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USTA Driving School opens with welcome dinner
Thursday, June 12, 2014 - by Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications

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Goshen, NY --- Soon after Michele Warner found her way to the United States Trotting Association’s website, she decided to find her way to upstate New York.

USTA/Ken Weingartner photo
The USTA's Chip Hastings welcomes Michele Warner to the Driving School.

Warner, who lives in the Los Angeles suburb of Diamond Bar, Calif., is among the participants in the 16th annual USTA Driving School. During Wednesday’s (June 11) welcome dinner for the program’s 48 “students,” Warner was recognized for traveling the farthest -- nearly 2,800 miles -- to attend the school.

The four-day Driving School -- conducted at the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame, Goshen Historic Track and the Mark Ford Training Center -- attracted participants from 14 states. They will receive hands-on experience at local stables from trainers such as USTA directors Mark Ford and Ray Schnittker, as well as classroom sessions with trainers, drivers and veterinarians.

At the completion of the school, participants can take the written portion of the driver’s and/or trainer’s exam. There also will be an exhibition race for selected students at Historic Track on Sunday.

Ron Burke, the 2013 Trainer of the Year, was the Driving School dinner’s keynote speaker. Burke, who last year became the first trainer to win 1,000 races in a single season as well as the first to top $20 million in purses in a year, talked about his journey from being a 12-year-old who was afraid of horses to becoming the man in charge of a stable with more than 200 horses. He also answered numerous questions from the school’s participants.

The dinner was held at the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame.

Warner knew nothing about harness racing when she stumbled upon the USTA’s website.

“I go online all the time to look at things about horses because I love horses,” Warner said. “I came across the USTA website and I started clicking links and I found the Driving School. It sounded like so much fun.

“What an adventure, to go to New York and do something I’ve never done before.”

Warner is not completely unfamiliar with horses, having taken riding lessons and courses in horsemanship.

“I have three brothers and I was always the horse-crazy girl in the family,” Warner said. “I’ve done simple things like trail rides, but I don’t have my own horses so I have very little experience. I hope to just continue to learn horse-handling skills, grooming, all the basics, and come away with a really fun experience.

“We don’t have harness racing around me, so I haven’t seen it in person, but I’m reading blogs and articles and I’ve seen some videos. I also watch racing online. I wish I could see it more (in person).”

Warner, who is the manager of a PetSmart PetsHotel, which provides day services and overnight boarding for dogs and cats, will spend the next several mornings learning about harness racing at the stable of trainer Mark Ford.

When she returns home to California next week, Warner will be able to tell her family and friends about her adventure. When asked if she sees herself ever becoming a racehorse owner, she laughed.

“Maybe I’d have beginner’s luck,” Warner said with a smile. “You never know.”

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