By Michelle Miller The Cooperstown Crier
---- — There are really no words to describe getting on a race horse, getting behind the starting gate and taking off full speed at a trot. All I can say is it is a bumpy ride that gets the cheeks bouncing and your helmet pushing back on your forehead in the wind.
I have just two races under my belt, and even though I have not even come close to winning a race, I am doing something I have always wanted to do — race a horse on its back. As a kid I used to tell my parents I wanted to become a jockey. They told me I would be too big, as I was the size I am now at age 12. Also my family had the wrong kind of horses, Standardbreds instead of Thoroughbreds. A Standardbred is raced with race bike (sulky) behind them, not with a jockey on its back.
That never kept me off their backs however. I just never thought I would actually be on top of one racing it in front of hundreds of people.
OK, I am not Calvin Borel, Mike Smith or Julie Krone, but my dreams started becoming more realistic, somewhat, when I saw a new kind of racing at Vernon Downs called Racing Under Saddle or monte racing. RUS is a “hybrid” type of horse racing that combines elements of Standardbred and Thoroughbred racing — Riders and a saddle, not drivers and a sulky racing full speed at a trot instead of a gallop.
The United States Trotting Association has sanctioned “RUS” monte trotting and provides qualifying standards and qualifying races (through various tracks) for horses and jockeys choosing to participate. Riders must pass a written and practical exam to race.
My practical exam involved me starting my horse behind a moving gate (attached to a car) and getting around the track in a set time. That went very smoothly as my horse, 5-year-old Cartier Field, took off and never missed a beat. Everybody said that horse left off the gate at what seemed like 100 mph and never looked back.
Phew, obstacle No. 1 complete. We did well, and I got my license.
Cartier, with a lifetime mark of 1:57.1 with earnings of $38,094, made his first official start under saddle on Sunday, July 7, at Goshen Historic Track. Things did not go so smoothly this time around as we did not finish. The horse went off stride behind the gate and it was all over from there. When I realized his boots were falling off and he seemed sore I did not want to push him, so I pulled him up on the back stretch of the track.
Was I disappointed? Of course, but at least the horse and I were safe and I got to get some experience. It was time to think about race No. 2.
There were many things running through my mind. Would Cartier be able to do a half-mile track? He has been racing on a mile track and perhaps he won’t be able to stay trotting on the turns of a smaller track. Are there things I could be doing better? It’s such a new experience, how do you really know?
We tried our luck again at the Afton Fair. This time we finished, but did not place. The horse seemed sore in one of his front legs and he wanted to go into every gate (stride) but the one he was suppose to be in. Come to find out, Cartier had a pus pocket in his foot. The plan was to race at the Otsego County Fair in Morris, but it looks like I will need to give the horse some time off to heal.
I will still be mounting up, but will be trying a new horse that has never raced under saddle before. Wish me luck, or even better come out and watch. The race will be held on Tuesday, July 30, along with the harness races the fair hosts each year. Post time is at noon. Sponsorship is still needed. For more information, call 643-8047.
To learn more about RUS visit these websites: http://www.ustrotting.com/trackside/racing-under-saddle/ and http://www.monteamerica.com/.