Emma Wahlberg on her never-ending harness racing dreams

by Chris Lomon

“Do you know what the coolest thing about harness racing is? That no matter how much you achieved the dreams never end.”

The 22-word Twitter post by Emma Wahlberg two weeks before last Christmas was a window into the horsewoman’s world, a heartfelt measure of her affection for the sport and its equine stars.

Now, nearly one year after those words were shared on social media, they continue to resonate with the 31-year-old Swedish-born Wahlberg.

“It does. Even if you have a really good horse, you never give up on achieving more. That’s what makes horse racing and the horses so special.”

Born in HåboTibble, about an hour’s drive northwest from the Swedish capital of Stockholm, Wahlberg’s association with equines dates back to her early childhood days.

That affection for horses eventually led her to the stables of some of the country’s most respected and successful horsemen.

“I started with pony racing. I started driving ponies when I was around seven or eight. I always liked horses. I used to ride when I was really young and I happened to end up in a standardbred barn later on in my life. I liked it right away. At home, I worked for Marcus Melander and his uncle Stefan. I started driving when I was 16 and I wound up moving to the U.S. in 2015 to work. I always liked the American racing style and the American horses. When I was living in Sweden, we would go to Florida for a family vacation every year and we’d always end up watching the races at Pompano. I enjoyed that a lot.”

Wahlberg continued her connection with Marcus Melander when she arrived in the U.S., an opportunity to continue her standardbred education while working with top trotters and pacers.

It was during those times in New Jersey when she met her future husband, trainer Russell Earley III.

“After a while working with Marcus, Russell and I moved back to Ohio, where he is from. We liked the stakes program out here and the fair racing. There are a lot of opportunities for people like us to race and to make some good money with our own stable. There is the Buckeye Stallion Series, and if you get lucky enough to have a Sires Stakes horse, that provides some great opportunities, too.”

Does that mean the couple that races and works together stays together?

“Yes! It can be hard to work together all the time, but you have to separate the work part of your life with your personal life. That’s hard to do with horse racing because you live through the horses. They are our lives, but we get along.”

With a laugh, Wahlberg added, “And when we don’t, I usually get my way.”

The pair are very much hands-on with their stable of five horses.

There are no set designations or titles for what they do in a day.

“The way it is, there is nothing he doesn’t do that I don’t do. I jog and Russell does most of the training, but we train together and try to do what the other one does. It works for us. I do enjoy the jogging and training. I love to drive, but that’s tough to do when there aren’t as many opportunities. Right now, we have the five horses. We never have more than 10. We like to do all the work ourselves without having to hire help. We like to do it all.”

Goals, both future and present, are strikingly similar.

“It’s no different than anyone else in the sport. It’s about making money and finding the best horses. We have always liked the older ones and the claimers, but lately, I’ve really enjoyed the young horses. Being around the babies, working with them, breaking them, developing, and getting them prepared, is fun for us. We’re just trying to get better and get better horses.”

Choosing a favorite horse, past or current, isn’t an easy question for Wahlberg to answer.

After a short pause, however, she opts for a veteran trotting son of Mr Cantab—Delphini, bred by Delmar Wagler.

“That’s a hard question because we love all our horses. We had Mr ProTab, who we retired last year and he’s now a riding horse. He was getting older, and we wanted to find him a good home. He wasn’t the best horse… I guess you could call him the best slow horse we’ve had. He made over $100,000 ($149,201 lifetime) for us and he was always good to us. He’d always be third or fourth, but he tried every time. We had him for about six years and we became quite close. He was more like a friend, or like a dog. I raced him Under Saddle as well. I drove him in amateur races and at the fairs too. He did everything with us. We’re happy that we found him a good home now. He’s in Florida and living the good life he deserves.”

Wahlberg and Earley are living their good life too, united in their passion for harness racing, and happy to be doing it side-by-side.

Finding time to spend together beyond the barn and racetrack can be difficult at times, but when they do get those opportunities, they are quick to take advantage of them.

“We basically spend all day at the barn, but when we do have time, we like to go out for dinner. Small things like that, which is all we basically do outside of racing.”

As for that racing part, Wahlberg will continue to chase the dreams she noted in that Twitter post, the one that has become even more meaningful since the day she first shared that sentiment.

The Ohio horsewoman recalls it word-for-word.

“Honestly, there are more downs than ups doing what we do, but it’s all worth it. And it’s not always about winning. We had a trotting mare named Starglider who would run every start, and we worked with her. When we finally figured it out, she made some really good money and became a nice horse for us. That’s a very nice feeling when you figure a horse out. We love being able to do something like that. And that’s a great example of why the dream never ends.”