After Winning Contest at Shenandoah Downs, Farmer Trades Cattle for Harness Horses

The following appeared in the Northen Virginia Daily January 24th and was written by Ashley Miller.

Standing in his barn, surrounded by horses, Steve Wetzel never thought he’d trade in his cattle farm for a life of horse training.

“There’s a joy to it,” Wetzel said looking at his farm. “To work with them all week and take them to the racetrack and see the benefit of my labor.”

Steve Wetzel jogs Defriended at his farm in Mauertown, located just outside of Woodstock (Rich Cooley photo)

Two years ago, while attending harness racing at Shenandoah Downs in Woodstock, Wetzel entered his name into a contest to win a horse for a day. Standing with eight other potential winners, Wetzel waited patiently to see if his name would be called. Seconds felt like hours, but for Wetzel, the waiting paid off. His name was drawn.

“I ended up with the long shot, who at the time didn’t even have a driver,” Wetzel said. “They ended up getting a driver a little later on. But I went to the paddock, got to meet the horse, talked to the horse, and whispered in its ear, ‘Hey, I need you to win.’”

Much to his surprise, the horse won, allowing Wetzel to keep all the purse money.

Calling his wife, Wetzel, told her he was going to buy his first horse. Thinking he was joking, her response was, ‘No, you’re not.’”

Now the owner of the horse ranch Lineweaver Acres, Wetzel did exactly as he said. He purchased his first horse. Now the stalls at Lineweaver Acres are filled with horses, each with their own personalities.

Steve Wetzel pictured with one his favorites — 6-year-old gelding Turtle (Rich Cooley photo)

Wetzel, who also has his training license, said he never had anything to do with horses before purchasing the ranch. He was a cattle farmer, and up until winning a horse, he never thought that would change.

“Once I got involved in horses, that was it,” Wetzel said. “I sold my beef operation. I sold everything and put everything into this.”

Lineweaver Acres, which was once a harness racing ranch, continues its storyline with Wetzel. Wetzel started out renting space for a year — in the spring and fall. Eventually, he approached the owners of the ranch, saying he was interested in purchasing it. The owners, who lived in Pennsylvania at the time, agreed. The track, which sits next door to the ranch, is owned by another family, although Wetzel uses it for jogging his horses when needed.

Working 70 or more hours a week, Wetzel is always on the go. Feeding begins at 7 a.m. and jogging starts around 7:30 a.m. Wetzel and his staff are with the horses until about 1 p.m. and return later in the evenings to feed, bring water, and allow the horses some time outside before the sun goes down.

His favorite horse is Turtle, who nuzzles Wetzel’s face while his owner praises him.

“My wife told me to buy him,” he said.

“He’s won me a lot of money, but it’s more than just that,” Wetzel said. “I can’t explain it, but he’s a good horse.”

Steve Wetzel celebrates with family and friends in the Shenandoah Downs winners circle after his Sea of Life captured the afternoon’s featured race this past fall in Woodstock.

The horse industry is a difficult place for animal lovers like Wetzel. Not every horse has a happy ending like Turtle, and Wetzel knows that. He puts the horse’s needs before his own and knows that forming attachments makes it that much more difficult. But, he said, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

When he’s not training his horses at the ranch, Wetzel is on the road traveling to races around the area. Staying close to home is his ultimate goal, where he can compete in fairs and qualifiers in Woodstock.

“Maybe amateurs. Just because it’s fun.”

The goal in harness racing, Wetzel explained, is to win. He was fortunate at the beginning of the 2023 fall meet to win eight races.

“Which was kind of a big deal for me,” he said. “So that helps pay the bills.”

“We train hard,” he said. “But the next day we take it easy, a little break, to allow them and their muscles the time they need to recover.”

Walking the stalls introducing the horses, Wetzel said many of them poke their heads out for a meet-and-greet whenever someone walks by their stall. As friendly as they can be, no wonder Wetzel takes pride in his winning horses.

As time progresses, Wetzel said his ultimate goal is to breed Virginia-born horses and to compete in the Virginia state races.