(first printed in The Equiery March 2012 issue)

Selecting the recipient of the Jonathan Kiser Memorial Scholarship from the pool of active riders in the Maryland junior racing circuit was not a difficult task for the Maryland Governor’s Cup Board in the spring of 2011. The award is given in recognition of a junior’s race participation, horsemanship, sportsmanship, talent, and dedication to the sport of steeplechase racing. It was a young lady by the name of Maggie Herzog whose face lit up with surprise when she heard her name called at the 2011 Maryland Governor’s Cup Awards Dinner to accept the Jonathan Kiser Memorial Scholarship.

An excited Maggie explained, “I was shocked! I honestly race because I love having that trusting relationship with my horse and being able to show it out on the racecourse. I’ve never let anyone else train my horses because I like having that feeling that my horse is my best friend. Getting an award as big as [the Kiser Scholarship] for doing what I love is just amazing!”

Horse-Loving Start

Being from a horse-loving family, riding is in her blood. “I was riding before I could even walk and I started racing when I was about seven or eight on Sweet Adeline. She is the best pony anyone could ever have. She taught me everything I know and is still teaching kids! I remember my first win on her. I just wrapped my arms around her neck. I was so proud of her, and myself,” Maggie said.

With Sweet Adeline, Maggie won the Junior Field Masters Chase–Ponies at the 2005 North American Point-to-Point Association championships. In 2006, the pair won at Green Spring and Howard County. That year, Maggie also raced a medium pony named Annabelle. The pair was unstoppable, winning three times in 2006 and six times in 2007.

In 2008, Maggie moved up to riding a large pony named Sally and then graduated to the horse divisions in 2009 with Amazing Daisy. Together, they won at Howard County and Elkridge-Harford and placed second at Green Spring.

Maggie particularly enjoys the Field Master’s Chase series of races developed by NAPPA and adopted by the Maryland Steeplechase Association in 2001. In a field master’s chase, riders rate their horses behind a “field master,” who travels around a small timber course at a good hunting pace. After the last fence, riders are released to race to the finish on their own. This type of race gives amateur riders the taste of race riding, while in a controlled setting. It also gives them a sense of pace and what it’s like to run and jump in a group.

Scholar Rewards

The recipient of the scholarship receives acceptance and admission to the summer steeplechase camp offered by NAPPA. The camp is a week-long experience beginning in Virginia and traveling north to Saratoga Springs, New York. Stops are made in such major steeplechasing hotspots as The Plains (VA), Butler (MD) and Unionville (PA). Students work with top steeplechase trainers Jack Fisher, Richard Valentine, Janet Elliot, and Neil Morris, just to name a few.

As the scholarship winner, Maggie thought the NAPPA steeplechase camp was a great reward. She explained, “The camp was so helpful and a lot of fun! Talking to the jockeys and trainers all over really helped me gain a lot of knowledge about riding and racing. Riding with some of the top trainers helped me get their thoughts on racing and what they thought was important. I learned that keeping your hands still works a lot better than waving them up and down the neck! I enjoyed it and would recommend it to any young rider who is serious about racing.”

The camp came after an up-and-down season riding a horse named Sweet Buns. At Green Spring, the pair finished third. They then raced to fourth at the Grand National among a tough group of young riders. That race was followed by a sixth at the Maryland Junior Hunt Cup. Then in May, the pair sprinted to second place at Howard County before ending the season with a seventh in the Restricted Young Adult Flat race at Potomac.

Chasing the Future

This year, all eyes will be on Maggie and her new mount Pepper Sauce. Finding a horse or pony for the Field Master’s Chase series isn’t easy. They have to be game, a good jumper and manageable. Finding all three things in a thoroughbred can be even more challenging. Maggie’s search was long, but she finally hit the jackpot.

“We’ve been searching all over for a horse off of the track to be our future timber horse. We went everywhere and tried so many horses. Then we discovered that one was staring us right in the face at our own barn! He belonged to a boarder. Pepper is amazing! He was off the track and didn’t know how to jump, but he’s now soaring over three feet with no problem. I am excited to see how he does this season and how far he will go. I absolutely adore him.”

What will life after the junior circuit bring for this Jonathan Kiser Scholar? “I will always be doing something with horses. I will continue galloping and race riding. As far as a career, I want to be a forensic investigator. It’s not really horse-related, but I plan on playing around with and training horses on the side. My love for horses will never fade, especially having a Mom like mine.”

Maggie’s mother Brenda runs Good to Go Farm, her boarding and training facility, from a wheelchair due to a riding accident years ago. Operating from a wheelchair hasn’t slowed Brenda down one bit and she has clearly spread her love for horses to Maggie. (To read more about Brenda’s racing career, see “2011 Maryland Lady Legend” on the archives at equiery.com.)

When asked what she’d pass on to young riders like herself coming through the ranks, Maggie advised, “Don’t be so serious and don’t force yourself to do it. It just has to be something you’re drawn to, something you love. I feel it’s very important to have that trust between you and your horse.” She went on to point out the common problem of people asking their horse to do something beyond their limits, too soon. “The safety of you and your horse is more important than any trophy. You need to know when enough is enough and pull up if it’s not going well.”

A quick look at Maggie’s “past performances” easily reveals her heavy involvement in the sport of steeplechase racing. Her race record speaks for itself with a recorded 39 starts, 23 wins, six places, and one show, as well as a 58.97% win average any professional would be jealous of. This will be Maggie’s eighth, and final, year racing on the junior racing circuit. She will age out in August when she turns 16.