Haley Farken is finding her stride in harness racing

by Chris Lomon

It didn’t take long for Haley Farken to find her stride in her new standardbred role.

There had always been a certain curiosity about harness racing and the sport’s horses, an interest that dates back to her early childhood days in the northeastern U.S.

A love for all things equine was a cornerstone of those times growing up in Maine, something that has stayed with Farken throughout the years.

“I’ve had riding horses my whole life,” Farken said. “I started riding when I was five, so I’ve been in the horse industry — I’m 28 — for 23 years. I’ve owned, bred, raised and broken riding horses and been in the horse-riding side of things for the past 22 years.”

Farken has now added a new chapter to her horse story.

“I’ve been a standardbred groom for about a year now,” Farken said. “I got started when my friend, Katelyn Gerow, who has been in both the riding and standardbred worlds, told me someone she knew needed help paddocking. I learned the ropes a little bit there and then I just jumped in head-first.”

Under the tutelage of local horseman Bobby Marston, she eagerly went about learning more about the pacers and trotters who had now become a big part of her life.

With each day she came to the barn, Farken, now working for driver/trainer Zach Vickerson, was picking up more knowledge and trying new things.

“I learned to jog right away and tried to learn everything I could,” Farken said. “My favorite part of it is taking care of them, making sure they are good from morning until we put them away for the night.”

Vickerson’s horses also have the good fortune to feel right at home in another spot, an expansive property not far from Plainridge Racecourse.

It’s a place where the standardbreds have plenty of room to roam.

“I also own my own farm,” Farken said. “So, we transition from the track to the farm and make sure all the racehorses get turn-out turn time and get to enjoy that part of their life. I also get to know the horses better too. So, it’s been cool to bring my riding horse knowledge into the horse racing world. At the end of the day, they are horses, so even though I’m new to the harness world, I can still bring something to the table as far as knowledge of the horses goes.”

She can also speak of her longstanding bond with a trotter by the name of Lakota Lily.

The now 22-year-old daughter of Au Bar—Springtime Melody didn’t have a prolific racing career winning twice in 19 starts, but the mare, bred in Maine by Alberta Emerson, has led the good life since her final start on Oct. 24, 2004, at Scarborough Downs in Maine.

“She came to me when I was around 9 or 10,” Farken said. “I actually got her for free. I saddle-broke the horse myself. I always had a soft spot for standardbreds. I always liked them. I was always intrigued by them, but I just never had the experience. It’s actually funny. I run into Eric Bickmore, who trained her, all the time now. He told me, ‘You’re not that 9-year-old girl anymore!’ He’ll always ask me about Lakota Lily and if I’ve seen her. It’s a running joke we have.”

Farken now has another filly in her life.

She is the proud owner of Bet On Jozie, a 3-year-old daughter of Yankee Cruiser—Pascals Wager, who is being readied for her sophomore campaign.

Bred in Ohio by Sheila Hummel, the bay filly could be the one to provide Farken with her first standardbred win.

It’s something she thinks of often.

“She’s a really nice filly,” Farken said. “I’m looking forward to seeing her race this year. She has a great attitude and having that is half the battle in our world. It’s nice to own them. If you win with one that’s yours, it will be special, I imagine. I’m anxious about it.”

Having her horse and those she takes care of fully prepared to compete is a top priority. So too is ensuring each horse receives individualized attention.

“I’m competitive and I take care of all of them, but the biggest thrill is when they win,” Farken said. “That’s what we’re all here to do, is see that success. I enjoy taking care of them, jogging them and caring for them correctly to help them be successful. It’s nice seeing all that hard work come full circle.”

Working alongside Vickerson has provided Farken with a front-row seat for her harness racing education.

She views that relationship as a win-win for both of them.

“Zach is teaching me everything in his world, but I feel like I’m reciprocating on some level because of my long history with horses,” Farken said. “I’ve learned so much from people in standardbreds that has helped me with my riding horses, so it’s a really cool dynamic.”

When she isn’t heightening her horse racing IQ, Farken spends a majority of any downtime with her daughter.

Keeping pace with an 8-year-old can be a tall order on most days.

“I don’t think unwinding is ever a thing,” Farken said. “But when I do get away, it’s mostly just enjoying my time with her. Thankfully, she enjoys the horses and she rides herself. I have a beautiful 35-acre farm, so I have my little slice of heaven always here for me.”

The game plan for her standardbred career, as of now, is to work her way up to the training ranks.

Being committed to achieving that goal won’t be a problem for Farken.

“I really enjoy learning all the aspects and details of training,” Farken said. “It’s very fascinating to see everything that goes into these horses. The more I learn, the more I enjoy it. Hopefully, one day, I can become a trainer myself. That’s definitely on the radar now and I’m going to continue to do everything I can to see that come true.”