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Former cattle rancher turns to harness racing

Former cattle rancher turns to harness racing
Former cattle rancher turns to harness racing
Linda Shoults and Jim Hays of Corydon show two of their former race horses, Mr Fussy, left, and Charlie’s Pocket. Photos by Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor
Joey Bowling, Intern

Jim Hays never thought he’d be as intimately involved in harness racing as he is now, but he’s always had a deep appreciation for the sport.

“When I was a boy in Corydon, hanging out down at the race track was the place to be,” he said.

Riders and jockeys were as big to him and the other little boys in Corydon as any football or basketball star. Now Hays, 71, gets to have something he never did as a child: his own race horses.

Of course, he didn’t know that would happen. Most of his adult life has been spent with cattle on a ranch he owned in Kansas. However, as he retired, he decided to check out the harness-racing scene in Indiana.

Former cattle rancher turns to harness racing
Hays leads Hayswood Linda toward the Harrison County Fairgrounds track for a race in August.

In 2016, he and his significant other, Linda Shoults, went to driving school, not for a license, but to learn how to with horses and the business side of harness racing. Hays said that experience is what propelled him into the harness-racing scene, and he participated enthusiastically.

Hays owns multiple horses. Hayswood Linda, named after his partner, and Hayswood Ron, named after his grandfather who started Hayswood Farms in 1899, are two of his favorites.

“People do this because they enjoy it,” he said. “And when they get really good at it, they make money off it.”

Harness racing has taught him a couple lessons too, Hays said, and he’s always ecstatic to meet the young people at the track who are making a career out of jobs related to harness racing.

There’s also the annual yearling sale to look forward to, where 1-year-old horses with pedigrees are auctioned off with the hopes they’re racing by next year. Hays goes to the one in Kentucky and one at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. This year’s sale in Indiana, which took place last month, was held virtually due to COVID-19.

Another surprise Hays had was learning horses were typically owned by multiple people. It increases the chances of winning and softens the blow of losses.

“To be successful in the industry, you spread the risk around,” he said. “You might own 25% of four horses.”

Hays, who writes harness-racing stories for this newspaper, said harness racing is slowly making Indiana a horse state, the same way Kentucky is one and Texas is a cattle state. It’s all due to an Indiana law which funnels a small portion of money from gambling into the purse structure, or winnings. Hays said he cares more about the horses than the money he might make.

Shoults, also a native of Indiana who worked in Kansas, is knowledgeable in her own right. She’s owned horses throughout most of her life and had worked a couple of years with a trainer as an adult.

She said she’s really enjoyed getting back into the equine world because of the people the pair have met and working with horses again has brought her a lot of joy.

“It’s an amazing group of people,” Shoults said. “It’s like having an extension of our family.”

Speaking about the horse named after her, Shoults said it was a kind of magical coincidence, because the couple didn’t have to change the pacing filly’s name much; the previous owners had been calling her Linda. All that had to be added was Hayswood before it.

“She’s a cutie too,” Shoults said.

Harness racing has added another dimension to Shoults’ relationship with Hays and deepened the friendship the pair share.

Hays had a set of goals when he entered harness racing as well: jog his own horse on the county fair track in Corydon and someday win a race on the Indiana Sired Fair Circuit. Pacer Hayswood Ron got Hays the second goal with their very first race in Converse. Two weeks after his debut, he won a race as well in Corydon. An injury in mid-2018 put him out for the rest of the season but Ron came back to fare well in 2019.

“Everything after that has been gravy,” Hays said of his first victory.