Tag Archives: Standardbreds

Hanover Horses

Waco Hanover and Donnie MacAdams photo Barbara LivingstonA Facebook share – Waco Hanover celebrates his 40th birthday in 2017. He’s a Standardbred pacer, living in Vermont.

From his name, I knew he was of Hanover Shoe Farms. I’ve read Donald P. Evans’ Hanover: The greatest name in harness racing. It tells the story of a Pennsylvania racing and breeding stable that the Hanover Shoe Company owners started at the turn of the 20th century.

About ten years ago, after reading the book, I read online about Ralph Hanover who won the US pacing Triple Crown in 1983. He was the only Canadian-owned horse to do so. I learned that Ralph Ralph Hanover racing photo Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Famehad lived at Grand Royal Farms near Calton, Ontario. It is a magnificent property, one you know has seen days of glory. It was past those days when I knew it, but it was still a working horse farm.

So Ralph Hanover and Grand Royal, what were their stories?

The story of Grand Royal was easy to find. It had been a large Standardbred stable in southwestern Ontario. Then it went to Thoroughbred racing. Then it changed hands several times and its racing days were over.

mare and foal Grand Royal 1980s photo Elgin County Archives
Standardbred mare and foal, Grand Royal Farms, Calton ON, late 1980s

Finding out about Ralph Hanover proved more difficult. I googled and asked anyone I knew in the horse business. He went to Kentucky to stand at stud. Then he’d gone to Prince Edward Island, maybe. Alive? Nobody knew.

Reading about Waco Hanover now, I wonder how closely related he was to Ralph. My go-to horse pedigree site tells me Waco Hanover, born 1977, is the son of Tar Heel and Wanda Hanover. Tar Heel was son of Billy Direct and Leta Long. Wow! Billy Direct was the horse who matched Dan Patch’s record 1:55 mile in 1938.

Tar Heel was Ralph Hanover’s maternal grandsire. Ralph was born in 1980, sired by Meadow Skipper out of Ravina Hanover. So Ralph’s mother and Waco are half-siblings, making Waco Ralph’s uncle.

Ralph Hanover Waco Hanover pedigree by Dorothy Stewart
Ralph and Waco Hanover pedigree chart (click for larger view)

Then I google Ralph. Right at the top are articles about his death in October 2008 at the age of 28. He lived in Dutton, West Elgin, Ontario. In 2008 I lived in St. Thomas, a half hour drive from Dutton.

West Elgin Horse Farms

In July 2008, we went on a tour of West Elgin horse farms. One was a harness racing stable. I talked to the owner, but did not ask about Ralph Hanover. If I had, he likely would have told me that Ralph lived a few concession roads over. Ralph lived on the Mac Lilley farm.

One of the owners of Grand Royal Farms in its harness racing heyday was Doug Lilley. Googling hasn’t given me the connection between Mac and Doug, but the Mac Lilley Farms website says it’s a three-generation operation.

Ralph Hanover and Ron Waples horseracinghalloffame.com/1986/01/01
Ralph Hanover and Ron Waples, Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame 1986 inductees

So the lesson from this? Google, drive around, ask – and keep asking and driving. One good chat at the Western Fair race track probably would have told me where Ralph Hanover was. And keep googling. I might not have found out about Ralph until he died, since that’s what most of the results were about, but at least I’d have known eight years earlier.

Finding Ralph, too late, has made me think about the famous horses meeting their fans at the Hall of Champions in the Kentucky Horse Park (see my Cigar). And Dan Patch’s towns, Oxford, Indiana and Savage, Minnesota, making sure that visitors know they’re entering hallowed horse racing ground (see my Dan Patch).

Ralph Hanover was among the elite of racehorse champions. Dutton deserves to be proud of being his final hometown. I only wish I’d known he was there, so close by.

Dan Patch

Dan Patch was a harness racing horse, a pacer. He was crazy good, they said. 110 years ago, he was the best pacer ever seen. He was a Harness racing Dan Patch Breeder_and_sportsman_mag_1911_wikicommonshuge celebrity in the US, the first multi-million dollar sports superstar.

His story is told in Charles Leerhsen’s 2010 book Crazy Good. You will enjoy it even if you know nothing about harness racing. It’s a story of triumph over adversity, of middle America at the dawn of the automobile age, and of the hucksterism that Americans do so well.

Harness Racing Lineage

Dan Patch was born in Oxford, Indiana in 1896 to Zelica, a mare obscure in Standardbred breeding history. His sire, Joe Patchen, was well known for both his speed and his bad temper.

Crazy Good: The true story of Dan Patch - Amazon link
Click for Amazon link

At birth, Dan Patch’s prospects seemed zero. His left rear leg was misshapen. His owner Dan Messner was advised to put him down. But he didn’t. For the history of harness racing, and for Dan Patch, that was a very wise decision. Dan Patch learned to walk, then run.

Dan was a natural. He loved to race and he loved audiences. As his star rose, other parties became interested in him. With a new owner, he went to the big time. That’s when the hucksterism started. Not by Dan Patch, who simply continued to run the very best he could, but by Marion W. Savage, his new owner. At Savage’s International Stock Food Company farm near Minneapolis, Dan Patch lived out the rest of his days. When he wasn’t travelling the country in his own rail car.

