Born into a harness racing family Elissa Blowe has spent all of her life surrounded by horses. “My dad drove Standardbreds and my mom trained them at home,” says Blowe who knows both the standarbred and thoroughbred horse racing industry from front to back.
Growing up with Standardbred (harness racing horses) Blowe helped with chores such as mucking stalls, cleaning horses and going to the track when her parents had horses racing. She even learned to drive the sulky (the buggy attached the horse in harness racing) when her legs were long enough to reach the stirrups.
At age 10 she began cleaning and bathing other people’s horses to make enough money to buy her own riding horse. Raising for $400 towards her goal caught the attention of the Brethours, another family involved in the Standardbred industry. Not long after Lorne Brethour delivered a horse to her doorstep.
“It was just like a tv show…I was at home and there was a present coming for me and I didn’t know what it was and the trailered pulled in and I got the cutest little quarter horse,” recalls Blowe.
Unfortunately, the horse was only two and not broke (i.e. trained to ride) and given Blowe’s limited riding experience it was decided that the horse be given to another home.
Her first real riding horse was Robert, a quarter horse from Fort Erie Race Track. Robert had been the lead pony (the horse that leads the winner of the race) at both Woodbine and Fort Erie for 15 years. When Robert turned 18 his owners decided it was time to find him a forever home. Blowe’s family learning the horse needed a home made the long drive from Port Perry to Fort Erie and picked up Robert. He became the family horse and lived out the rest of the life with Blowe until 2004 when he passed away at the old age of 36.
Although her parents got out of the Standardbred racing scene in 1989 she found herself working various jobs at several tracks in Ontario including Woodbine, Mohawk and Fort Erie. Blowe also started Phase 2 Thoroughbreds; a business in which she took horses from the track at Fort Erie and sold them to homes where they would have a chance at show careers. According to Blowe she helped sell 450 racehorses into show careers. “That’s what I’m most proud of today,” says Blowe.
--Fast forward to today --
Blowe is presently the media and communications manager at Fort Erie Race Track.
I asked Blowe how she and Golani crossed paths. She admits that she heard about him before she actually met him. “I just knew him as a frustrating racehorse…that was totally sound and just didn’t bother trying.”
Golani began his racing career at Woodbine racetrack in Toronto in 2006. He would spend the next year running at that track before being shipped in 2008 to the Assiniboia Race Track in Winnipeg. In the fall of 2008 Golanie returned to Woodbine and raced there until May 2009. In the summer of the same year he finished out his racing career at Fort Erie.
Blowe recalls Golani finishing third on his first time out at Erie. This was around the same time the industry was coming out with new whips. "The new long popper whips were coming out. They were something that people were trying. They tried the new whip on him and put Melanie Pinto on him.” According to Blowe the whip did the trick. "I gave her (Pinto) the long popper and he won by 10 (lengths)."
In September 2009, Golani qualified and ran in the Puss n Boots stakes. Despite having some grass pedigree he couldn’t get the job done. "He made a little move and they were just too tough for him,” says Blowe.
In October 2009 at the end of the Fort Erie racing season there was talk of shipping Golani to another racetrack. “He was scheduled to go to Mountaineer, he wasn’t a horse that the owner was interested in keeping. But Maree Richards who was a jockey and she was the assistant trainer at the time used to get on this horse everyday…he was her pet. And even though he was a bit of a dufus like he wasn’t exactly the world's friendliest…he liked Marie. And so Maree said you can't send this horse to Mountaineer,” recalls Blowe.
With her experience selling racehorses over the years Blowe made it her mission to find him a home.
"I bought him and I first offered him to Maree as a gift but they couldn’t have him ...they already had a pony for their kid."
Blowe decided to send Golani to a lady in Kitchener who operated a hunter facility. While there Golani started training over jumps. After some basic training under the saddle she put him up for sale again. She had tons of people look at him but he was either to small to be a hunter or not bold enough to be an event horse.
She then got a call that Golani was acting up and decided to give the horse to Cory Clark and former jockey Chad Beckon. Blowe asked asked Clark to break him in Western riding so he could be a stable pony at Fort Erie Race Track. Golani was a quick learner. "Neck reining… he picked up in a day,” says Blowe proudly.
In spring 2010 Golani returned to Fort Erie not to race but as a stable pony. "The entire time I was fighting with idea of having a stable pony because they are a luxury item. They cost money, they take up a stall that could have a paying horse in it." Yet Blowe hired a girl to teach him how to be a pony around the track horses and could see the value in the retired racehorse. "He was coming in handy,” according to Blowe who still remained somewhat detached from the thoroughbred gelding.
"I didn’t know the horse, I just knew the horse as a racehorse. When you grow up in horse racing you don't get attached,” points out Blowe.
But that all started to change when the season ended and she spent the winter riding him alongside her friend Beckon. "Just walking around…nothing exciting." Although they were just walking around and not doing much there seemed to be a hint of excitement in her voice from getting a chance to be back in the saddle.
In the spring of 2011 Blowe admits that she was still on the fence about Golani. “We weren't really friends... he bit me and tried to kick me all the time. And some days I was like what did I do? Like why did I do this?"
And just when you thought horses couldn’t converse Golani gave Blowe a sign, a small gesture that made her jump to one permanent side of the fence. “He started to recognize me more when I came to the barn...he was talking to me all the time."
So at the end of the 2011 racing season she started working with him and taking lessons to improve her own riding skills. Her friend Clark also encouraged her to ride him more and take him to a show barn. “I really started to want to learn more,” says Blowe who soon invested in a saddle and a few other things for her sidekick.
In 2012 Golani returned to his job as stable pony at Fort Erie and Blowe felt differently going into this season with him. “When he came back to the racetrack that spring it was a little harder to give him up,” says Blowe. She also admits that she became more concerned about him than the actual racehorses at the track. After work she would make special trips to his stall. “I’m hanging out with him, I’m bringing a magazine and sitting in front of his stall for awhile…I was kinda starting to love him.”
After that racing season ended Blowe spent more time in the saddle and they began jumping together. She and Clark took him to his first show which he won and she knew from there on she wouldn’t be sending him back to the track just to pony the racehorses.
Working closely together for the last couple of years Blowe is happy to have him by her side. “At first I found it very therapeutic for me. I have a very high stressed job at the time because we were fighting to save the racetrack …always fighting for survival down here.”
Anxiety riddled and having panic attacks over the uncertainty of the racetrack staying open at that time she found that having Golani took her mind off things. “The horse was keeping me sane,” says Blowe.
Given the ups and downs of the industry in 2012 and 2013 Blowe sold her house and bought a smaller house so she could afford Golani if she lost her job at the track. “The only thing that I was concerned about in the whole world was him and the dog.”
Not surprisingly their bond has grown stronger and Blowe works with him as much as she can in her downtime. Not only is she hooked on jumping but she can see that Golani is gung-ho about his new career. So much so that Blowe moved Golani to a show barn Niagara-on-the-Lake in September 2014.
Most recently they competed at the Thoroughly Thoroughbred Show on October 26th, 2014 in Milton, Ontario. Golani won champion reserve.