The Amish and Sulky Harness Racing

Would it surprise you to see an Amish or Mennonite partake in Sulky harness racing?  They do.

You could say harness racing begins in Lancaster with the participation from the Amish and Mennonite folks.

Training horses for the Sulky Harness Racetrack
Training for sulky harness racing

Standardbred broodmare farms, typically home to five to twenty broodmares dot the countryside.  Each owner is hoping for the foal that will become the next big winner at the racetrack.

Standardbred Horses
Standard broodmare horse and her foal
Standardbred broodmare and her foal

A Standardbred horse is either a trotter or a pacer.  A trotter is a horse that moves diagonal legs together (right front leg and back leg).  A Pacer advances both legs on the same side of their body simultaneously.  Pacers have the gene DMRT3, without it they are unable to pace and are trotters.

Training for Sulky Harness Racing

In late winter, early spring, the foals are born, and within hours their training begins.  The foals are wild, and handling along with daily exposure is crucial in taming them.   At 18 months, they are ready to accept a harness and pull a light sulky.  Only 2% of the foals will become racehorses. The others are privately sold or head to an auction like the  New Holland Sales Stable.

The Amish Racetrack

Tucked behind a farm here and there you will see a racetrack.  Between 7 am and 12 pm you will see horses pulling sulky carts flying around the track.  In New Holland, there is a training-racetrack on Lowry Rd and another one on South Custer Ave.   The training-racetrack teaches the young horses to perform above the one-mile race of two minutes, 20 seconds. In Pennsylvania, there are other qualifications to race as seen in the PA Harness Horsemen’s Association.  Only one percent make it.

Once the horses qualify for the races, the owner hires someone outside their Amish/Mennonite circle to race them.  If the horse wins the owner will get a percentage of the winnings.  Sometimes well over $100,000!

However, some  Amish districts will not allow their members to own a racehorse because they considered it gambling.  As an illustration, I have a story about a neighbor, an Old Order Mennonite man that owned “contraband” racehorses.  However, he was very discrete, until he stumbled upon a real winner and in his excitement went to the racetrack.  His horse won the prize, and before he knew it, he was in the winner’s circle with camera’s clicking.  It was not until the story hit the papers that he realized his mistake.  As a result, he received an ultimatum from his church.  He could return the winnings, donate them to charity or leave the church.  I never did hear what he chose.

Lastly, I have a fact about Pa Harness Racing, although it’s at odds with the last story.  A good part of the owners and trainers have never seen an active racetrack.  Nevertheless, it is these people behind the scenes, that play a major roll in the outcome of the race. nike air max 90 damen nike air max 90 damen

Author: Kay

Kay lives with her husband and four kids in the center of the Lancaster Amish, away from the tourist traps where real life happens.

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