T-Eaton-Co- photo Dan_Patch_wikicommonsDan Patch never lost a race. Horse owners became unwilling to enter their horses against him. So Savage promoted exhibition races with Dan running only against the clock. Dan set a record in September 1906 at the Minnesota State Fair with a mile in 1:55. That time was not officially recognized because a windshield was used. Dan Patch’s official mile record was 1:55:¼ set in Lexington KY in 1905. His unofficial record was not matched until 1938 when Billy Direct paced a mile in 1:55. It wasn’t beaten until 1960.

Dan Patch Two Step (piano sheet music)

Dan Patch coffee can from ctpost.com
from ctpost.com March 22 2012

Savage was an odd man, very successful at selling himself and products. However much he may or may not have known about horses, he knew a lot about marketing. And market Dan Patch, he did. Dan’s image and name were on livestock feed, tobacco, a railway and everything in between. He even gets a mention in The Music Man.

For horse people, Dan Patch didn’t need a front man. His talent spoke for itself. But Savage’s marketing of Dan and racing made both better known to a public much larger than harness racing fans.

Dan Patch died July 11, 1916. Marion W. Savage died one day later. By that time, harness racing had ceased being a major national sport.Dan-Patch-Line-MN-Bachman-farm workers load train car-wikicommons

If, like me, you’d like to do a pilgrimage to the homes of Dan Patch, check Dan Patch Historical Society in Savage MN for places and events. Also look for “Dan Patch Days” in Oxford IN.

Horse: Free to a good home

standardbred ex-racehorse Jaffey LeeA few years ago, I got involved in finding homes for two Standardbred ex-racehorses whose owner had died. Neither were broke for saddle, they were getting up in years and they’d been together for most of their lives, so finding a home wasn’t going to be easy. As it happened, we did find a home for both of them as companion horses in a small herd. But in the course of all this, I learned a couple things about horses and people.

Meat Buyers

One thing was beware of meat buyers. Not knowing any better, we advertised them as “free to a good home”. Their eventual new person and others told us “list them for sale at least at their dollar value as meat”. Unfortunately, there is a market for horses to be sold for meat and “free to a good home” just means more profit for horsemeat brokers.

While thinking about how to find a good home for these two lovely horses, one day in Aylmer, I saw a horse and buggy on the road. Aha, I thought, there’s the answer! What could be better for a Standardbred than life on a Mennonite farm! A job for the horses without having to race, without having to get used to a saddle and rider, a job of value where they would be respected as important members of a way of life. If anyone would treat animals well, I thought, it would be Old Order Mennonites. So I was thinking about how to find out if anyone in the Old Order colony near Aylmer wanted a couple of horses.

Sulky to buggy?

Then I began hearing the second thing I learned. Every horse person I knew said, without my asking, “whatever you do, don’t let them go to the Mennonites”. This truly surprised me. At first, I thought it was individual xenophobic distrust, prejudice against the “different”. But too many people said it, including people I thought of as fair and unbiased. I started asking more questions. I was told some Mennonites – some said the Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania – were ok and treated their horses well. But, people told me, too many others do not care for them properly.

Instead, horses are regarded as pieces of equipment that you use up and replace when worn out. To explain it, especially in a case of free or cheap horses, people made comparisons to the old ‘beater’ cars that many of us have, where you don’t bother spending money fixing them, just drive them until they die and buy another old cheap one. That, I was told, was the attitude of many Mennonites to their horses.

Rode hard, put away wet

The objection these people had was not that the horses were used for work, it was that they were not cared for properly. In the words of one horseman, “the horses are run hard and put in the barn wet.” That is a good way to get a sick horse, and something no responsible horse person would ever do. I still find it hard to believe that anyone who relies on horsepower wouldn’t treat that horse well. It’s in their own self-interest to do so.

horse and buggy near Aylmer ON photo D StewartI see the horses and buggies in the parking lots of Aylmer stores, in shade if shade is available. Along #73 Highway and the sideroads near Aylmer I see them trot. I watch draft horses pulling plows in Mennonite fields. I look at the horses turned out to pasture at well-tended Mennonite farms. And I wonder.

Puppy Mills

I see puppies and kittens at Mennonite stalls at the local farmers’ market. They are all breeds and types, but they all look healthy and well-cared for. I’ve never asked “how do you treat your horses, do you run a puppy mill?” How do you ask that?

Mistreatment of animals doesn’t stop with horses, I was told. Many of the small scale puppy mill operations here are in Mennonite areas. I started paying closer attention to the Dogs for Sale ads in the paper. Yep, “no Sunday calls” and a phone number with an extension – something found where one central phone services an entire community.

I read in One Nation Under Dog about Amish dog breeders in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Author Michael Schaffer seems to have the same dilemma as I do about this. He writes that, for the Mennonite farmer, dog breeding provided a new livestock market or crop when small scale farming was being battered by agribusiness and coming out on the losing side of economies of scale. But the dogs are being raised as livestock outside in barns and cages, even though the intended ‘market’ for them is the inside of homes with dogbeds and squeaky toys.

Rehoming a Standardbred

There are a lot of Standardbred racehorses in South Western Ontario. Thousands of them never make it to the track or retire every year. They still have a long life ahead of them. They need homes. Old Order Mennonites need horses for transportation. Trotters and pacers are ideal. It seems like a match made in heaven.

But the horse people I talked to, harness racing people and others, all said they would not send a Standardbred or any horse to a Mennonite farm. I was saddened by this, and felt disillusioned about the ideal of Mennonite life I’ve always imagined: of people and animals united by a fundamental connection with nature lost to most of us in the modern world, and a spiritual injunction to care for all God’s creatures.