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One Step At A Time

Trot Feature - Kyle Reibeling

A lifelong participant introduced to the sport by his dad, Kyle Reibeling loves harness racing.

After basically raising three children on his own, around the sport, in November of 2019 Kyle got a phone call that every parent dreads, and after finding out that his son Braiden was seriously injured in a car accident, the Reibelings found out just how much harness racing loves them too. By Rachel Oenema.

Kyle Reibeling is a family man.

Often in this industry we talk about family. We talk about how if it wasn’t for our family we probably wouldn’t even be involved in the business - I for one know that I wouldn’t know what harness racing was if it wasn’t for my Dad, and to be honest I couldn’t imagine my life without it. We also talk about how the people we meet throughout the business become such close friends, that they become just like family. We speak of how our ‘racing families’ bailed us out of a bad spot, supported us through a bad time, cheered us on, or were just there for us.

Kyle Reibeling is a man who can attest to all of the above. Reibeling, just like many others, inherited the racing gene through his father. “My Dad got into the business from helping out a few guys around Elmira Raceway, and then not long after that he bought a horse of his own and really caught the bug. We lived in Elmira and I went to high school across from the racetrack. My part time job was to feed everyone’s horses breakfast in the morning before I went to school. When Elmira had Saturday afternoon cards I worked in the paddock doing the equipment cards,” says Reibeling. “Through the years I worked for Mike Schaefer, who recently passed away, he was a lot of fun to work for. I also worked for Agri Lea Farms for a stint, but mostly it was always just my Dad and I trying to make a living racing some horses,” Kyle adds.

However, for Kyle Reibeling, ‘making a living’ didn’t come with a manual or a golden ticket, as the longtime horseman has navigated through the difficult business while raising three kids, Ashlynn (22), Braiden (20) and Caitlyn (14), on his own, and when asked how he managed to do so for the last 15 years or so he simply answers with a laugh, “I don’t know if I did manage. It’s just a matter of surviving,” he continues. “I’ve had plenty of side gigs just to make ends meet. I was the paddock blacksmith at Grand River for a while, I started the races at Hanover, I filled in for Brad Pittock as the starter at Sarnia and Woodstock Raceway - I’ve done some pretty shit jobs just to be able to make ends meet for my kids. I even hung chickens as a job at one time, it wasn’t pleasant but when you have kids to feed you have to do what you have to do.

“There’s been times where I’ve looked back and thought, ‘geez my kids went without a lot of things’, but those are material things. My kids never went a day where they would question that I loved them and that I was there for them, and to me, if there is ever an accomplishment a person can make - that would be it.”

Reibeling makes a good point, a point that in today’s society is probably mostly overlooked - that there’s more to life than material possessions. There’s more to life than expensive clothes, phones, and vehicles - maybe one of the biggest lessons a person can learn in life is to just give love and be loved back.

“Sometimes you just have to swallow your pride and do what needs to be done. You keep working and put one foot ahead of the other. I just hope I’ve done a good job raising good kids. I just want people to look at my kids and think that they are good people and are respected. As much as I want my kids to be successful, and I want my kids to be happy and enjoy their life, I want them to be good people,” says Reibeling.

Throughout the hardships of raising children and managing a stable of horses, perhaps one of the horses who helped Reibeling the most along the way was L H Stryker.

“L H Stryker was the best horse I ever trained, he was the most talented by far. He won in 1:48.4 for me one night at Woodbine and came back the very next week to win in 1:49.2. It [the second win] was the 12th race the night Rocknroll Hanover had won the North America Cup in 1:49.4... so that was pretty impressive, and a pretty cool feeling.”

“I got to stand him stud for a little while and then he moved on to stand in Quebec. He was always a poor man’s horse, we kept his stud fee low and he actually had a couple of decent little racehorses. I got to train a lot of his offspring and that was pretty special to me,” Reibeling says with pride.

But the pride in his voice changes to a somber tone when the subject changes and the date of November 22, 2019 is brought up - a day when Kyle’s world was completely turned upside down.

“It was a normal day, Braiden was going to Mohawk to warm up at night as a side job, I left the barn to go into town, and as I left Braiden said to me, ‘love you, drive safe’ - and I’ve never just totally understood the irony of that saying,” says Kyle.

“Around seven o’clock that night I got a phone call from the Hamilton General Hospital, and was told Braiden was in a motor vehicle accident… he was admitted to the hospital and had a team of doctors working on him. It was the longest but shortest trip to Hamilton from Campbellville ever,” Kyle says with a blank gaze across his face.

For Braiden, November 22nd started out as a basic day as well.

“It was a typical day for me. I went into town to get some food, and on my way back home to get ready to go to Mohawk to warm up I swerved to avoid a couple deer that jumped out of the ditch... the weather was a bit foggy and I hit a tree,” says Braiden.

