In the winner's circle again
A horse trainer from Alta who has been able to enjoy the sights and sounds of equine sports for more than 40 years has been able to reach the victory circle again this season at Prairie Meadows Racetrack, picking up his latest wins in a four-decade career that has taken him to venues across the United States and Canada.
Dick McDanel, 77, has already been able to see two of his horses achieve success at the Altoona-based racetrack during the short harness racing season this fall, which began the second week in October and will conclude next Saturday. Full-Time Lover, a horse owned by McDanel and driven by his son Joel, crossed the finish line first in the Oct. 22 running of the one-mile trot in a time of 2:03.1, while a two-year old filly McDanel trains, Mack Girl, also won at Prairie Meadows.
McDanel, who only quit actively driving horses in races two years ago, got into the horse racing and training business in the spring of 1962 when he became unable to saddle horses anymore. McDanel, who moved to Alta in 1955 and was a rural mail carrier, decided to use his time outside of work to begin training horses, as a way for him to stay active in equine sports.
"It really all started as a hobby," McDanel said. "I've always loved being with horses, and I figured this would be a good way to stay around them."
After buying one horse to train, McDanel soon expanded the business to four trotters and pacers, and now has a total of eight racing horses, keeping four at Prairie Meadows and four on four acres of land on Highway 7 east of the fairgrounds in Alta.
Much of McDanel's work is spent during the winter and spring, as he uses the harness racing off-season to train and strengthen his horses through a variety of exercises. He also spends a large portion of each day with the animals during the fall season at Prairie Meadows, and said it takes dedication and commitment to train the horses properly.
"You do have to spend a certain amount of time with each of the horses to help them race the best they can," McDanel said. "I spend about one to two hours with each horse each day, and that is getting out on the track, working with their mannerisms, et cetera,"
After watching their training habits and critiquing their racing skills, McDanel then has the option of either keeping the horses or selling them to Amish families across the state, who use the horses to pull their buggies around their settlements.
McDanel has also passed down his love of harness racing to his four children, and two of them, Joel and Kandi, are still actively involved in horse training and racing. Joel, who lives in Richland, Iowa, teams up with his father as the driver of the horses for many races at Prairie Meadows, while Kandi races trotters and pacers in Kentucky.
Prairie Meadows has not been the only racetrack McDanel has been an active participant at, as he has been able to use his experience training horses as a ticket to venues across North America over the past 40 years.
"I've been able to race at fairs across Iowa, and I've also been able to go to places in Illinois, Colorado, Ohio, Kentucky, South Dakota and even Canada," McDanel said. "The past couple years I've just been at different fairs in Iowa and at Prairie Meadows, though."
McDanel is still passionate about harness racing, and said he plans on staying active in the sport as long as he can.
"I'm not going to quit until I have to," McDanel said. "That much is for sure."