“You’ve got to believe in yourself. You’ve got to work hard and believe in your dreams and just go for it.” –Jenny Melander
October 11th is International Day of the Girl. To celebrate, we sat down with Jenny Melander of Melander Racing and gathered insight and sage advice for young girls aspiring to become horse racing’s ladies of the future.
Growing up in the northern town of Kramfors, Sweden, where “cold, long winters make working with horses tough,” Jenny Melander got “bit by the horse bug at a very early age. My parents couldn’t figure out where it came from since they are very allergic. They had no background at all in horses. Since I was four years old, I loved horses, went to the local riding club in the town, and spent weekends at my cousin’s place who had harness racing horses.”
At age 23, Melander “made the move to work with racehorses in the US and came to America. I never was told, ‘you can’t do it because you’re a woman.’ My parents knew I was a strong-headed person, so they knew better than to go against me.”
“I came on a three-month visa. Then the next time, it was a year’s visa, then a two-year visa, and then I just stayed. I’m an American citizen now. I’ve been here now for 20 years since 1998,” says Melander.
Sage Advice for Horse Racing’s Ladies of the Future
What insight would you give all young girls aspiring to become the future ladies in horseracing?
For me, it was never an issue being a woman stepping into this industry. Horse racing is one of the few sports where you can actually be shoulder-to-shoulder with a man, and it really makes no difference. In Sweden and most of Europe and Australia, girls are very actively driving and training. Through the years in America, the industry has been dominated by men, but this is changing.
A lot, a lot more women are coming in. It’s very slow with the drivers, but it is coming. Linda Toscano is inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, and Julie Miller is one of the biggest ones in the industry.
What have you learned as a racing stable business owner?
As a business, you can do very well on a smaller scale. The numbers aren’t important; it’s how hard you work. Hours after hours after hours. It’s also part of where the success comes. You can’t be afraid of work in this business. If you’re just willing to work hard, if you’re willing to work your ass off, you’ll be successful, but you’ve got to be willing to put in the hours.
Have a training plan. Have a business plan. You just can’t give up on it. You just gotta do it. It’s not very enjoyable, sometimes, to work and work and work from early morning into the night, but sometimes it’s necessary.
What is essential to ensure ongoing success?
Take time away from work. It’s also a funny thing because I’ll put in long hours with the harness racehorses. So then, it’s late. It’s dark, and I go ride my Thoroughbred to relax.
I ride along Route 33 through the darkness with a lamp on my head and cross the bridge to get to the indoor ring. Then, when I come out of the darkness with a light on my head, the people at the barn call me “the crazy one.”
It’s amusing, but you do have to recharge and refresh, and riding gives me that.
What advice would you give to your younger self or a younger sister?
Don’t doubt yourself. Don’t underestimate yourself. Know that “I have what I need to be successful and accomplish what I’m setting out to do.” I was too hesitant, I kinda, I could have gotten started earlier training horses by myself.
If you don’t come from a family that you inherit, it is difficult. Know where you are going to start. With me, when I decided to go out on my own, it came down to “either I try this very scary thing and try as a trainer myself or I stop.” I had worked with many good trainers. It wasn’t fulfilling enough for me.
I felt the next step was either to start doing something else or try training by myself. Simply, I need to try it on my own or get out of the business and try another profession.
How do you start each day?
You’ve gotta look for the positive.
Create your own happiness. I’m a firm, firm believer in having a good atmosphere in the barn, so really negative people don’t last with me. If my grooms are angry or swearing or having a bad day, it will rub off on the horses. Our main objective for the groom’s responsibilities is really to make sure that the horses are happy. As good as they can and as long as they can—keep the horses happy! If they’re yanking on the lead chain and muttering, the horses don’t enjoy that. It negatively affects horses. Those negative people don’t last long with me.
We all have bad days. Everybody has bad days, but it cannot affect the horses. And that goes for me and everyone around me.
When we had a lot fewer horses and felt the economic struggles, it does affect your attitude and mood. I know if it starts affecting me that I’m better off just leaving the horse, [go away from them] because it is going to rub off on the horses.
How do you get the best from horses?
Listening. If you listen to the horse, you’ve got to be able to listen. If you’re all tense and mad all the time and angry, you’re not going to be able to tune into them. If the horse is not happy, you can see it in their eye.
You have to listen to what they communicate to you in their outlook, attitude, and what they’re expressing. Not everyone listens to the horse, and some aren’t even aware that they can listen.
Also, it’s respect. We have to respect the animal. Respect their needs. Know they aren’t machines. Sometimes they have to move on and find a better situation or go to a track on their performance level. You got to take care of them and put them where it’s best for them.
What important qualities do you need to grow a successful racing stable?
We need to be very customer friendly. And that is changing with the internet and how we promote our business to our owners. It’s a service job. We have to provide a service to our owners for them to enjoy it.
A lot of people are introverts; it’s not really more an issue of being a woman or man. I cannot say that I have any specific struggles being in this business. Maybe when I first started training, it might have been a little hard promoting myself. I’m still very bad at promoting myself.
I think the results and stats should speak for themselves that I’m doing well. It doesn’t always work that way. I don’t feel like self-promotion is my thing to do. You probably need to do that, bragging or promoting yourself. It comes easier to some people.
If you could wave a magic wand and make changes to the horse racing world/industry, what would that look like?
The Sporting Family
There’s so much we need to do to get more families involved and make it a more family sport. Harness racing in Sweden is really quite big, much bigger than Thoroughbreds. We have trotters, no pacers in Sweden. The sport itself is followed a lot bigger there than here in America.
All grow up to bet and watch the race. The local people, all know about harness racing and racing the trotters. It’s talked about and discussed. It’s a big event, and everybody goes.
Even children very much follow racing and understand it. In America, you can’t bring children into the paddock who are under sixteen. Also, having pony races to bring the children into the business would ensure the future.
We need more outreach to the public, not just to our closed community. A good change would be making the industry a lot more public friendly. In this country, the public is like deer in the headlights in understanding horseracing, so passion and enthusiasm over horseracing in the general public is very much on the downhill and getting forgotten about. In America, you still can read about horseracing in newspapers, but in Sweden and across Europe, it’s on the news channel every night for 15 minutes. People understand horseracing, so they follow it.
We should follow our rising star horses. Capitalize on their storied progress, and make those young horses known. Then, follow their career for years to come so we can see the horse as an actual star. Notoriety. That’s something that people would like to see and experience. Foiled Again was given a bit of celebrity, and he brings the crowd wherever he goes. So yes, showcase more horses’ celebrity status.
If you could turn back time and get a do-over, what would you do differently in your journey?
I don’t look back with regret. I’ve always tried to see things as a learning experience. The road will never be straight, but it all becomes a learning experience and creates who you are now.
What are your aspirations or on your bucket list?
- Bring more young and quality horses into my stable
- Win the Hambletonian and Breeders Crown
- Travel and see more of America and the world
Over the last few years, the purse winnings of Melander Racing have surpassed $5 million including 373 wins, 355 2nds, and 314 3rds.
Melander Racing is based at Wingate Farms in Wind Gap, Pennsylvania, strategically and centrally located approximately 100 miles from harness racings’ premier east coast harness racing venues: Harrah’s Philadelphia, Pocono Downs, The Meadowlands, and Yonkers Raceway.
Follow Jenny Melander’s horses’ success stories on Facebook @ Melander Racing
Contact Melander Racing via email MosquitoGold@hotmail.com
Phone Jenny Melander at 561-376-6242
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”–Pele, 1999 FIFA Player of the Century, World Player of the Century, and Athlete of the Century