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Published August 26, 2009, 12:00 AM

From pastures to race tracks

Clayton Mielke never imagined liking horses, much less raising them. He certainly never imagined that a young colt running in the pasture among his dairy cows on his Kensington farm would someday develop into a promising racehorse.

By: Tara Bitzan, Alexandria Echo Press

Clayton Mielke never imagined liking horses, much less raising them.

He certainly never imagined that a young colt running in the pasture among his dairy cows on his Kensington farm would someday develop into a promising racehorse.

But that’s exactly what happened, and the farmer sheepishly admits a growing appreciation and fondness for these four-legged creatures.

Mielke, a farmer who milked cows for 30 years, said he never had an interest in horses until his first visit to a racetrack in the 1980s.

“My sister had 4-H horses when we were young, but I didn’t really care for them,” he explained.

What changed his mind?

“When I realized that there was a chance to make some money with them!” he replied with a grin.

Mielke went to Canterbury Downs (now Canterbury Park) in Shakopee with a friend when the track first opened in 1985. He visited with other horse owners and “got the bug.”

He eventually purchased a “cheap gelding” named Borzois’ Pleasure that was ready to start training, and has been involved in the sport ever since. He’s been raising his own horses for the past five years.

“I was burnt out on milking cows and decided to give this a try,” he said.

Besides breeding and raising horses, Mielke also still raises crops and beef steers. But his goal is to make a living off the horses.

“This year it looks like the horses may make the money,” he said with a smile on his face. “It doesn’t usually work that way. Usually they end up costing me money.”

The horse that is currently making Mielke smile is Runs With Cows, a 4-year-old gelding bred and raised on Mielke’s farm. The horse spent its colt-hood frolicking in the pasture with Mielke’s cows, thus the name.

“Naming them is one of the fun things you get to do,” the horse owner said. “There are all kinds of rules, like the name can’t have been used before, it’s restricted to a certain length, it can’t sound like other previous winners, and so on.”

Mielke raises the horses, teaching them to handle, gets them used to a saddle and bridle, etc.

When they’re ready for more, he either sells them or sends them to his trainer, where they begin learning the skills necessary to be a competitive racehorse.

Mielke’s trainer is Bruce Riecken of Kentucky. Riecken currently trains 17 horses at the Canterbury Park stables. At the end of Minnesota’s race season in late August, the trainer takes some horses to Kentucky to race until the end of the year.

“I’m still learning about all this,” Mielke said. “I couldn’t do it all without my trainer. He takes care of things so I don’t have to worry about anything. He just calls to keep me informed.”

Runs With Cows started racing in 2008. Since then, he has run 12 races and earned three wins, two seconds and two thirds.

His first win was in August 2008. His other wins came this summer. June 12 he ran five and one half furlongs in 1:06.4 and on July 17 he ran six and one half furlongs in 1:20.

For his last two races this season he was moved up to a more competitive level, and still did well, earning a fourth and fifth place finish.

Another of Mielke’s horses, Runs With Cows’ 3-year-old half brother, Dandy Longlegs, is currently in training and also looks promising, according to his owner.

Besides these two horses, Mielke also currently owns three brood mares, two yearlings and two fillies. One of the mares is Dancer’s Prospect, which won more than $70,000 in her racing career, and another is Bailey’s Beach, which earned $260,000 in winnings during her career.

He also keeps his eye on the horses he has raised and sold, including Kensington Stone, a 2-year-old that is currently in training and may be racing soon, and a couple of fillies that he raised and sold that are currently in training.

“They do have some breeders’ fun money available, so breeders who’ve sold their horses can still get some money that way,” Mielke explained. “Plus it’s just fun to keep track of them and see how they do.”

Mielke is more interested in breeding and raising racehorses than in owning them once they start competing.

“My goal is to sell racing stock. I don’t intend to race them all myself,” he said. “You have to have the business mindset that you are going to raise them and be willing to sell at any time, otherwise you’re going to end up with all your horses, and that’s way too many!”

He added that raising your own horses to race requires a lot of patience.

“It sometimes takes five years before you see results,” he said. Not only must a horse undergo all the necessary training, but once they are race-ready, they typically only race once every two weeks or so.

“If you want your horse to win, you have to be patient,” Mielke added.

There’s also the chance that something could happen to your horse – they could suffer an injury or just not be a good racer.

For example, Mielke’s first gelding, Borzois’ Pleasure, earned a win and a couple of third place finishes before suffering from a bone chip. He was later sold as a hunter and jumper and has done well in that.

“A lot of racehorses go on to second careers,” Mielke explained. “One of my horses found his calling as a jumper, some go on to become polo ponies, some are sold to the Amish….”

The horse owner said that occasionally there are people who feel that racehorses aren’t treated well, but he said that’s just not true.

“This is the best life a horse can have,” he said. “They’ve got fancy accommodations and are very well cared for. They get the best of everything.”

The farmer also takes good care of his animals, cows and horses alike, while they live on his small farm. But he admits that his fondness may be shifting more and more from the cows to the horses as time goes on.

“I’ve had cows that were really good cows, but they never had 1,000 people cheering for them,” he said with his customary grin.

“This one is even more special,” he said glancing at a photo of Runs With Cows. “This one was born right down in that barn, and that makes all the difference. He’s my baby.”

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