by Victoria M. Howard
If you’re in the sport of harness racing you may own, train, drive, but you might also be the person who spends more one-on-one time with the horse than anyone else. These people called the “unsung heroes” of the sport are the grooms, caretakers, stewards, or caregivers.
In reality, they are the horse’s best friend and mother or father for they feed, bathe, groom and tend to the horse when sick or injured.
It is every owner or trainer’s dream to one day have a horse win a Breeders Crown, Hambletonian, or set a world record. It is just as important to the groom.
Katie Remmerswaal cares for not one, but two superstars — Manchego and Tall Dark Stranger.
Originally from Canada, Remmerswaal relocated to the United States eight years ago to work with horses. No stranger to the business, Remmerswaal was in the barn before she could walk.
“My parents trained horses and always had a stable so I was brought to the barn early on,” she said. “Horses have always been my passion. My earliest memory was when I was 5 years old and my parents had a horse named Dr. Gene who I would take for walks and graze. I would get to brush him and pick up his feet, which I loved. When we lost him in a claiming race it broke my heart, but a little while later we claimed him back. We raced him until he got injured and retired him.
“I always helped my dad whenever I could: weekends, summers and school breaks. If I was allowed in the barn, I would be there.
“When I got older I worked for several trainers and moved around quite a bit, and at one point even had my own stable.
“Since moving to New Jersey I’ve worked for Brett Pelling and currently work for Nancy Takter. I have nothing but praise for both trainers for they do a great job with their horses.
“We start early and work long days, but it shows for the horses look and feel the best. Nancy is a great boss and easy to communicate with.
“I have a lot of respect for Nancy for she knows everything about her horses and does her best to keep them healthy and sound.
“She shows up early every day to train and jog and usually never misses a race, unless she is racing at multiple tracks.
“Nancy is very organized and has great second trainers and caretakers she can rely on.”
When talking about her “kids,” Remmerswaal beams.
“Manchego is probably my favorite for she is so classy with everything she does and has a great attitude to be around. Every time she races I get goosebumps for she never disappoints and gives 110 per cent. She is just great to be around for she’s so sweet and loves attention, but being a mare, she can also be sassy when she wants to.
“Like when she comes in from being turned out and isn’t ready, she lets us know.
“Currently I take care of five horses, four superstars and one 2 year-old hopeful potential. Besides Manchego, there’s Tall Dark Stranger, Kissin In The Sand, Don’t Let Em and Monterey Jack.
“Tall Dark Stranger is a colt that is full of energy in the morning, but after he gets turned out, jogged or trained, he’ll take 2 or 3 naps before lunch — a sign of a good horse, for he takes care of himself.
“Like Manchego, Stranger loves attention, too, which of course I’m all too willing to give.
“I can’t say enough good things about this boy and he was certainly appropriately named, for he is tall, dark and beautiful.
“I truly love them all. They’re all my kids. They’re all so different, yet wonderful. I try to keep them happy and always do what’s best for them. Even if my day is longer then most, they make it worth every second.”