Ever since I have had a passion for harness racing I had always wondered what is was like to sit behind a racehorse and jog it on a track.
What was it like to feel the horses hooves hit the ground so close to my feet? What was it like to be in the “zone” when jogging a racehorse? I have always known having Cerebral Palsy; things would be different for me. But that never stopped me from dreaming. My parents said I should never let my disability limit my dreams.
In May 2012, my dream came true! My first time of ever jogging a racehorse would be an experience I would never forget, and not only because my dream was coming true, but who I went with that made it even better.
Bill “Magic Man” O’Donnell contacted my dad. Yes, the harness racing legend and Hall of Famer Bill O’Donnell. He said that another harness racing legend and Hall of Famer, Ron Waples, had a modified seat that he had made for Holly Dapp that fit on a jogger, and asked would I like to jog one day.
Knowing that my dream was to jog a horse, my dad quickly agreed to the idea and we set up a date a week later just to meet with Ron Waples to discuss the details. He also wanted to meet me and see what my capabilities were. He was asking me questions to see how much I understood. He explained that he would sit on the jog cart beside me. He was asking me questions to see how much I knew and to make sure I understood what was happening! He asked me one question that I will never forget; he said “now Sydney, what do you do if I fall off dead?”
That’s when I kind of panicked and began second guessing myself. I replied “grab the lines.” He chuckled “but Sydney, you already have the lines.” That’s when I was lost for words; I was actually going to jog a racehorse! He told me “Sydney don’t worry, just stay in the middle of the track, and the horse will do the rest. Just keep going around.”
A week later my mom, my dad and I met up with Ron Waples, his wife Liz, Bill O’Donnell, and his friend Cathy. The horse that I was going to be jogging was named Learn The Lingo; he was a retired Standardbred gelding. After we found a helmet to fit me and put me in the jogger, the time had come, my dream was coming true!
As we jog Ron tells me about some of his fondest memories of being a trainer/driver. All of the horses he drove, some of which I recognized.
It was starting to sink in, not only was I jogging, but I was jogging with a harness racing icon. Don’t ask me how many laps, I got lost in the moment, I was on cloud nine. I didn’t want to stop, I wanted to keep going. So after the final lap we stopped and my dad hopped on the jogger with me and Mr. Waples. After, Mr. Waples said Learn the Lingo was ready for a break.
We headed back to the barn, and I told everyone about my grand adventure! We go in the barn, we get me back into my wheelchair and I watch Mr. Waples give Learn The Lingo a bath. Then after he was all dried off, Mr. Waples tossed me a bag of licorice and said “feed this to him, it’s his favorite!” It was a treat well earned.
I sat there in front of Learn The Lingo, staring in amazement, trying to wrap my head around that afternoon’s events. I couldn’t believe that my dream of jogging a racehorse had come true. They say Disney World is the happiest and most magical place on Earth, but on that May afternoon, the backstretch of Mohawk Racetrack was, and I had just gotten off the ride of my life.
I have been so lucky and blessed in my 13 years to have dreams come true. I can hardly wait to see what the future has in store for
Sydney Weaver is 13 years old and resides in Ontario, Canada. She has been involved with harness racing for years, grooms horses, jogs them on the track, co-owns a racehorse and has already won major youth writing awards. Sydney also has Cerebral Palsy, but has never let her disablity hold her back from achieving her goals.