McNiven & Fresco: They're Off And... Riding!

Posted Date: 
Friday, March 27, 2020

Here we go… So what does an older racehorse and a younger racehorse owner do with no horse racing currently taking place in Ontario? Right now - it’s an easy answer for Putnam’s Kelley McNiven… “We ride!”

At twenty years of age, McNiven - a student of family studies and psychology at Brescia University - is aiming towards a career in the education field. “My career aspirations always changed as a child,” she says. “As much as I love animals, I’m not good with blood so, unfortunately, being a vet was never an option for me.”

So going forward and into this summer… “I’ll be applying for teachers college this summer/fall as I want to be a primary/junior teacher or special education teacher,” she explains. “Being a teacher also has the bonus of having the summers off - to spend more time with the horses. During the summer and school breaks, for now, I work with the racehorses which is really enjoyable.”

Born and raised into the business - Kelley’s parents (Scott and Kim) appear to have passed on their passion, for harness racing, to their only child… “They had their own stable long before I came along - so I’ve been exposed to the racing world my whole life,” she says. “I can remember going to the kid nights, in the grandstand at Western Fair, with some of my friends who also had parents in the business… My earliest memory, of actually working in the paddock, would be on my tenth birthday - the day I got my ORC license. I got to help my mom with - one of my favourite horses at the time - Wind Drifter.”

For myself coming in from Alberta, during the Fall of 2013, it didn’t take me long to find a fave in Kendal Gustav racing out of the McNiven barn… “He was an all around great horse and was really good on track, but was a nice horse to be around in the barn too,” notes McNiven. “My Mom always looked after him, but I do remember helping with him at the beginning of his career. His stall was at the front of the barn - so he was always the first horse you saw and he always had his ears up looking for you. He was not only a big part of our stable, but a big part of our family. He gave us a lot of memories that I wish we could relive - because I know I took for granted how special he was.”

So who would be your favourite horse in the barn right now? “That’s always a tough question, for me, because I get attached to the horses so easily - whether they’re my own or horses that I’ve looked after for other people… Alphabet Queen will probably go down as my all-time favourite,” she admits. “I picked her out at the yearling sale, helped break her, and have looked after her almost every start of her racing career. It’s special to have been able to see her develop into the racehorse she is today. I also love being able to put all my purple racing gear on her too,” she smiles. “Kendal Fresco is an obvious pick for me. We got Fresco when I was just starting to work, in the barn, so he’s been with me through a lot - which makes him so special. Ride Away Shark is another special horse to me. She’s been so good to us.”

Maybe a few of your favourite wins, at The Raceway, as an owner? “My first ever victory, as an owner, came at The Raceway with a horse named Jump For Joy, so that was a really exciting win for me. All wins are exciting so its hard to choose,” mentions McNiven. “I guess my favourite win would have to be when Kendal Fresco won, with Jody Jamieson driving, during the Ontario Regional Driving Championship (May 9, 2014). They were in the last race of the championship that night - so it was nerve wracking, but Jody ended up winning with him - to move onto Charlottetown for the Nationals!”

So let’s talk about Fresco as a riding horse… “I was nervous to ride him for the first time, but he took to it easily and has enjoyed it ever since!” she says. “It’s awesome to see the breed be able to do more than just race and to be able to see my own horse - be both a racehorse and a riding horse - is very rewarding. I love being able to get on his back and enjoy something different.”

Are there any more ‘riding racehorses’ in the McNiven barn currently? “Fresco is the only horse in the barn I’ve been riding, but maybe one of these days I’ll try riding my Mom’s horse Sandys Candy.”

So during this downtime from racing and besides going for a ride aboard Fresco - what else keeps you busy? “I’ve been finishing class assignments for school - as my classes have now moved online. But I also find myself helping out at the barn a lot too… This being away from the track has definitely been hard for me - like everyone else. Going to the races is not like a job for me, it’s an enjoyment - as it’s my ‘getaway’ from school…”

And I can totally relate to this! Going in for work to call the races… Arriving in the parking lot - starting to feel the excitement - long before the races even begin that day - it’s not like a job for me either - it’s an enjoyment indeed… 

“And I definitely miss getting to see and socialize with my friends at the track,” says McNiven. “This time off is a real refresher on how we take our daily lives for granted, so I cannot wait to get back to racing and to appreciate it even more.”

Well said Kelley - well said!


Shannon ‘Sugar’ Doyle

Announcer - The Raceway