Harness Life makes an impact
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Jeff Schaefer and his wife Marie know what it is like to battle cancer. Now they want to help bring hope to those facing the fight today and in the future.
The couple recently launched an online store, Harness Life, which sells T-shirts, sweatshirts and window decals to raise money for cancer research. The venture, which began last year, is gaining momentum and produced a $1,000 donation last month with another $1,000 donation to be made soon.
“I had kidney cancer and my wife had breast cancer and we’ve seen a lot of our friends go through it too,” said the 55-year-old Schaefer, who is a blacksmith at Pompano Park and Tioga Downs as well as an amateur driver and U.S. Trotting Association ID technician. Marie is a teacher and trains horses on the side.
“I was sitting on the couch one day and said we should come up with some T-shirts and call it Harness Life. The name is for harness racing, and helps promote the sport, but it also is for harnessing life as a whole. I can’t make enough shirts right now. We’ve probably sold over 250 T-shirts and sweatshirts so far with all the profits going to cancer research.”
Schaefer is from Illinois and has been involved in harness racing since his early teens. When he was 16, he finished second in the junior driving championship at Sportsman’s Park and he remained active in training and driving through his 20s.
At the age of 30, though, he decided to pursue his real interest, which was a career as a blacksmith. He has worked as a farrier for 25 years, currently splitting his time between Florida’s Pompano Park and New York’s Tioga Downs.
“I was interested in it when I was younger, but at the time my dad had back surgery and couldn’t train horses so he kind of steered me in that direction,” Schaefer said. “Later, I decided to become a blacksmith, but having trained horses has helped me a lot. I can pretty much judge where a horse is off, and if I need to, I can train a horse and see where they’re hitting and that kind of stuff.
“It’s rewarding. I’ve gotten to shoe a lot of good horses, like Corleone Kosmos and Burning Point. I also got to shoe for Stanley Dancer at the end of his career.”
Schaefer’s career as a blacksmith forced him to put driving on hold for a dozen years, but he returned to the sulky in 2012 and has been a regular in the Florida Amateur Driving Club. In 2017 he was among a group of drivers from the club to travel to the United Kingdom for a competition and in June he will be among a group to travel to France for an event.
“I got the itch to start driving again so I bought a horse and got back into it,” said Schaefer, who has 75 career wins. “It gets in your blood. I enjoy the competitiveness. I think it’s thrilling every time I go out to drive. I’m kind of the underdog most of the time. It’s fun to have a good horse and win.”
Shaefer will be in action again Sunday at Pompano Park, but in the meantime he will be busy shoeing horses and making T-shirts. It’s the harness life. It’s Harness Life.
“It’s turning out to be a big success,” Schaefer said. (Ken Weingartner)