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Faces Of Racing: Kelley McNiven

Published: September 29, 2019 9:50 am ET

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Leading up to the fall National Caretaker Appreciation Day events taking place on Oct. 4 at The Raceway at Western Fair, Oct. 6 at Flamboro Downs, Leamington Raceway and Rideau Carleton Raceway and Oct. 11 at Fraser Downs, Standardbred Canada will profile caretakers from across the country in our Faces of Racing Series.

For 19-year-old Kelley McNiven of Dorchester, Ont., there was never any question in her mind that she would be involved in harness racing in some way, shape or form.

“I’ve been around horses my whole life,” explained the daughter of trainer Scott McNiven, “and I’ve been working with horses since I was 10.”

Kelley is an active caretaker for the family stable and has found inspiration from both of her parents. Last summer she also worked for trainers Patrick Shepherd and Richard 'Nifty' Norman.

“My mom (Kim) has been the most influential to me being a caretaker. She has taught me most of what I know and has showed me how to be a good caretaker. Her dedication to the sport is inspiring. My dad has also helped advise me on caretaking. When I started working in my parent’s barn, Natasha Rivest worked for my parents and she also helped teach me what I know today.”

Turning horses out, cleaning stalls, washing buckets, getting horses ready to jog or train, bathing horses, grooming horses, making sure they have water and hay, getting their feeds made, packing equipment, and making sure the barn is organized and tidy are some of her duties in the stable.

Yearling sale season and what follows is something that Kelley eagerly looks forward to each year. “I love breaking babies. It is always exciting to see how each horse will react and behave, and then watching them grow into racehorses is rewarding.”

Alphabet Queen & Kelley McNiven

One horse she was able to do that with was pacing mare Alphabet Queen, who she admits was her favourite horse. “Purchased as a yearling, my dad wanted a colt that year, but I had her picked out and convinced him to buy her. I have looked after her since she came into the barn, and I still look after her now as a six-year-old. I just love her personality. I remember during her two-year-old year at the races if I left her, she would whinny for me until I came back.” Alphabet Queen was a $6,500 yearling purchase at the 2014 Forest City Yearling Sale and has 109 starts, 16 wins and over $106,000 in career earnings.

Seethelightsngo was another pacing mare Kelley cared for this past summer while working for Patrick Shepherd. “She was the sweetest mare to look after and did nothing wrong, so she made even bad days good. She always tried on the track, so I loved that about her as well. Even now while she’s racing in the East Coast, I still continue to watch her race.”

We all have favourite racing memories and Kelley’s was on her 16th birthday when two of her favourite horses won. “My mom was looking after Kendal Fresco at Western Fair, while I was with my dad at Woodbine looking after Ride Away Shark. Fresco raced first and I watched him from my phone, and he unexpectedly won. 'Shark' was the favourite so her win was not as surprising, but it was unexpected to have them both win on my birthday.”

Learning more about training is a future goal she has and she’s getting a solid foundation from working alongside her father. In addition to working evenings and weekends in the family stable, she is enrolled in the Family Studies and Psychology program at Brescia University College, an affiliate school of Western University in London.

McHappy & Kelley McNiven

Like many who work so closely with these amazing equine athletes in the Standardbred industry, Kelley finds that the biggest challenge for her is not to get attached to the horses she works with. That can be a very tall order at times. “Each one has something unique about them that makes them special. I love seeing the horses happy. As a caretaker, it’s important to keep the horses happy and healthy so they can thrive on the track. It is important each horse has their needs met and they are being looked after to the best of your abilities as a caretaker.”

(Faces of Racing Winner’s Circle Shot – Kelley holding Seethelightsngo following her victory at Hanover Raceway on July 13, 2019 -Tiffany Chantel Photography)

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