With the announcement ‘Drivers to your horses’ echoing throughout the paddock at Pocono Downs at Mohegan Pennsylvania, another race day is about to begin. Paddock Judge Luann Sensenbach takes her position outside her office, keeping a watchful eye on each entry, checking everyone, as they make their way out to the racetrack.
With her attention to detail; sharp eye; cool head; and love of horses and harness racing, Luann was the perfect person for the position of Paddock Judge after the retirement of long-time Judge Ken Kolanich in 2011.
Luann was born in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, and spent her high school years in New Jersey. She was practically raised in the business. “My mom was with a gentleman who was a trainer when I was young, and I would go off to the track on weekends and work at the barn, cleaning stalls and harnessing horses when I was probably about 10 years old. Then when I was in high school, I would get in the car on Friday after school and drive to Liberty Bell and paddock horses.”
Luann and daughter Alleysha, husband Jim, niece Angela, and great-niece Jordan

She, at first, didn’t pursue a career in the racing business. “I started college for Accounting”, Luann remembered. “But I saw a couple of my friends were graduating and having a tough time getting a job. It was the time that the H & R Blocks were opening, and everybody was doing their own taxes. I was offered a position at Pocono as the Identifier, and I decided to take that position, rather than spend money and not be able to get a job, like my friends.”

Working under Ken Kolanich, Luann was quick to pick up what was required of her job as the Identifier, along with the duties and responsibilities of Ken’s job. “I learned how to do everything he did by helping him and filling in for him, and eventually he retired, and I took over as Paddock Judge.”
As Paddock Judge, initially, the position included the added responsibilities of overseeing the backside as Stall Superintendent. “We had the barn area then, so I was in charge of assigning the stalls; billing and collecting all the stall rent; and basically running the day-to-day operations of the backside.” The barn area was demolished in 2019 and a new Receiving Barn was built in time for the 2020 season.
The regular duties and responsibilities of her position are extensive and, again, it is her attention to detail that makes her so successful in her career. “I have to make sure that all the horses are in the paddock on time, in their assigned areas; make sure they are on the track for Post Parade on time, scheduled by Tote; make sure everyone is following the rules and regulations. Basically, safety! I don’t want to see a horse go out with no lines hooked, or their harness is not hooked properly. We want to make sure that everyone is safe when they go out!”
All horses must have the necessary paperwork on file before they race, as well. And Luann follows up with each horseman to see that all Coggins; Rabies; EHV, and health certificates are entered into the U.S. Trotting Association database.
Luann’s staff in the paddock consists primarily of women as well, and they all work well together. “My Identifier, Lynn Bayersdorfer, and Johanne Fuller, who handles the horse numbers, have been with me a long time. We also have a woman Outrider, Tia Shafer, and a lot of the vets are women. We don’t have a lot of women drivers, but the ones we have are very good in the industry. We have more women trainers than we ever had. We do have a lot of great women in this industry.”
She is extremely proud of her daughter, Alleysha, who is following in her footsteps as ‘a force to be reckoned with’ in the industry. “She went to school to be a veterinarian, but during the pandemic, she kind of hit a speed bump, but in March, moved to Lexington, and is working for a ride-along veterinarian assistant for Hagyard Equine, and is getting married in October!”
Luann trained horses, also, when she was married to Bobby Reynolds and is currently re-married to Jim Sensenbach, who is not in the industry. He understands and supports her long hours and is patient with her stressful, at times, career. “It’s kind of beneficial because he’s a chef, so he knows the long hours, but he kind of doesn’t understand my dedication to the industry, because I do have so much compassion, and I want to see the industry thrive and move forward. He sometimes wonders why, though, I can’t just leave it at work, but he’s getting better with it. He knows I have a lot of responsibilities and he’s learning to accept it.”
One of the highlights of her career so far was the 2018 Breeders Crown, when she saw extra paddock duties and responsibilities added on, including using her creativity to assist the then-Marketing Manager, as she designed and created the centerpieces for the Horsemen’s Tent. “I really enjoyed the Breeders Crown, and yes, I put long hours in, coming in and bedding stalls down for these horses to come in, but just the Breeders Crown having so much prestige, and being in the limelight, and doing extra things. It was amazing.”
Another added highlight is obtaining her Judge’s license, which she has had for over 15 years. “I wanted another feather in my cap. Maybe someday I want to be an Associate Judge or Presiding Judge! And I have two Judging jobs a year, going out to Virginia and Maryland, where I’m a Presiding Judge for two fairs, and I’ve even filled in at Goshen Historic Track.” Ironically, Luann and only one other woman were in that licensing class at the time.
Stepping into the Paddock Judge position vacated by a male, Luann really has had no issues receiving respect and cooperation from the horsemen. “I’m very assertive, and I just basically don’t let them see any weakness,” she laughed. “I’m what you call an Alpha-woman. You really have to know your job and do it to the best of your ability, and basically, people respect you for that!”
And her advice for women who are looking to break into the industry, perhaps moving up to a prominent position such as Paddock Judge? “As a woman, especially, you just have to be tough! Stick your chin up and know that you matter, and know your job! Research the job you want, become familiar with it, and you can do anything that a man can do!”
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