by Brian J. Mazurek, for Buffalo Raceway
HAMBURG, N.Y. --- Haley Hunter loves working with animals. She's been a barrel racer for 18 years and was employed at a dairy farm for the past eight years. But a Facebook post in early January caught her eye and while it still involves animals, she's ventured into a new area, harness racing.
The 22-year-old old Hunter has been a groom for the James Clouser Jr. stable for just five months but her work ethic and passion for the standardbreds already has earned her Horseman Of The Month honors for May at Buffalo Raceway.
This month's award is sponsored by Coyote Cafe, 36 Main Street in Hamburg, N.Y. and by Univet Equine Nutritional Supplements. Haley will receive a $50 gift certificate from the Coyote Cafe and a custom bucket made by Kathy Smith that will be full of Univet 'swag' and grooming products.
"I am still trying to wrap my head around it," Hunter said of being named the recipient of the award.
Hunter said of her new vocation thus far. "I saw the ad on Facebook and jumped at the opportunity. I've worked on dairy farms and do barrel racing, so I've always been passionate about working with animals. I've always dreamed about working with racehorses and now I have the chance."
And her first five months on the job have been nothing short of amazing. "Jim Clouser has shown me the ropes. He's given me information about the ins and outs of racing and has told me things I can use when I barrel race," Hunter said.
"I have seven horses that I take care of myself," Hunter added. "I groom, paddock, feed, wash them, clean their stalls, everything. They are my responsibility. I get to the track every day at 7 in the morning and stay until 1 in the afternoon unless it's a race day. I am also in charge of ordering feeds, hay and mixers. He (Clouser Jr.) gets us whatever we need to be successful."
And two of her favorite 'clientele' are Tail Hook and Fireinsidemyveins. (Tail Hook looks like a stocky barrel horse, not a standardbred, so I was immediately drawn to him. And Fireinsidemyveins is a stallion who just is so respectful and professional".
And while those two have already captured Hunter's heart, she quickly added, "They are all my favorites. Each of them gets bathed daily, their legs wrapped and I even stop every morning at Tops and buy a bag of carrots to give each of them."
As for her future endeavors, Hunter said she'd definitely be interested in owning a racehorse. But as for other aspects of the sport, she added, "I might want to jog or warm up horses down the road but right now I am very happy doing what I am doing."
But while sitting behind a sulky could be in the future, Hunter will continue her barrel riding. "My schedule is pretty full throughout the summer with races just about every weekend."
But in the meantime, she's going to continue to enjoy her new gig. "I don't really look at this as a job. I look at it as a hobby because I love doing it. And also, the people I work with and I am around daily are just amazing. It's easy."
And any negatives about her new job, Hunter said with a chuckle, "Yeah, I don't like the hour drive from Warsaw (N.Y.) and getting up early. I'm not a morning person. I'd sleep until at least noon if I could."