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Hays and Shoults prepare for horse ownership at Driving School
Saturday, June 04, 2016 - by Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications

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Delaware, OH --- When Jim Hays was growing up in Corydon, Ind., his family seemed to be the only one in town without a racehorse. Hays, who celebrates his 67th birthday Saturday, hopes to finally change that in the near future.

USTA/Mark Hall photos
Linda Shoults and Jim Hays are among the 33 participants in the 17th annual U.S. Trotting Association Driving School.

Hays and his partner Linda Shoults are among the 33 participants in the 17th annual U.S. Trotting Association Driving School, being held this year at the Delaware County Fairgrounds in central Ohio. The couple is looking forward to getting their own horses and competing on the fair circuit in Indiana.

“This harness racing thing was a childhood itch that needed to be scratched for some time,” said Hays, who lived and worked in Kansas before returning recently to Corydon. “This is going to be the retirement hobby. We’ll see how it goes. I’ve got a lot to learn, but I enjoy the learning part. This is fun. Listening to some of these guys talk has been terribly interesting.

“I have two goals. I want to learn how to jog and train my own horse on the county fair track down there at Corydon. And someday maybe win one race at an Indiana county fair someplace. After that it would be all gravy.”

The USTA Driving School, which runs through Saturday, offers participants a mix of hands-on learning and classroom sessions culminating with the administration of the USTA trainer and/or driver exam. Trainers opening their stables to the school’s attendees are Brian Brown, Mike Conklin, Tim Lane, Ron Potter, and Ron Steck.

Friday’s schedule featured morning barn work and jogging horses followed by classroom sessions on amateur driving with Joe Faraldo, horse ownership with Milt Leeman and Steve Oldford, and horse nutrition with Scott Shipman.

A retired research specialist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, Hays was around American Saddlebred horses as a child and in his 30s began raising and showing Limousin cattle.

“I had a lot of fun and it took us all over the country,” Hays said. “It was a great activity. But my beef cattle hobby went berserk. I woke up one day and there were 50 cows and 400 acres. I thought, ‘This is a hobby?’ The physical demands of that were getting to me as I got older. We’re counting on something slower in retirement.”

Shoults, also an Indiana native who later lived and worked in Kansas, worked part time with trotters and pacers in the early 1970s while going to college at Ball State University. She also raised Appaloosa horses for 36 years and did dressage and endurance riding.

Hays and Shoults have a 30-acre farm set up for horses. In addition to their racehorses, the farm might be a future home for retired Standardbreds and turnouts.

“When Jim brought up coming to Driving School, I was all for it,” said Shoults, a retired hospital administrator who is an accomplished wildlife and landscape artist. “It’s been wonderful here. I got to drive twice (Thursday) and I got to go on a training mile (Friday). Nothing beats that training mile, it was so much fun. I forgot to ask how fast we were going; I was too excited.”

Shoults was excited to be at the Driving School at all. She was attending the program just three weeks after completing chemotherapy for multiple myeloma, a cancer formed by malignant plasma cells.

“I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do it, but I’m here and it’s great,” said Shoults, who is in remission. “It’s very special.”

* * * * *

Ellie Megerle and Roxanne Hummel met several years ago because their husbands have harness racing horses together. When Megerle decided to attend this year’s Driving School to learn more about what it takes to develop racehorses, she invited Hummel to join her.

Ellie Megerle

“It’s been great,” said Megerle, a Kentucky resident who is a sociology and criminal justice professor at Thomas More College. “This is a whole different world that I get to explore. I’ve never been around horses -- ever.

“Jogging is a perspective that you never get. That was pretty exciting. I wasn’t scared to do it, but you realize these are some powerful horses. It gives you a lot more respect for the drivers because you realize what they’re doing out there. Even working here in the barn gives you more respect and perspective about what goes into providing all the fun you’re having at the track. It shows everything that happens for you to have that fun, and I think that’s a really neat thing.”

Hummel, an attorney from Cincinnati, took riding lessons as a child and was happy to “tag along” with Megerle at the Driving School.

Roxanne Hummel is all smiles out on the track at the Driving School.

“I always liked being around horses, so I knew I’d have a good time,” Hummel said. “My husband loves horseracing and he was thrilled when he heard that I wanted to come. He’s an attorney too and he had court. He couldn’t get away like I could.

“This was my first time in the cart. It was a lot of fun. I loved it. I could see how people really like it. I’ll probably head back to the courtroom, but it would be a lot of fun to drive. I would like to do it again.”

Megerle and Hummel worked together at the Driving School at the Brown Stable.

“The Browns are really nice,” Megerle said. “I think it’s really great the Browns are willing to open up their stable to do this. I’m sure it’s more time consuming when you’re helping other people learn.

“I wanted to understand more about the industry as a whole, not just the owner side of it. I wanted to see what happens before the horses get out there. I jumped on this chance. Just being able to come and do the hands-on is amazing. It’s something you’re not normally going to get to do. The sitting behind a horse, that sells it.”

* * * * *

Chris Tutsch grew up near the Meadowlands Racetrack and became a fan of harness racing by making trips to the north Jersey oval with his grandfather. Tutsch moved 10 years ago to North Port, Fla., but still watches racing from the Meadowlands every weekend and is a successful handicapper.

Chris Tutsch

Next, he would like to become a successful amateur driver.

“I’d like to own my own horse eventually and hopefully drive him,” said Tutsch, who owns a company that manufactures water treatment equipment. “I don’t know about training, I would probably leave that to someone else.”

In addition to the Driving School, Tutsch attended the USTA’s three-day Owners School in February in Florida. Both events got high marks from Tutsch.

“It’s excellent,” Tutsch said. “Everybody is so helpful, answer all your questions. It’s so worth your time.”

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