For nineteen-year-old Shaunna Morris, a life in horse racing was destined from day one. As a fourth-generation horseman, racing is in Shaunna’s blood. Shaunna’s mother, Missy Rothfuss, has been an outrider at The Meadows since 1996, and her stepdad, Jim Rothfuss, runs a racing stable by the name of Rothfuss Racing. Her grandparents have also been longtime horsemen.
Since she was young, Shaunna helped her family around the stable. After watching her mother catch loose horses, her own dream of becoming an outrider was ignited. That dream started when she was eight-year-olds, and now, at age nineteen, Shaunna is outriding at The Meadows. Shaunna loves the opportunity to work with horses, and the feeling of being appreciated as an outrider, and doing well out on the racetrack, is extremely rewarding.
Shaunna is involved in 4-H and has completed a Harness Racing Youth League at Indiana Downs. She’s helped her mother retrain and rehome a standardbred for New Vocations through the Every Horse Off The Track Program.
Shaunna hopes to see an improvement in promotion for the sport, as well as ways to draw young people in and help people learn how to bet. “Young people don’t understand harness racing,” she explained, “We need happy hour specials and other things that will draw younger people to the track.”
In terms of industry accomplishments, Shaunna recently won a race in the Harness Horse Youth League with
driverDave Magee. She was the parade marshall for the Little Brown Jug when she was sixteen-years-old and has carried the flags for the Adios Pace for the Orchids at The Meadows. “I also caught my first loose horse this month!” she said.
Shaunna looks up to her mother and stepfather more than anyone in this industry. “They work incredibly hard every day. My mom buys a lot of her horses out of kill pens and retrains them herself,” Shaunna explained, “Outriding is a hard job, and my mom is extremely hard on me [when it comes to work]. She tells me I can’t be weak [while outriding] and asks whether I want to be a parade marshall or an outrider. She helps me train my own horses to work as outriders. She’s taught me so much. Jim has always worked so hard to provide for us, and he still always found time to take me to 4-H events and softball practice.”
Shaunna is currently attending college where she’s studying to be an auto repair technician. In 5-10 years, she hopes to see herself working in both auto repair and outriding, and she hopes to have a few racehorses of her own as well.
On the thoroughbred side of things, allow me to introduce myself. The author, that is!
My name is Averie Levanti, and I’ve been the author of the Generation Z blogs throughout the summer. I’m a twenty-year-old native of Reading, Pennsylvania, and I’m about to start my junior year at the University of Kentucky, where I’m working towards a major in equine science and management, and a minor in business.
As a kid, I always had an interest in horses, but it never really spilled over to anything more than an interest. I didn’t have any family or friends with any history or interest in horses. I would casually ride from time to time, but I never took it up competitively. I never had a horse of my own.
For me, horse racing started at the age of twelve. I was in sixth grade when Secretariat was in theaters, and, being a book nerd, refused to see the movie until I read the book. So, I picked up a copy of Bill Nack’s Secretariat.
I threw myself into the wide world of thoroughbred horse racing, reading and learning and absorbing as much as I possibly could. It was early 2011, and I fell in love with a beautiful blaze faced chestnut on the Triple Crown trail. When I cheered Shackleford home to a 12-1 upset in the Preakness Stakes, I knew I was a goner. I was bitten by the racing bug.
Although Shackleford will always hold a special place in my heart, he isn’t the most important horse in my story. Naturally, that distinction belongs to none other than a Pennsylvania-bred. I was fourteen-years-old when I first became aware of Princess of Sylmar. I flipped on the TV right in time to watch her romp to a 7 ½ length score at Aqueduct and, in awe, said to myself, “That filly is going to win the Kentucky Oaks.” Four months later, and at 38-1 odds, she did.
I ended up meeting Princess of Sylmar later that year, and I stayed in touch with her owners, the Stancos, through the rest of her career. I was present for most of her four-year-old campaign, attending her races with the Stancos, spending time with her on the backstretch, and even got to walk to the paddock with her before her final race at Saratoga.
My passion for Princess was recognized, and I was offered my own blog on Horse Racing Nation when I was fifteen-years-old. My writing and photographing for HRN is what got my foot in the door in this industry. I don’t know if it was fate that led me to catch that race of hers in early 2013, but everything I ever have and ever will accomplish in this industry is owed to her.
I spent four years as a writer and photographer with Horse Racing Nation. I had the opportunity to attend races all over the country. I’ve photographed all three legs of the Triple Crown, including American Pharoah and Justify’s Belmont triumphs, and three Breeders’ Cups. I reached my goal of making it to 20 different racetracks before my 20th birthday last year.
What I wanted to do with my life was never up for debate. Horse racing is the only thing I’ve ever been genuinely, undyingly passionate about. Even years before I reached college, my mind was made up. I would go to college in Kentucky, and I would make a life for myself in horse racing.
Going to school in Kentucky has provided me the chance to finally break through the experience barrier with thoroughbreds. A year ago, I finally got my first job prepping yearlings, weanlings, and broodmares for the sales. I don’t think anything is more rewarding than watching a horse you had a hand in stepping into the sales ring. Hours and days and months of progress and work all come down to those two minutes in the ring. It makes all of the challenges worth it. This summer, I got to experience the newfound pride of watching one of those yearlings make it to the racetrack. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
My favorite part of this industry is the sales. I love bloodstock. I love pedigrees. I love the breeding industry. I could pore over sale pages and stallion statistics and pedigree crosses for hours on end.
My pride for my home state of Pennsylvania runs deep. I want nothing more than to see our industry succeed. I love cheering home Pennsylvania-breds on the big stage, and witnessing superstars gather for the big days at our local tracks. Pennsylvania horse racing was my first horse racing experiences. It’s home. And as much as I enjoy the incredible things I get to do in Kentucky, I’ve already decided I want to move back home to work in Pennsylvania. I want to give back to the state industry that gave so much to me.
I know our industry, as a whole, needs so much improvement. I want to see a centralized governing body. I want to see uniform rules. I want to see stricter medication regulation, and I want to see the phase-out of Lasix. We, as a national industry, cannot keep moving forward unless we catch up with our other international peers, and we’re behind on a lot of things.
In 5-10 years, I hope to see myself working within Pennsylvania’s industry. While I’m still finding my way, I hope I’m able to turn my love for bloodstock and breeding into a lifelong career in my home state. I want to breed and sell and race horses of my own. I want to bring greatness to Pennsylvania in any small way that I can.
And above all else, I want to build and live a life in horse racing that makes that little twelve-year-old girl with the racing bug proud.