Ohio Harness Racing

Ohio harness racing. Photo by S.F. Johnson Photos

Each morning when Scott Hagemeyer leads his mares and their foals from the barn to the pasture, he feels a deep sense of gratitude for his work.

“When we turn out our broodmares and foals, we get to watch the babies take off running as fast as they can,” Hagemeyer says. “No matter how busy I am, I stand there and watch. It’s my favorite part of the day.”

Hagemeyer runs a fourth-generation Standardbred breeding farm nestled on 173 acres in Clarksville. It’s no small operation. Hagemeyer Farms is home to upward of 100 horses, including an impressive lineup of stallions, broodmares and long-legged babies with bright futures ahead of them.

Standardbred Horses Lead the Harness Racing Pack

As the heartland of harness racing, Ohio is home to a number of these beautiful Standardbred horses. In fact, the Buckeye State has developed quite the nationwide reputation.

Ohio is ranked No. 1 in the country for total number of Standardbred mares bred, Standardbred foals born and number of registered Standardbred owners.

SEE ALSO: Ohio Races to the Top in Breeding Stallions

Renee Mancino, executive director at the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association, says the state is also No. 1 for county fair harness racing. An impressive 67 of the state’s 88 counties offer county fair visitors the opportunity to watch these horses thunder down the track at speeds of up to 30 mph.

“These animals are professional athletes,” Hagemeyer says. “They train six days a week and potentially race once a week. They’re extremely hardy.”

A Standardbred horse races to the finish. Photo by S.F. Johnson Photos

Ohio Horse Industry’s Economic Impact

While attending a harness race provides ample entertainment for onlookers, the booming racing industry is good news for more than horse breeders and purse winners.

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As more horses and owners come to Ohio to race or put down roots, the need for quality care and upkeep rises. That means the state is seeing an increased need for veterinarians, farriers, farmers, transportation workers and more.

“With Standardbreds being shipped up and down the highway to race, the cost of food, lodging, gasoline, tolls and maintenance add the ancillary spending of horsemen throughout the state,” Mancino says.

In fact, a 2005 study by Deloitte Consulting LLP for the American Horse Council reported that the Ohio horse industry produces goods and services valued at $1.3 billion. The same study also found that the state is home to more than 300,000 horses – with 70 percent in the racing and recreation sector.

Needless to say, these horses are providing Ohio residents with much more than entertainment.

Ohio harness racing

Harness racing is fast becoming a mainstay sport in Ohio. Photo by Conrad Photo

Why Ohio for Harness Racing?

But what is it about Ohio that makes it such a popular destination for Standardbred breeders and trainers?

SEE ALSO: Illinois Harness Racing

“We have a lot of racing opportunities in Ohio that other states simply don’t have,” Hagemeyer says. He makes a strong point, given there were a combined 472 live days of harness racing across Ohio’s four Standardbred pari-mutuel racetracks in 2017.

Industry enthusiasts put their money where their mouths are, too. Over the course of that single year, horsemen competed for more than $53 million in purse money.

For breeders like Hagemeyer, the rising interest in the industry means business is picking up speed.

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“As the purses became more attractive to racehorse owners, the breeding industry began climbing substantially,” Hagemeyer says. “To use our farmas a reference, in 2011 we had two stallions and bred a total of 11 mares. In 2012, we ended up with five stallions and bred 132 mares.”

While the numbers are remarkable, horsemen and women in the industry stay because of their passion for the sport and love of the animals.

“We truly enjoy what we do,” Hagemeyer says. “We feel fortunate and blessed.”