About the Author

The above photograph is of me looking over some yearlings at the 1990 Highflyer Sales at Newmarket in the UK.  I fell in love with the Diesis yearlings that Fall. My training career was prematurely terminated, very much like so many unlucky, promising young racing prospects on the track, by a catastrophic injury putting me in a wheelchair while I was galloping one morning. Accordingly, because my career was cut short, I never achieved fame, nor was I allowed to win any prestigious races, but I have accomplished one thing that very few trainers have. In my years of training a small stable with individualized care for each horse—galloping, shoeing, and vet treating my own, none of my horses suffered quarter cracks, rundowns, bucked shins, bowed tendons, injured suspensories, or experienced catastrophic break-downs in a race or out. Perhaps as rare, none of them incurred a positive drug test either. Few other trainers can say the same. My horses also raced fit and sound without the typical intense vet work-ups now standard on today's tracks. Unfortunately, I inherited a few animals already injured from other trainers, which allowed me to hone my vet skills. May this text help other trainers, and may it, most of all, improve the lives of all racehorses.
As they say: "My loss is your gain." I am writing you my thoughts from many years of experience in training racehorses, which normally would never have been divulged had I still been active in the sport. Knowledge is power, and few trainers will be so kind as to help the less experienced freely with the ways of the turf. There are no percentages in it.

My maternal ancestral stock mostly came from the United Kingdom, with family lines from Wales, London, Bromley, Kent, and Gloucestershire, with an Irish branch on my top side.  Perhaps this is one reason I ended up training the Thoroughbred--my Brit DNA?  I was bred and dropped in Missouri. My maternal lineage of horse and medical men may have ingrained a natural interest in equine performance and medicine, or it may have been just dumb luck.   My great-great-grandfather was an MD who went to Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia after striking gold during the 1849 California gold rush, and his son was an MD who went to Washington University of Medicine, St. Louis.  Both were avid horsemen.  They bred the aptly named Standardbred pacer, Dr. J, who took the Missouri State record of 2:13.5 in 1894 and stood the prolific Saddlebred stud, Rex Chief A, that was listed in Susanne's Famous Saddle Horses, Volume 2 (1942).   I remember looking through my great-great-grandfather's medical text up in a dark, hot attic as a wee tyke. That musty old book was an 1854 copy of the U.S. Dispensatory.   It contained strange names. Names like burdock, belladonna, poke root, lobelia, pinkroot, cinchona, stramonium leaves. Names that sounded nothing like modern medicine. Yet, I sensed power in that large leather-covered book. Thirty years later--one afternoon, I picked up a vintage Herbal in an Omaha thrift shop by pure chance after finishing my morning training chores at Aksarben. Those same names were there. I was intrigued. My quest for herbal Veterinary knowledge wetted. I was astounded to discover a new source of medicinal compounds right under my nose, waiting for experimentation. Around that time, modern veterinary medicine seemed to be of limited help to me. Some of my horses were experiencing epistaxis (bleeding), and the best the profession could offer was Lasix. Studying the traditional roots of all modern medicines couldn't hurt. I was hooked.

I first straddled a horse at age 6. I trained and exhibited American Saddlebreds throughout my adolescence. This show horse background allowed me to hone my hands in how to best bit a horse, which I transferred to the racehorse in producing a good responsive mouth. In college, I concentrated on a Veterinary curriculum, receiving a degree in the Animal Sciences from the University of Missouri, College of Agriculture, Columbia, in 1973. Upon graduation, I worked under two racing Hall of Famers: Joe O'Brien and Del Cameron. I later took over the Tic Wilcutts stable, racing on the Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland circuits. I spent the next 15 years training and racing Standardbred harness horses along the Eastern Coast--wintering at the Pinehurst, North Carolina training colony between campaigns. My years with the Standardbred allowed me to observe how to train and race a fit racehorse that was demanded at that time to race multi-mile heats in one afternoon and jog at least 5 miles a day in between. The Standardbred business also taught me how to shoe a horse with more precision than can be found in any other performance horse field and produce a sound horse or treat a lame one efficiently.

In 1989, I jumped over to Thoroughbreds, which allowed me to move back home to the Midwest, racing in Chicago, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Kansas. Another reason for this change was my disgust with the seeming unimportance of how the Standardbred racing industry treats its trainers. Most of the recognition in that sport goes to harness horse drivers at the expense of the conditioners. I was ready for a change. Thoroughbreds seemed like an interesting transition where I could take some of my harness training skills, accenting stamina, and soundness and maybe obtain an advantage. I took out my Thoroughbred trainer's license in the Fall of 1991 and campaigned a small stable of runners in the Midwest. I galloped, groomed, shod, and trained some homebreds for Hestenhill Farms, plus a few for myself. I was happy with my racing results overall and even more satisfied with the soundness of my young horses. For example, I never experienced one case of bucked shins from my youngsters. One of my better efforts was training a cheap claimer, purchased for $900, to two track records at a mile & half and two miles in 1992-93. During the year 1994, after racing a string at Aksarben, I shipped to the Woodlands Race Course, where I was put in a wheelchair in a freak galloping accident that August. I am now retired to the family farm with time to devote to studying and thinking of Veterinary Herbology.

I was born under the sign of Sagittarius. To muse a bit here, uncannily, much of that myth connects with my life.  Chiron was the most famous Greek Centaur.  He was begotten by Kronos while assuming the image of a horse upon mating with the sea nymph, Philyra. Chiron was the Sagittarian to the Greeks who sent their children for knowledge, and he was renowned for his healing wisdom. One of his students, Asklepios, the herbalist, was considered the father of medicine, and his serpent-entwined staff remains the symbol of the physician to this day.  Chiron was eventually impaled with a poisoned arrow, resulting in an incurable wound, allowing him to understand far more intimately the nature of eternal pain and injury.  He becomes a healer by learning the secrets of herbs, yet he can never heal himself.  My "poisoned arrow" was landing squarely on my spinal cord on the track, resulting in incurable paraplegia. Still, even more like an "arrow wound", they used a trocar to penetrate my rib cage to treat a collapsed lung, resulting in a damaged nerve.  To this day,  it feels like an arrow in my side.   As with  Chiron,  this injury transformed me.   I live with my injury and pain,  knowing it cannot be cured.   Like Chiron,  I seek herbal wisdom and try to impart that knowledge to those in need.  Perhaps, in some sense, Chiron is my spirit guide.

The Wounded Healer Video

The author on a green 3 year old on the training track at Canterbury Downs. One of the many young ones that never bucked shins for me.

Contact me at: poloahart@gmail.com