New Brunswick, NJ --- When Linda Toscano was a kid, she fell in love with horses. Her mother, she jokes, might have been hoping for a different outcome.
“Mom suggested horseback riding lessons,” Toscano said Tuesday night as she received the Rutgers Equine Science Center’s Spirit of the Horse Award, adding with a laugh, “I really think her ulterior motive was to find me a rich boyfriend, but I fell in love with the horse.
“I breathed and slept horses. That’s the only thing I wanted to think about, that’s the only thing I wanted to do. A friend of mine suggested that I get a summer job working at the stables at Roosevelt Raceway. As soon as I did, I was home.”
|Linda Toscano (right) receives the Spirit of the Horse Award from Rutgers Equine Science Center Director Karyn Malinowski and Mark Mullen, manager of Fair Winds Farm and member of the Rutgers University Board for Equine Advancement.|
The 57-year-old Toscano has become one of harness racing’s most successful trainers, accumulating 1,439 wins and $34 million in purses. This year, she won a career-best $6.71 million while guiding a stable that was home to many of the sport’s top stars.
Chapter Seven, a 4-year-old male trotter, won eight of 10 starts, equaled the world record of 1:50.1 on a mile racetrack, and finished the year as the No. 1-ranked horse in harness racing’s Top 10 poll.
Toscano became the first female trainer to win the prestigious Hambletonian thanks to 3-year-old male trotter Market Share, who ended the season as the sport’s No. 3-ranked horse. Heston Blue Chip, a 3-year-old male pacer, won his final three stakes starts and was ranked seventh in the Top 10.
“This award recognizes not only accomplishments in the equine industry or the world of horses, it recognizes people whose lives have been changed forever and impacted by this wonderful animal that we all love so much,” said Karyn Malinowski, director of the Equine Science Center. “It’s also to recognize people who give back to the industry.
“Linda Toscano is one of the most delightful Standardbred trainers that I have ever met.”
Toscano received the award during the Equine Science Update at the Cook Campus Center on the G.H. Cook Campus in New Brunswick.
A Brooklyn native, Toscano briefly attended SUNY at Stony Brook before finding her calling and beginning her career on the track. She worked side by side with veteran trainer Buddy Regan and Hall of Famers Buddy Gilmour and John Campbell prior to stepping out on her own in 1985.
“This award means a lot to me, particularly because this isn’t necessarily about my achievements, but it’s really about the horse,” Toscano said. “To say that horses had an impact on my life is the greatest understatement that you could say.
“I pinch myself every single day that I get to earn a living playing with horses. I don’t feel like it’s a job, I feel like I get to go to work having fun every single day. I am who I am because of the animal. I hope I can continue to give back and give this feeling to somebody else and let them know just how special a creature they are.”
|USTA/Ken Weingartner photos|
|Bix DiMeo (left) receives the Gold Medal Horse Farm Award from Rutgers professor Mike Westendorf and Karyn Malinowski.|
In addition to Toscano’s award presentation, Showplace Farms received the inaugural Gold Medal Horse Farm Award given by the Rutgers Equine Science Center and the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. The award recognizes the most outstanding equine farms and their environmental sustainability and management.
Judging was based on pre-determined standards; the minimum standards were to have an Animal Waste Management Plan or a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan and adhere to the general principles required by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture in the Animal Waste Management Rule.
Water quality, soil erosion, stream and water management, pasture management, feed management, manure storage management, and sanitation were also evaluated. Furthermore, general farm management and visual appearance of the farm were considered.
Showplace Farms, located in Millstone Township, is under the management of Bix DiMeo and home to nearly 300 horses. So many horses on limited acreage present numerous environmental challenges. Showplace previously stored manure in an area of the farm unsuited for long-term storage. Seeing the need to change, the storage site was moved to a location that makes management and removal much easier. All manure is removed from the site; every load that leaves the site is recorded and a permanent record is maintained.
When New Jersey passed the regulation that required all farms greater than eight animal units to have an Animal Waste Management Plan, DiMeo and Showplace took the initiative and contacted a professional for help in writing their plan. Showplace has developed manure removal equipment specifically designed to meet its needs, has redesigned its old storage site to eliminate any risks to environmental pollution, has thorough farm management, and always maintains the farm in presentable condition.
DiMeo is a gracious host and makes Showplace available to groups of people, including Rutgers University students, noted Rutgers professor Mike Westendorf, who presented the award. DiMeo has currently made his farm available for a USDA-NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant demonstrating a small working anaerobic digester for turning horse manure into biogas energy.
“For all of you in the room who know me, it is so fitting that I should get an award for shoveling manure,” DiMeo quipped.