SARATOGA SPRINGS – Mickey and Cheryl McGivern met by chance at a seminar for people looking to buy horses in 1985. Together ever since, the couple has built quite a life training and driving harness horses at Saratoga and all over New York.
Mickey drove his first horse in 1977 but grew up with a father who owned standardbred horses as a hobby. Cheryl went to the seminar in 1985 – Mickey was giving the conference -- as the guest of a friend, and she ended up becoming interested in the sport.
“While there, I learned about the sport and ended up purchasing a horse,” Cheryl said. “And Mickey was the trainer, so that’s how we got to know each other.”
Since then, the couple has had a successful career owning and training their horses, and customers’ horses, at their stable, McGivern Racing, located at the harness track. Cheryl said she became intrigued with the athleticism of the horses and finds it exciting to see a baby horse mature into a racing horse.
Mickey, on the other hand, is a trainer and driver, something that has become rare in the sport today. Years ago, he said, pulling both duties was the norm, but not so much anymore as the sport and its purses have grown it into a big business.
“I guess it’s a throwback to those days, yeah,” he said. “I still do both because I think it really helps the younger horses, to have someone who knows them well.”
The couple has three boys, two of whom grew up helping around the stable. Mickey said his middle son “didn’t take to the sport” as much as the other two.
Their days are long and sometimes tiresome. Cheryl said they have to feed the 14 horses in their stable breakfast at 5:30 a.m., before cleaning their stalls. Around 8 a.m., the horses go out for their morning jogs or a full-on training session, depending on the horse’s schedule.
Fun fact: The horses go the wrong way on the track when out jogging, and the right way when training.
“It helps them develop a mindset,” Cheryl said. “This way, they’ll know that when they get out on the track and go the right way, they need to be aggressive.”
After the horses workout, they get a bath and are allowed some time to calm down and relax, before being fed lunch around 1 p.m. From there, the horses are brought back to the stable, where a team of people address any issues the horses might have.
“Some have hooves issues, some have feet issues,” she said. “We have a wonderful team that takes care of them, and we couldn’t do this without them.”
On days where they have horses running, the McGiverns often do not get home until after 8 p.m., making for a very long day.
“I love it,” Mickey said. “I still get juiced up every time. I am very happy to get to do what I do. I am blessed.”
As a driver, Mickey won 12 races in 2014, while finishing second 14 times. He finished in the money 36 times out of 162 starts in 2013; 74 out of 258 in 2012 and 50 out of 172 in 2011.
Though he’s been at it for a long time, Mickey said he has no plans of stopping any time soon.
“It’s really hard to say as a driver, because I enjoy it so much,” he said. “Maybe one day I will slow down a but, but I don’t see myself stopping.”