Day At The Track

Horn enshrined as Hall of Famer

11:50 AM 07 Feb 2017 NZDT
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Larry Horn of Adrian
Larry Horn of Adrian holds the plaque he received January 21 when he was inducted into the Michigan Harness Horsemen's Association Hall Of Fame. Behind him are a photograph and painting of two of his top horses, Tall Oaks Jade, left, and Charamar NiteLite
David Panian Photo

ADRIAN - For someone who didn't grow up around horses, Larry Horn sure made a name for himself in the harness racing community.

For his success in a 50-some-year career as a trainer, Horn was inducted into the Michigan Harness Horsemen's Association Hall of Fame during a ceremony Jan. 21 in Howell.

Horn, 74, trained some of the best-known horses in harness racing in the 1970s, '80s and '90s: Tall Oaks Jade, Charamar NiteLite and Sunrise Raider. Yet, because he's been retired from training for a couple of years, he wasn't expecting the phone call he received on Christmas Eve telling him he would be inducted.

"I was stunned. I didn't think I heard her right," he said. "It never crossed my mind that I'd ever done anything to deserve this."

Horn said he didn't do it alone. The Boring family introduced him to harness racing. His partners in acquiring horses, Doug Hartung Sr. and Jerry Haynes, helped him though the ups and downs of a career in racing.

"I'm glad because of the people who supported me all these years," he said. "They have a piece of the honor. It's not something you can do alone."

Even other trainers and drivers were motivators. Horn said he's a competitive person, so when he would lose, he would go home and think of what he needed to do to have his horse come out ahead next time.

"They pushed me to do my best," he said.

Horn's career came during the peak in harness racing's popularity in Michigan. There used to be tracks across the state, but now there is only one, Northville Downs in Northville. The Lenawee County Fair hosted the annual Michigan Breeders Futurity. Horn said state politicians lost interest in racing, and when the casinos moved in, the state supported the casinos' interests over those of the racing community.

Horn's start in racing came from his friendship with Chris Boring, whose family was legendary in the harness-racing community. In his early 20s, Horn started visiting the Borings' stable at the Lenawee County Fairgrounds to help with jogging their horses.

"The next thing I knew, I quit my job and did it full time," he said.

He was working in the shop at the Adrian Glass Co. then. He earlier worked as a teller at Commercial Savings Bank.

Chris was "one of the top drivers in the country," Horn said. His father, Leon, was a trainer, and his brother, Otis, ran the barn.

"His dad and brother taught me everything I know," Horn said.

Working as a trainer gave him a way to get into a competitive field. He said he would have liked to have been a teacher or coach, and being a trainer gave him a way to coach horses to race.

"I love athletics," he said.

Horn said he also liked that training was not the same thing every day.

"Horse training is not repetitious," he said.

Horn connected with Hartung and Haynes to acquire horses. He and Haynes started out by leasing a horse that did pretty well, but then they struck upon Tall Oaks Jade, who became a world champion.

Tall Oaks Jade's proceeds helped them buy Charamar NiteLite, who was inducted into the MHHA's Hall of Fame in 2001. Horn raced him on tracks from New York to Chicago.

Training is a 365-day-a-year job. Not that he couldn't plan days off, but "the horses require your attention every day," Horn said.

He acknowledged some of his success was from luck in finding a quality horse, but he said he came to identify certain characteristics he liked in a horse.

Pedigree was important, of course. "Certain families produce speed," he said.

He liked to acquire younger horses so he could teach them to race. He would look at how they stand and how they moved to see if they were athletic or clumsy. He liked horses that were eager to get out of their stall and ones with more space between their eyes - those horses seemed smarter.

He also tended to buy horses that were a little smaller. He said people were surprised to find out his most successful horse, Charamar NiteLite, was not very big.

"He's big on the track, but he's not a big horse," Horn said.

Learning a horse's personality is part of training a horse. That includes what it likes to eat, how much work it likes to do and what bits and shoes it prefers.

"You want the horse to feel as comfortable as you can," he said.

That extends to the care the horse receives from the groom in the stable.

"A good groom takes care of the horse like it's his first born," Horn said.

On the track, Horn would teach the horse how to race, such as when to turn on the speed.

"I would teach them to be passing, not to be passed" at the end of each one-mile race, he said.

Horn has some experience as a driver - he made 46 starts - that he could apply in training. He said he would get too nervous as a driver, which he said hampered his ability to make decisions in clutch situations during a race. So instead he applied his skills to the time between races, during which he would take feedback from the drivers to try to improve the horse's racing.

While he doesn't own horses anymore, he still does help area trainers. He never considered training horses to be "work."

"It was my life," he said. "I loved it."

By David Panian

Reprinted with permission of The Daily Telegram

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