PLAINS TWP. — Harness racing’s future stars are spending a week at the Harness Horse Youth Foundation camp learning their way around horses and each other.
Nine youngsters between ages 12 and 14 are attending the camp, which is sponsored by The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen’s Association.
To Emma Caruthers-Swortz, 15, Kingston, a counselor at the camp, the week was the perfect opportunity to not just learn about horse racing, but to make life-long friendships.
Caruthers-Swortz, who last year was a participant at the camp, returned this year as a counselor because she said the event “just makes me so happy.”
Caruthers-Swortz and participants credited camp director Ellen Taylor with modeling concern for others and respect for animals.
Taylor said in her nearly 20 years of experience as a camp director, she’s seen the experience transform lives.
One 12-year-old girl came to camp several years ago, talking little and uncomfortable with her peers.
“By the last day, she was talking fluidly with the horses and doing much better with other people,” she said.
A 12-year-old boy who Taylor described as “limited,” finished off a previous year’s camping session by winning the last day’s competition.
“He had a whole different demeanor after attending camp,” Taylor recalled.
Mia Machelli, Blakely, said she came to camp because of her love for horses.
“My dad had a horse and now my grandpa has a horse,” she said.
Machelli said she’s learning a lot about harness racing.
“It takes a lot to get a horse ready to race,” she said.
Machelli enjoyed her first ride as a harness racer Monday.
“It was a bit bumpy though,” she noted.
Logan Keller, Kingston, had never been on a horse before this week.
He started off a little anxious.
“I was afraid I might get kicked at first,” he said.
Keller didn’t get kicked and thoroughly enjoyed his first ride.
Both Keller and Machelli belong to the Manchego team, comprised of three members.
“We think we’re named after a cheese,” he said. “That’s interesting.”
The camp wraps up Saturday, with three races on the Pocono oval, with the campers accompanied by Pocono drivers.
Post time for the races is 5:15 p.m., followed by an awards ceremony in the Winner’s Circle.
No matter what happens, Caruthers-Swortz said there are no losers.
“Everyone gets an award,” she said. “At harness racing camp, everybody wins.”