In the Shadows

There is so much truth to trust when a driver is sitting in a bike, holding two leather reins guiding a horse around the track. When a driver is out on the track, it is him or her and the horse they are driving. The communication exchanged between them is a language you cannot learn in day or even a year. It’s a bond of trust that drivers, trainers, grooms and owners have learned through years of working with horses all ages and sizes.

Hoosier Park has hundreds of trainers and drivers that float up and down the isles of the barns. Thousands of horses pass through the paddock each year. Just like each trainer and driver, horses have their own personalities and many have their own racing style. Training horses isn’t a one way street. You don’t just sit on the bike and expect a young horse to understand how to pace around a turn without breaking stride. Sometimes, these athletes get lost in the mix of racing. They turn into machines rather than living creatures and though these creatures are quite powerful, they can also be very fragile. This fine line of training and driving is where the trust can get lost in the shadows.

So let’s look at harness racing from a horse’s perspective. Horses see shadows, lights and they hear very different sounds than we do. They feel the track against their hooves and they feel the wind whistle in their ears. They don’t care about the size of the crowd or if they are the longest shot on the board. Though we see the track and the lights just like horses so, we understand something isn’t going to jump out of the shadows and the light bouncing off a starting gate isn’t going to hurt us. However, horses do not know that. Again, they see and feel the world much differently than we do. Because they are creatures of flight, running away or jumping at the sight of something they perceive as scary is may very well be safe.

This is where the truth to trust comes in. Horses trust us, they believe in us when no one else does. As crazy as this sounds, they are willing to go the extra mile for us. For a driver and trainer, trust is a key part of training and it does not start the day they step foot on the track, it starts when a horse and their human meet eyes. Horses know what we are saying without us even speaking words, it’s a language communicated through gentle hands and soft steps. It’s the way you run your hands through their forelock and the way you pat them on a neck when they’ve done a good job.

Every time a driver steps foot on to this track or even the groom leading them off the trailer, they are trusting them to follow every step we take. I have seen these horses do some incredible things. They are amazing athletes and the ability of what these horses can do is jaw dropping at times. The way a pacer glides around a turn and a trotting leaning across the wire still gives me chills and I’ve watched thousands of races. Sometimes, I am stunned by how intelligent these animals are the trust they have in us to find out what they can truly do.

Trust is magic that cannot be learn, but can be built. It is earned and can be lost so quickly with one wrong step. We must not only to trust our horses to protect us, but we must also trust ourselves to apply all the things we have learned to create a champion. Horses have 20/30 vision and myths say you can’t sneak up on a horse, but good horses have been known to sneak up on you. But you can’t create a great horse without understanding their language and gaining their trust as not only as a driver or trainer, but a companion. And if you put in the time, be patient with yourself and your horse, you will gain their trust. So, so next time you’re watching a race keep your eyes open and don’t be afraid to look in the shadows. Things may be a little scary at first, but when you learn to trust you might find exactly what you’ve been searching for.

Story and photos by Race Marketing Intern Grace Hollars