Pursuing a unique passion
"There is no greater thrill in the world than sitting behind a horse in a race. The adrenaline, the action ... it's really addictive," Brian Blanchard '12 says. A Maine native, Blanchard has been involved in harness horse racing since the age of ten.
Although harness horse racing may sound unfamiliar, it is a common event at large agricultural fairs throughout the state of Maine, and regular races take place at Hollywood Slots Hotel and Raceway in Bangor and Scarborough Downs in Scarborough.
In this unique sport, athletes ride in carriages that are pulled by horses around a track in a mile-long race. The horses start behind a moving gate to keep them even until they hit the starting line.
"Contrary to what most people at Colby think, a driver cannot abusively whip a horse or kick a horse during a race," Blanchard says. There are a number of regulations that a driver must follow.
Blanchard has been around horses most of his life. His father farmed with work horses and was involved in harness racing, and at the age of ten, Blanchard worked with him as a groom and a second trainer.
When he was 17, Blanchard got his license to drive in the races and was recently named the 2009 Rising Star by the Maine Harness Horseracing Association, an award that is given annually to a driver who has shown sportsmanship, success on the track and an ability to learn.
What is most impressive is that Blanchard still manages to find time to pursue his passion while he is away at school.
"I usually drive anywhere from one to six hours a night, three or four nights a week at Bangor when I come back to Colby, [but] sometimes my father has to [take care of the horses] if I have a late lab or something."
His summer schedule is much more hectic, as he wakes up early every morning to take the horses for a slow three to four mile trot. And, as Blanchard points out, there is a lot of training involved if you want your horses to race well.
Harness horse racing is something Blanchard hopes to continue in the future as he pursues a career as a veterinarian specializing in equine medicine and surgery. For now, he just wants to continue to hone his driving skills while in school.
For Blanchard, there is more to harness racing than winning. Simply put, he "just likes being around horses." The sport requires Blanchard to devote a lot of time to training, horse care and competition, but he says that the work pays off.
"The best part of harness racing is waking up every day and being able to work with horses," Blanchard says. And even if that means an hour-long drive to Bangor, this sophomore is not about to sacrifice a sport he loves.