HHYF Harness Racing Camp: An Intern’s Perspective


Harrington Raceway played host to an overnight youth harness racing camp at the end of June for youth ages 11-14.  This camp represents a partnership between the Harness Horse Youth Foundation (HHYF), Harrington Raceway and the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension. The campers resided at Harrington Raceway for the duration of the camp and spent the majority of their time in the barn working directly with the Trottingbred racing ponies with the guidance of HHYF’s Executive Director, Ellen Taylor and extension staff. In addition, local, professional drivers were present on a daily basis to help guide and instruct campers on the racetrack.

This camp wasn’t just for kids with prior horse experience; it was open to anyone interested in harness racing or horses in general. Although some campers came with a family background in driving horses, others had little to no experience at all. Regardless of experience, every camper participated in and learned about the daily care of racehorses, equipment, harnessing, safety, careers, and even driving the horses on the front track at Harrington Raceway.

As a volunteer with no prior knowledge of harness racing, I came into this camp knowing less than some of these kids. Halfway through day one, I was in the stalls with the camDSC_0156pers showing them proper grooming techniques, how to harness their ponies and even how to braid, which seemed to be a new skill amongst the group. The campers formed groups on day one and rotated between the 7 ponies in the stable throughout the camp. Each day, the groups worked together to complete their daily routine of mucking stalls, grooming ponies, packing feet, harnessing and jogging.  The camp staff and volunteers allowed campers to learn from each other and to teach one another.

After barn activities concluded each day, campers and I took daily quizzes on what we had learned. Some evenings were spent going to dinner, or at a campfire, while others were spent at the racetrack. While at the track, campers had the opportunity to meet some behind the scenes people. Youth were able to go to the announcer’s booth where they listened to the announcer call a race and went next door to view and use the big camera used to broadcast the races. In addition, campers were permitted to go high above the track for a unique view from judge’s booth where they watched a live race and the replay. All campers received temporary Delaware Harness Racing Commission licenses, which allowed them access to the Thurman Adams paddock. An evening in the paddock spent riding in the starting car, water truck and track conditioner was a highlight for many campers.

Another great part of the camp was a trip to Winbak Farm in Chesapeake City, Maryland. Winbak is the industry’s largest single family owned and operated breeding farm. The staff, including head trainer Jeff Fout, took our group around the barns and taught us about training, breeding and the industry itself. Four lucky campers had the opportunity to jog a stallion with Fout at this facility as well.

The camp wouldn’t be complete without the guest speakers that came to speak with the group. Cory Callahan, a professional driver interacted with the campers, discussed driving, his career path and education, and answered any questions the kids had. Dr. Anne Renzetti, V.M.D. also spoke with the campers about health problems and injuries they might see on and off he track. Sandra Polk, a USTA idntifier, explained the freeze branding process and how she kees track of all the horses that participate in USTA events. Lastly, Wayne Truitt took the group through the paddock and explained his job as well as the job of other officials in the paddock, however, the campers seemed to be more interested in learning about all the different fines horses and drivers can receive!

This 5-day hand-on camp ended with campers partnering with professional drivers to race their ponies on the track at Harrington Raceway in between the betting races. The winners of each race had their picture taken in front of the winner’s circle in order to capture the full racing experience.







The Harness Horse Youth Foundation has been providing youth and their families educational opportunities with harness horses for almost 40 years.  They offer a variety of programs for youth and student groups of any size or interest level. If interested in learning more about the foundation or camps available, visit www.hhyf.org.

Avoiding Heat Stress

As summer temperatures continue to rise, make sure you are carefully monitoring your horse’s health. Horses can produce a significant amount of heat through digestion of feed and exercise. Heat production can increase up to 50 percent during exercise compared to a horse at rest. If the outside temperature is warmer than the horse’s body temperature, sweating becomes the main means for a horse to cool itself because blood shunting is not enough. A horse’s body reacts to high temperatures by shunting blood towards the skin surfaces to dissipate heat. However, when there is hot and humid weather, sweat produced cannot evaporate and the horse’s body cannot properly cool itself. As the amount of sweat increases, so does the imbalance of body fluids and electrolytes. This can lead to heat stress.

Heat stress can lead to increased sweating, muscle weakness, rapid breathing, and unusually high temperatures. Preventative measures should be in place any time the temperatures begin to rise. If exercise is necessary, make sure it occurs at a time when it is cooler such as early morning or late evening. After working your horse, cool it down slowly. Make sure to offer sips of cool water to the horse to prevent dehydration and walk the horse. If horses are permitted to stand for a prolonged period of time immediately following strenuous exercise, their muscles can stiffen and will not dissipate heat efficiently. Try to feed your horse 3-4 hours before exercise whenever possible because chewing and digesting feedstuffs can generate a large amount of body heat. If you suspect water loss in your horse, you can use the pinch test. When you pinch the skin on the neck or shoulder, the skin should quickly recoil, if not, your horse is most likely dehydrated.

