Ten years ago, my husband Bill, raised his hand at an auction and ended up in the Big Rapids Celebrity Harness Race. So last October at the United Way auction when the opportunity came up, I decided it was my turn.
After Memorial weekend I began my training program. My primary goals were to complete the race safely, have fun and win. I have never had great comfort around horses so just doing that was my biggest hurdle. My trainer, Matt, rode with me the first four times I went out. The third time day of my training I hit an obstacle on the track…..half a dozen turkeys were taking their morning walk. Talk about get your heart pumping!! I freaked out and guess what the horse did? Of course…..it freaked out. We went off the track in to the inner circle (down a ditch). Fortunately for me, Matt was fully conscious!! He gently guided me back on to the course and we were all okay. “You did that perfectly,” Matt commented as we got back on track. That was probably one of the best things that could happen. There was a problem, I worked through it and lived!! I spent the rest of the month riding alone gaining experience and getting more comfortable.
Race night was perfect. It was my birthday and my family had a party for me on the infield, aka Kentucky Derby. It was really festive even a carnival with all its noises in the background. I made a decision that I wanted to enjoy every minute of the experience and worked hard to keep the nervous emotion out. When people asked if I was I said, no, not nervous just excited. This really helped me shift. It would have been easy to head to being a basket case. For three hours we watched the professionals race and then they called our names to meet at the barns. I got the short straw so my horse pick was third. I could choose Paragon Insane Indy or Paragon Jolly Joe.
As it turned out Jolly Joe and I enjoyed our ride together. Our first round on the track was just to show off. I had the number one slot and went first, the others followed. “Riding, Pink Lady (they changed Jolly’s name because of what I was wearing) is Lynne Scheible.” And I was thinking yes, it is me, I am really doing this. Look at me. My grin could have filled the stadium. I’m not sure I ever felt prouder of myself.
The show-off round over placed us behind the starting truck. The truck gradually speeds up…faster, faster….and the horse knows what that means and Jolly’s speed increased four-fold. Hold on, I thought, and enjoy the ride. My heart was pounding, I could hear every hoof beat, even the Ferris Wheel in the distance. What an absolute rush. At one point my mouth turned in to an absolute desert. “Am I scared or do I have this dirt track in my mouth??” I thought.
At 2:16 I crossed the finish line (fourth) spanking Jolly on the backend with my reign and yelling, “Go, Jolly, Go”…..and then …….“thank you, Jolly” We both gave it all we had!!
“Live like you were dying”, continues to go through my head. Go skydiving, rocky mountain climbing, Ride a bull named foo man chu ….these are all exciting experiences, and if the opportunity presents itself I may consider them, riding in the harness race could be added to the list!!
Pat Currie started the Celebrity Race ten years ago. His goal was to increase the attendance at the harness race and raise money for a good cause. He has certainly done both. Most often upwards of $1000 has been raised at each auction. I would venture to say that each of the following groups has received around $10,000 due to this race. Each race has 4 celebrity jockeys so over ten years there must be around 40 of us that have done this.
The auctions include:
- United Way
- Friends of Ferris
- St. Mary’s
- Mecosta County Chamber of Commerce
Typically Matt Currie trains the riders. Matt is a professional rider and trainer. Pam Shields has also provided training at Dr. Gilbert’s track. I haven’t experienced Pam, but Matt is an amazing trainer. He is patient and goes to where you are.
The race is always during the Mecosta County Fair which also brings lots of people and money to our area. Great for our economy.
The horses come from a trainer near the Jackson area (Pat would have more information on this).