by Victoria M. Howard
One of the biggest names in harness racing today as far as supporting the industry and striving to make it better is Crawford Farms owned and operated by Michelle and Albert Crawford. They are the sponsors of The Crawford Farms Meadowlands Pace, The Crawford Farms Trot, the Hambletonian, Little Brown Jug, Breeders Crown and Tattersalls Pace.
Michelle Crawford is on the board for the Standardbred Transition Alliance (STA), the aftercare start-up organized by the U.S. Trotting Association and Wanda Polisseni’s new retirement facility. Michelle is also vice-president of the Harness Horse Breeders of New York.
Al and Michelle also operate Crawford Racing LLC, but this column is about the women in harness racing, so sorry Al, Michelle is the superstar here, though I admire you for the fact on your very first date, instead of a movie or dinner you took Michelle to the Lexington Sale to look at horses.
Originally founded by Jim and Patricia Crawford, the farm was passed on to Al and Michelle after Jim’s death.
The husband-and-wife team runs several businesses together but the farm is the dearest to Michelle’s heart.
“We currently have over 200 horses on the farm: at least 140 mares and unborn foals, 46 yearlings, 40 weanlings, approximately 50 racehorses, 35 retirees and rescues, four donkeys, one mule, five minis and a few dogs. But who’s counting?” Michelle said, laughing. “We are one big, happy family.”
How the heck do they keep a close eye on that many four-legged family members? Michelle gives credit to her loyal employees.
“I have to give so much credit to my amazing farm manager, Heather Reese. She has been instrumental in every aspect of the farm,” Michelle said. “I also have a great staff on the ops side and the office that keep me organized as we are moving in many directions. The first half of the year we are foaling and breeding which we get a lot of assistance from our vet, Michael Miller, with the mares and babies.”
“I am always looking at improving the broodmare stock. We have worked hard to develop a blue-blooded line up. I believe if a mare is older, I would rather retire her then send her to an auction and worry about where she ends up.”
What does Michelle look for when purchasing a yearling or finding the right cross of a stallion for one of her broodmares?
“Al and I do a lot of the mate matching together,” she said. “I do all the research on the yearlings, look at the pedigrees and videos until I narrow it down to what I like. It’s a process! I am no expert but feel like we have done a good job for what we have been blessed with as far as the racehorses go. The yearling game is a tough one. You can have the pedigree but they still have to beat the odds and make it to the races.”
Michelle admits she falls in love with every horse in her care.
“One of the hardest things is not to fall in love with the animal if you are involved day-to-day working with these wonderful athletes. I never feel good about letting any horse leave my farm because I get so attached to all of them and worry about where they will end up.”
Michelle said her pet project is almost complete.
“It is the most amazing place near my home, called Lavender Love and Ponies. It is a beautiful restored old barn that I have put so much thought and love into. It’s a place for photography shoots and lavender fields that many of our retirees and rescues call their forever home.
“The fields behind the barn are filled with my ex-racehorses, rescues from slaughter, minis and retired broodmares. Soon we will be kicking our grand opening with a charity event for David’s Refuge, and hopefully many more corporate and charity events. Hopefully it will draw attention as a solution for aftercare of a racehorse or broodmare”.
If there is such a thing as an afterlife, I want to come back as a horse that lives at Crawford Farms. It is truly a paradise and horse haven.
“I sometimes wish I had more ‘hands’ on time with my horses, but at this point in my life my ‘hands on’ is with my retirees and rescues. I leave the real work to the real women,” she said.