Working with different personalities has renewed Kennedy Stanek’s passion for standardbreds

by Chris Lomon

There was a time when Kennedy Stanek wasn’t feeling like herself.

“Racing has had such a big impact on my life,” said the standardbred groom, who works in the barn of trainer Jessica Johnson. “Before I started working for Jess at the racetrack, I was really down in the dumps, and I had lost all confidence working with the horses. But working with so many different standardbreds every day, all those different personalities, it really brought me back and renewed my passion for horses and for working with them in general.”

It was a happy coincidence that led Stanek to her horse racing life.

Four years ago, she decided to test out the waters of working in standardbred racing.

“I was in my last year of high school and I was searching for a job. My best friend was looking to get started at Running Aces. So, I thought, ‘What would be a good way to get a summer job and be with my best friend?’ So, I went to the state fair with her and Running Aces had a booth in the horse barn with standardbred horses. I talked to the lady there, who happened to be [trainer] Jessica Johnson and I said, ‘I think I’d like to work for you.’ She told me she was looking for someone.”

Stanek still wanted to take some time to mull over her decision.

It was another conversation that gave her the clarity she was looking for.

“I can’t help but credit A.J. [Alyssa Joy Fetterly], who was working at a feed store. I wasn’t quite committed to working at Running Aces at that point, but she gave me Jessica’s number and really convinced me to work there. Once I started, which was four years ago, I was hooked.”

Stanek has no regrets about her career choice.

In fact, working with the standardbreds has been a game changer for her.

“It makes you feel really important when you’re coming in each day to feed them breakfast and they are all looking at you like, ‘Hey, give me some attention.’ They are all amazing. They really do make you feel happy and content.”

Take, for example, Alilthundadownunda and Teachmehowtotory.

Her affinity for both, Alilthundadownunda, a 4-year-old pacing son of Malak Uswaad N—Wild About Eagle, and Teachmehowtotory, a 5-year-old trotting daughter of Braggart—Rails of Victory, is obvious the moment she mentions their names.

“Teachmehowtotory is just so fun to watch and work with. She’s awesome. Alilthundadownunda, he is just a wonderful horse. Watching them and any horses you are connected to when they race… it’s so hard to put in words. It’s truly exhilarating. Every time you watch them, every horse, it’s just so exciting. When you get them in the barn and you start working with them, they become a part of your life and they are very important to you.”

The horses also have a certain quality Stanek has come to truly appreciate.

And although they can’t talk the talk, the horse can be great sounding boards, she noted.

“I talk to the horses all the time, especially Alilthundadownunda. When he was younger, he needed a bit of encouragement in the paddock, so we talk all the time. He’s a great listener.”

The most rewarding and treasured part of Stanek’s connection to the pacers and trotters is when she gets the opportunity to sit in the race bike.

Whatever the weather, she’s in her happy place.

“Occasionally, I’ll jog horses. That’s got to be my favorite part of the job, It’s so relaxing. Everything comes together and it feels like a great time, where there is no stress, only that enjoyment of being in that moment with the horse. It could be raining out and I still love it. Rain or shine, I’m happy to be there.”

Stanek is also happy to have another rewarding, animal-focused job outside of racing.

Along with her sister, she tends to a unique group of four-legged creatures.

“My sister and I also breed dairy goats, so that’s very time consuming. About eight years ago, we bought a couple of dairy goats. We were just going to try it out and see how we felt about it. We’ve kept on showing them through 4H and the American Dairy Goat Association. We’re not quite great at it yet, but we have a nice herd.

Do goats and standardbreds happen to share anything in common?

According to Stanek, the answer is yes.

“They are both pretty wily and every day is an adventure. They absolutely have their own personalities. They are all individuals and they expected to be treated like it.”

As for what lies ahead, career-wise, for Stanek, the answer isn’t quite clear for now.

The one certainty, however, is that she will always have some association with standardbreds.

“I would love to train one day, but I’m a pre-vet student, so who knows, maybe I’ll be a vet at the racetrack one day. It’s hard to say for sure. I also actually own two riding horses. I’m trying to get into versatility ranch horse showing, but it’s very complicated and there is so much to learn. I suppose there is a lot to look forward to, but I don’t know quite what it will look like at this point. These standardbreds just have a way of drawing you in. They are beautiful, they are amazing to work with, and they make your life better.”

For the time being, Stanek is happy to stay in the moment, grateful for the chance to work with the horses, and thrilled to be part of their lives.

It’s why she forward to the moment she takes the final steps before reaching the barn, anticipating the reaction she is about to receive from the faces that peer out at her from the front of their stalls.

“All of the horses are happy to see me in the morning. It’s nice to walk around and give every one of them their equal share of love and pats. That’s a really nice thing to have in my life.