Kelley McNiven — Fourth generation horsewoman

by Victoria Howard

Kelley McNiven is following in her parent’s footsteps as well as carving out a path of her own.

McNiven’s parents, Scott and Kim McNiven, were carrying on their family’s harness racing legacy when she was born. Scott’s father, Bob, owned and raced harness horses in Ontario and after Bob’s passing, his wife, Verna, continued her husband’s love with their son, Scott.

Scott’s brothers, Jack and (the late) Don, ran the notable breeding farm Killean Acres where they stood their stallion Run The Table and Scott’s brother, Rob, founded the standardbred nursery Twinbrook Farm.

Located in Embro, ON, Twinbrook Farm is home to nearly 100 horses running on 130 acres of land. It is known for bringing the “Twin B” prefix to the North American harness racing industry and is now operated by Rob and Tammy McNiven’s daughter Jenna McNiven. Though, Rob and Tammy are still very much involved.

Their family tree sprouts widely as Jenna’s boyfriend, Francis Dumochel, is also horse trainer and cousin, Maddie Henry, is married to top driver/trainer Travis Henry, who notched his 2,000 driving win in 2022.

On Kelley’s maternal side, her mother Kim got involved in the business through her father, Wayne Heywood. Wayne and his brother, Ross, both operated small training stables.

Kim’s brother, Doug Heywood, presently owns racehorses with Scott and Kim.

With all that family involvement, it’s no surprise that Kelley joined in.

“I have owned standardbreds since I was 10 years old,” Kelley said. “My first horse was Jump For Joy: an appropriate name for I was always jumping for joy when I was around him. Another favorite racehorse was Kendal Fresco, who after he was done racing, he became a family pet.

“I also own a broodmare with my dad named Alphabet Queen. She is very special for I picked her out at a sale and looked after her during most of her racing career. Alphabet Queen had a beautiful Betterthancheddar filly named Baby Belle and is due again to foal the end of March a full sister or brother for Belle.”

Today, Kelley works part-time with the horses. She is also employed as a behavioral technician/ABA therapist working with autistic children in an ABA therapy center. She is also a full-time student at Western University going for her MBA in the Applied Behavior Analysis program.

“I am so grateful I have the opportunity to do both as I am very passionate about my work in the ABA and still involved with the horses,” she said.

Born in London, ON and raised in Putnam, ON, Kelley’s family races mainly at The Raceway at The Western Fair District in London. During the summer, their horses race at Grand River Raceway and Clinton Raceway.

Racing in Canada is no easy task for the winters can be brutal.

“I do not do well in the bitter cold, which is why I’m lucky to have an indoor job during the winter months,” Kelley said. “This winter has been especially difficult for horsemen and the horses as many tracks were cancelled due to the inclement weather. You really must monitor the track condition for the safety of yourself, and especially the horses.

“During COVID I was finishing my undergraduate in family studies and psychology online through Western University, so I was able to work more in the barn for my parents. My father let me help him train. I loved being an integral part of the family business and learning as much as I could from my dad. It was so fulfilling to see the horses I helped train go back to the races and be successful. I also take as many catch paddocks as I can for other trainers, such as Nifty Norman, Anthony Haughan and Meg Crone. They are all great horsemen to work and learn from.”

Over the years Kelley has had several favorite horses.

“Kendal Fresco has always been special to me,” she said. “We bought him as a yearling in 2009, so we have had him most of his life. He taught me so much and I guess you could say he is, “My Heart Horse” for he’s always been there for me: even for four of my graduations. Alphabet Queen is another favorite. I picked her out as a yearling and she was always a great mare to work with. And last, but not least, is Ride Away Shark, one of our broodmares who did well for us in her racing career.

“Currently my parents own a racehorse named Mr. Cheeseman (Betterthancheddar) who everyone knows as ‘one of my babies’ for he is super spoiled and I always try to personally take him on race night. He is the reason I bred my broodmare to Betterthancheddar.”

Kelley also has a few standout choices from her catch paddock, with her favorite being the mare, Fire Start Hanover.

“Nifty Norman trained her and although she was difficult to work with, I loved her sassy attitude,” Kelley said. “She was always game on the track and gave her all. I am eternally grateful for the opportunities I have had looking after Nifty’s horses for he is one of the best trainers in the sport.

“My favorite horse in the Haughan/Crone Stable is their homebred 2-year-old Some Might Say. They are both amazing horse people and overall great humans. I still work for them, mostly on Saturdays.”

The fastest horse the McNivens have owned is Ride Away Shark who won at Mohawk in 1:50.1. As a 2-year-old, Ride Away Shark won an Ontario Sires Stakes at Mohawk in 1:53, which in the year 2014, was considered extremely fast for a 2-year-old.

Not only is Kelley a fourth-generation horsewoman and avid horse lover, but the young woman has some big things ahead of her.

“My plans are to graduate with my master’s degree in 2024 and continue my education in the ABA field,” Kelley said. “My dream is to one day own a therapy center dedicated to the use of ABA therapy and equine-assisted therapy. I would love to be able to combine both of my passions. I’ll also continue to breed my broodmare and hopefully her foals will make it to the track and be successful.”