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USTA Driving School is part of 'bucket list' for some participants
Thursday, June 12, 2014 - by Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications

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Goshen, NY --- Larry Compton has a lengthy bucket list, but after this week it will be reduced by one item.

Larry Compton is fulfilling the top item on his eight-page bucket list by attending the USTA Driving School.

Compton, who recently retired after 35 years with Boeing, is fulfilling the top item on his eight-page bucket list by attending the United States Trotting Association Driving School.

“I’ve been a fan of harness racing since my early 20s,” Compton said. “I don’t have a lot of horse experience, but they’re awesome animals.”

Compton, who lives in southern California, is among 48 participants from 14 states attending this year’s Driving School, which is being held at the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Goshen, Historic Track, and the Mark Ford Training Center in Middletown.

Students receive hands-on experiences at local stables as well as classroom sessions with trainers, drivers and veterinarians. Trainers opening their stables to the group include Ray Schnittker at Historic Track plus Mark Ford, Scott Blackler, Tyler and Amber Buter, Jean Drolet, Rob and Patty Harmon, and Brandon Simpson at the Mark Ford Training Center.

Thursday’s classes included a session on driving strategy with Tyler Buter and Jeff Gregory and a care-and-conditioning session with Ford and Schnittker.

Driving School will continue through Sunday, when participants can take the written portions of the trainer and driver exams. There also will be an exhibition race at Historic Track featuring several selected students.

The 57-year-old Compton sat behind a racehorse for the first time Thursday and, despite a persistent misty rain and cool temperature, thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

“It was fun,” Compton said, adding with a laugh, “I can see why you need goggles. They’re nice and dirty.”

Compton’s previous experience with horses involved attending a rodeo school 30 years ago.

“I’ve been bucked off more horses than I’ve ever ridden in my life,” he said.

Compton will be busy in the coming months working to check off other items on his bucket list, but would consider owning a racehorse sometime in the future.

“It’s something I’d like to pursue later,” Compton said. “That would be neat. Of course, the deal would be that I’d get to work the horse in the mornings.

“This is an awesome class; hands on and the people are great,” he added. “I don’t see myself being a trainer because there’s so much to learn, but I would recommend this to anyone. It’s a fun experience and one I’ll never forget. I’d come here and work for free.”

* * *

Compton isn’t the only Driving School participant working on a bucket list. Dennis Hancock, who lives in Maryland, attended the program for the same reason. In Hancock’s case, his wife Theresa set up the trip.

Dennis Hancock with a new friend at the Mark Ford Training Center.

“She said we’re going to go to Goshen and I asked what we were going to do,” Hancock said. “She told me I was going to school.

“It’s an opportunity you don’t get every day. It’s probably once in my life, that’s why I’m doing it.”

Hancock, a retired mail-carrier, has followed harness racing for a number of years. His trip around the track at the Mark Ford Training Center on Thursday also was his first behind a horse.

“You don’t realize the strength they have until you get behind them, and then you feel it with your hands,” Hancock said. “I loved it. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my time.”

* * *

Douglas Coursey, a paramedic from New Hampshire, on the other hand is no stranger to sitting behind a horse. For 26 years, he has participated in the carriage division at Morgan horse shows and also done combined driving.

USTA/Ken Weingartner photos
Douglas Coursey might like to try amateur driving in the future.

But he wanted to feel a little more speed.

“I love going fast,” Coursey said, smiling. “When we do the combined driving, when you’re off on the marathon, you have to do 14 kilometers per hour, and that’s pretty quick for a Morgan horse. But you get behind these guys and 14 kph is nothing. I thought this would be fun.”

Coursey, who might like to try amateur driving sometime in the future, hoped to gain knowledge at Driving School that he could use with his horses back home.

“Maybe I can pick up something I can use on my carriage horse and get him to relax a little more,” Coursey said. “These horses are super relaxed.”

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