Kyle recalls exactly where his mind went as soon as he got the news. “My initial thought was that I am not losing my son. That was all I could think about over and over again as I drove to the hospital. The entire time we were on our way to the hospital, we had no idea what to expect. When we did arrive the social worker that was helping us out prepared me for the worst, and explained everything she could to us. She had said that Braiden was coherent but that he may never walk again because he suffered a lot of damage to his lower extremities and lost a lot of blood… he was immediately prepped for surgery,” noted Kyle. “They even thought that they might not be able to save his left leg.”

In the reality of Braiden’s case, ‘damages to his lower extremities’ described his injuries lightly as he also suffered a broken jaw and a punctured lung. He had broken both of his legs and fractured his left knee.

In the end, they saved the leg. Braiden was in the hospital for about a month, which was followed by bed rest for another month.

“Even though we didn’t know exactly what was going on, I had to be strong for the rest of my family,” shares Kyle. “You take things in stride and that’s exactly what I did. My son was alive and that was the main thing. He appeared not to have any brain damage but it looked like he possibly may not walk again, and that was something we were prepared for and ready for. I really appreciate the team at Hamilton General for everything that they did for Braiden. We are so fortunate that he is alive,” says Kyle.

This is where the harness racing industry comes together, time-after-time, and proves to the world that we really are just one big family. We take care of each other and we have one another’s back - always.

“The night of his accident I had so many people check in on us to see how Braiden was. So many people were praying for us and that is something that I am still thankful for every day.

This business is very competitive, we are all out there to do the same thing and win races, but I don’t know if I have ever been around people who compete against each other and then come together in dire times and support each other like that.

“It’s hard to put it into words,” says Kyle, as he in fact does struggle with emotion to find the words to express his gratitude. “These people are more than friends, they’re family. There’s people who didn’t even know my son and really cared about his well being, and that was amazing. Todd and Jean Ratchford started a GoFundMe for Braiden that ended up raising just over $32,000 to help with Braiden’s therapy - and in all honesty if it wasn’t for the GoFundMe I would have had to probably claim bankruptcy, because there’s no way I would have been able to make it. Todd and Jean came to the hospital to see Braiden and so did Matt and Rachel Dupuis, so many good people came to visit him. Throughout a business where there is a lot of gossip, rumours and animosity, there are a lot of good people in this business still. Bethany and Gracie Mae Barr showed up at our house just before Christmas with a Christmas dinner and presents for us all - there was everything you could think of and more. The kindness of people is unexplainable.”

‘Unexplainable’ just might be the only world to completely summarize our industry, we’re a different breed of humans, us horse people. Though we have the most powerful and burning desire to win, we are also the most caring group of people you will ever meet - something I’m sure Kyle Reibeling would agree with as he looks back on the year that has passed since then.

“You appreciate your family and friends more, and try to enjoy life more. My girls were there for me the entire way, Ashlynn was my rock throughout the whole thing and Caitlyn, despite only being in Grade 8 at the time, did everything she could to help too.”

Kyle also helped Braiden notch his first-ever career training win despite being in the hospital.

“Before Braiden’s accident he had just gotten his trainer’s license, and he was training a horse we owned together named Dont Dilly Dally. He raced the night before the accident, and then a week later, on November 28, the horse won. Braiden had his first training win while watching from the hospital. It was an emotional win for sure, it boosted his spirit a lot I think,” says Kyle, smiling.

Braiden, who now trains a small stable of horses, is forever grateful for what the racing community stepped up to do for him.

“I can’t say it enough times how thankful I am for what everyone did for me. If it wasn’t for everyone’s help I wouldn’t have been able to go to physio and learn to walk again. I want to get my driver’s license in the spring, and had I not been able to ever walk again... this wouldn’t be possible, so I am forever grateful to each and every single person who helped me out. People were amazing to me. I honestly didn’t know that it was possible for that many people to care about one person,” he says fondly. “My Dad always told me to take it one step at a time and that’s what we did - literally.”

While father Kyle is still operating a small stable as well, alongside Braiden, he is looking forward to learning to start taking things a little easier one day too.

“My Dad and I spent a lot of years working together and I really miss him. We had an unbreakable bond,” Kyle says fondly. I got to work alongside someone every day that I looked up to and I am so thankful that Braiden and I get to share that bond now. We work together every day and I love it, but I’m 47-years old and I’ve never even been on an airplane. Maybe this sounds a little selfish but over the next few years I’d like to wind down a bit and take some time for me. I’ve done the best job that I can do raising my kids, they’re getting older now and are starting to build their own lives. I want to get my health back in shape and look after myself. Braiden wants to get his driver’s license in the spring, and I want to be healthy enough and in good enough shape to support him, and help him get as much of a start as I can. I want to keep being the best Dad I can be.”

This feature originally appeared in the January issue of TROT Magazine. Subscribe to TROT today by clicking the banner below.

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