Left untreated, heat exhaustion can rapidly proceed to heat stroke. Horses with heat stroke exhibit hyperthermia and nervous system dysfunction. Signs of heat stroke include weaving when moving, rearing, falling, unable to rise quickly, seizures, coma, and worst case, death. These horses become unaware of their surroundings and their skin becomes dry and warm. Complications such as laminitis, kidney or liver failure, colic, or respiratory issues are known to be in response to heat stroke.

Knowing these warning signs and prevention methods can help them avoid heat stress. And remember, you can always contact your veterinarian for advice or help if you need it.

State 4-H Horse Show Recap

The 49th Annual Delaware State 4-H Horse Show was held in the Quillen Arena on Friday, July 25 during the Delaware State Fair.  The show is put on by the State 4-H Horse Advisory committee, a group of horse oriented 4-H volunteers with members coming from each county. This year, the highest number of exhibitors in at least the last decade turned out for the event which included 57 horses and ponies. Kennis “Buttons” Fairfax of Livingston, New Jersey judged the show along with the trail judge, Jennifer Dill of Wyoming, Delaware.

Horse show collage


Here are the Champions in each of their respective divisions:

Champion Western HorseJacob Blacksten riding Orkies Feature

Reserve Champion Western HorseAlivia Scuse riding Hands Off My Hot Rod

Champion Western PonyHaylee Wells riding Colors in the Mail

Reserve Champion Western PonySamantha Greim riding Arrow’s First April

Champion English HorseMorgan Civita riding Moment by Moment

Reserve Champion English HorseLaura Board riding Jester

Champion English PonyHannah Ziccarelli riding Once in A Blue Moon

Reserve Champion English PonySara Deason riding Churchill’s Supreme Eclipse

Champion Walk TrotPaige Taylor riding Skipster Van Star

Reserve Champion Walk TrotLauren Russell riding Flying Cambatto

Each division champion was awarded an embroidered hay bale bag sponsored by the Delaware Equine Council.  The reserve division champion awards were embroidered duffel bags sponsored by the Delaware Quarter Horse Association

The Betty Niblett Perpetual Trophy was awarded to the exhibitor with the most points acquired in showmanship and equitation/horsemanship.  This year it was awarded to Jacob Blacksten riding Orkies Feature

Individual class sponsors included:

  • All Creatures Veterinary Clinic
  • Anytime Fitness in Smyrna and Camden
  • A Little Veterinary Clinic
  • Bayside Electric
  • Casual Carpet
  • Country Roads Veterinary Service
  • CSJ Equine Dental/Steve Purse
  • Danielle Hill Training Center
  • Equi Health Products
  • Doris and Bob Froelich
  • Gray Fox Farm
  • Holler-N-Hooves 4-H Club
  • Magna Wave Equine Medic- Garry Collins
  • Memory of Robert L. Moore Sr. and Robert L. Moore Jr.
  • William H. Moore
  • A Natural Paw
  • O’Donnell Equine Services
  • Reece Family Miniatures
  • Rowan Farm
  • Jimmy and Sandra Ryan
  • Schlotzhauer Farrier Service
  • Shady Acres Farm
  • Sean and Sandy Tate
  • Gary Simpson Contracting
  • Soap Fairy Inc.
  • Walnut Shade Lawn Care

The Delaware 4-H Horse Advisory Committee is really looking forward to celebrating a half a century of the State 4-H Horse show next year with the 50th annual show!

Protecting Your Animals This Summer

A horse showing signs of sunburn

As it gets further into the summer months, livestock begin to express a common discomfort as humans do: sunburn. Exposure to UV radiation can cause skin damage to dairy cows, light-colored beef cattle, sheep, pigs, and horses. Affected skin becomes red, painful and raised, which can lead to the skin becoming extremely dry and will eventually slough off leaving those areas exposed to secondary infections.

Sunburn not only makes the animal uncomfortable, it affects their overall productivity and performance. The body takes the nutrients that is needed for growth and uses them to repair the skin that is damaged. In dairy cows, this can lead to a decrease in milk production and in sheep, a decrease in wool quality. Sheep can be burned sheared or unsheared since the radiation is strong enough to penetrate through the wool. Pigs are one of the lucky animals that can protect itself form the suns rays. By wallowing in mud, the pig is forming a protective coating that shields the skin from the sun. Light coated animals are not as lucky. Cows and horses with predominantly white coats suffer more sunburn than those with dark coats. However, dark coats absorb more sun, which leads to more symptoms of heat stress.

UV radiation isn’t the only determinant of sunburn in animals. Animals that feed in wheat pastures with certain weeds are likely to develop photosensitivity. This is caused by a reaction within an animal’s body when the chlorophyll in some wheat plants release a toxin that increases sensitivity to the sun. Weeds such as barley, alsike clover, St. John’s Wort, nettles and others are some of the culprits in photosensitivity and can also be the causes of liver damage and neurological disorders that develop in the animal.

Preventing sunburn doesn’t just mean keeping them out of the sun, although providing a shady place for the animals can definitely help. If the sun is a concern, baby formula sunscreen can protect the areas that are more vulnerable to sunburn. Another way of decreasing sunburn is restricting the access of wheat pasture the animal is consuming to prevent photosensitivity. Adding grass hay in the morning when grazing intake is high, helps in restraining the animal from consuming too much wheat during those times.