Trotting tandem thriving in multiple disciplines
story by Megan Rider
Maria Buchanan was literally born into the sport of harness racing, being the daughter of Swedish horsepeople Stig and Elizabet Andersson, who operated a racing stable in Colts Neck, N.J. Upon Stig’s passing in 2004, Buchanan moved back to Sweden with her mother, but returned to the States soon after and started her first full-time job with Standardbreds, under Doug Miller in Florida.
Since then, she has worked for several trainers, traveled to many racetracks, and broke numerous Standardbreds to ride—some while they were racing, some for racing under saddle (RUS), and some for the beginning of their new careers. She also met her husband, Tyler Buchanan, through harness racing. These experiences eventually led her to both Big Bikkies and Chocolate Delight.
Big Bikkies, a now 17-year-old son of Windsong’s Legacy, was owned by Adam Victor & Son LLC and trained by Noel Daley in New Jersey. Buchanan, who began working for Daley in 2009, became Big Bikkies’ groom at the start of his 3-year-old season.
Big Bikkies earned his lifetime mark of 1:52.1 in the Townsend Ackerman Stakes at the Meadowlands, and then trotted a stakes record 1:53.1 in the Simcoe at Mohawk. He went on to win a division of the John Simpson Memorial at the Red Mile, as well as the first heat of the Kentucky Futurity. Big Bikkies raced in the final of the Futurity but did not finish well, and it was discovered shortly after the race that he had fractured his coffin bone. He raced again at 5, but recurring suspensory issues eventually ended his racing career at age 6.
Big Bikkies had become Buchanan’s favorite—a well known fact within the stable. Upon his retirement, Big Bikkies’ connections did not hesitate to place him with Buchanan.
“I had actually never broke him to ride previously,” she said. “I think his many injuries prevented me trying, but we had a connection, and I just knew we would figure it out. I put him in the field for a few months that winter, and in the spring, I started his retraining. When I got on him, he didn’t bat an eye and has tried anything I’ve asked of him since.”
Chocolate Delight, a 13-year-old son of Chocolatier, was owned and trained by Øyvind and Camilla Hegdal while they were based in New Jersey. The Hegdals’ daughter cross-trained him as a riding horse and jumper throughout his racing career. As a 3-year-old, he won the New Jersey Futurity at Freehold Raceway and then a jumper class at a Standardbred show soon after. Chocolate Delight raced until the age of 7, took a mark of 1:56.3, and earned $85,871 lifetime.
“The Hegdals decided he wasn’t performing as well as he could, and he was also quite a bleeder,” Buchanan said. “He had no previous race injuries—therefore, no limitations for his next career.”
The Hegdals were preparing to move back to their native Norway, and they wanted to find Chocolate Delight the best pleasure home. Buchanan had seen him at shows and knew how talented he was, so when she stumbled upon a Facebook post about rehoming him, she immediately made plans to go see him.
“Jumping and speed disciplines weren’t really Big Bikkies’ forte, and another minor tendon issue had sidelined him for a bit that year,” she said. “Chocolate Delight came at the perfect time for me, and I also quickly realized he would excel in barrel racing and gymkhana, which I’d missed competing in.”
It was a match made in heaven.
Buchanan currently owns the two trotters and a pony, and she boards them at the barn she rents in Chesterfield, N.J., along with four to six other horses she cares for as boarders and turnouts. She also ships and grooms at the Meadowlands most Saturday nights.
Both Big Bikkies and Chocolate Delight have competed in hunters,
English/Western pleasure, jumpers, pleasure driving, dressage and gymkhana, and have had junior riders as well. Buchanan shared that they are both incredible trail horses, and it is their favorite pastime together. As Big Bikkies is getting on in years, Buchanan has pulled back on jumping and high-speed events with him.
“We’ve been focusing on dressage the last couple years, and he’s a lovely mover,” she said. “We also have been doing post parading events at the ssMeadowlands for races such as the Breeders Crown and Hambletonian, and Yonkers for the International Trot.”
As for Chocolate Delight, he is very versatile and has become a well rounded horse in his life after racing.
“He’ll go slow and steady in a Western pleasure class, but I believe he truly enjoys the speed events most,” Buchanan said. “He does really well in barrels, and we’re still undefeated in the keyhole event at the Standardbred shows. I take him to horse expos like Equine Affaire for the breed demos and petting stalls where the public can meet our horses. He loves all the attention and is very personable. We still jump, have schooled in cross-country, and last year we completed our first combined driving event.”
Buchanan plans to concentrate on more lessons with the duo this summer. Big Bikkies’ focus will be dressage, and the goal for Chocolate Delight will be to advance his jumping.
“We’ll still go to the local gymkhana shows and have fun as well,” Buchanan said. “Every year, our main goal is to prepare for the National Standardbred Show at the Horse Park of New Jersey. It’s now a three-day show with a variety of disciplines and will be held Sept. 22-24 of this year.”
Both horses have different personalities: Big Bikkies is stoic with a strong personality, and Chocolate Delight is goofier and more playful. Thankfully, both horses are lovely with Buchanan’s daughter, Tessa, who will celebrate her fourth birthday this year.
Bucket list items for Big Bikkies and Chocolate Delight include fox hunting and chasing cows, respectively, which is no surprise given their demeanors. It is obvious that both trotters have had a soft landing, which is always the hope for Standardbreds in their lives after racing. HB
Megan Rider is a freelance writer living in New York. To comment on this story, email us at email@example.com.