and own a horse of my own. When I first moved to the island I had no intention of obtaining my trainer’s license, but after a year on the day-to-day operations of a racing stable and seeing how dedication and hard work pays off, I think a deeper role in the industry would be very rewarding.”

When asked if she had any advice for the up-and-coming generation thinking about pursuing a role as a caretaker in the industry, Mary convincingly says, “Do it. The next generation is one that will keep the sport going, so we need to get them involved.”

Mary Hawkins and Can Art, pictured after a race in Charlottetown (Photo courtesy Kelsey McAssey)

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