I’ve always loved the horses!

Posted Date: 
Tuesday, May 26, 2020

“I really never saw myself broadcasting,” says Michigan native Jessica Otten. “When I was younger I always wanted to be a teacher… Why? I have no idea…”

Now 23 and living in Hightstown, New Jersey, this third-generation horse person has gone from living on a farm to living in a town - which she says has been a big adjustment, but she does live close to quite a few training centers which helps.

“I’ve always loved the horses,” she says. “They’ve been such a huge part of my life ever since I was a baby. When I got my driver’s license I was more excited to be shipping horses to the track, by myself, than I was going to pick up my friends… I honestly spent more time with the horses - than I did hanging out with my friends… I guess I just enjoyed being in the barn or going with my dad (Peter Otten) to the races more than anything else.”

“In high school I backed away a little bit, with the horses, when my dad moved to Canada to race - so we didn’t have any horses on our farm. I became more involved with school functions and was on the Student Council. I know a lot of people who didn’t care much for high school, but I’d go back in heartbeat. There was nothing better than a home football game, at Roundhouse Stadium, with my friends and a bonfire to follow on a Friday night… I come from a small town so everybody knew everybody and we just always had fun. This year marks me being out of high school for five years now and if you would have told be back then - that I’d be working at The Meadowlands - I’d have laughed in your face and said ‘Yeah right!’”

“Racing has always been a huge passion of mine… Bringing my friends and teachers to the track and showing them how cool my dad’s job was - that was my favourite thing to do,” says Otten. “I always enjoyed helping out at the tracks, in Michigan, if there were large groups of people for paddock tours, starting car rides, winner’s circle pictures and stuff like that. A lot of people in my life - outside of the horse business - never fully understood what my family did… When I’d say we had horses - they always assumed we had riding horses. Or if I said I take care of horses, they assumed I just brushed horses.”

Social media has come a long way in recent years… The Facebook and Twitter platforms have become a great tool for marketing the sport. “When Facebook introduced the ‘Facebook Live’ feature - I did a series on Facebook of my entire night at the track,” explains Otten. “It was like taking my Facebook friends along with me while I paddocked a horse from start to finish and so many people were intrigued. And many didn’t even know what harness racing was and that honestly shocked me. From there I went on to interviewing people, at the track, to highlight the different roles people had in the business. And then I teamed up with Northville Downs and did some ‘Facebook Live’ segments on their page and even started posting on their Twitter account as well. I’d reach out to horsemen and get their thoughts on their horses racing that night and that all went over really well.”

It’d be December 1, 2015, when Jessica would debut on The Raceway’s pregame show - talking horses and making selections - possibly a stepping stone for what may have been waiting in the wings… “I was at the Little Brown Jug, in 2016, and Mike Carter (Post Time with Mike & Mike) would call me to ask if I’d like to join them for the Breeders Crown at The Meadowlands… I remember it like yesterday and I remember agreeing to go - even before I knew the details,” she said laughing. “It was a bit nerve racking, but I really enjoyed doing all the winner’s circle and paddock interviews that weekend - interacting with the big names in the business - I had a blast! And when I got back to school, the following Monday, I ended up changing my major to marketing and the rest is history…” she says. “After that broadcast, with Post Time with Mike & Mike, I travelled with them full-time, for the next two years, covering events like the Molson Pace/Camluck Classic, North America Cup, Meadowlands Pace and other major racing events. I am so appreciative of everything Mike and Mike have taught me and have done for me.”

Things can happen quickly in this business and sometimes it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time… “In 2018 I was in Lexington, taking care of horses, when Jason Settlemoir contacted me about doing TV at The Meadowlands - I remember reading the message and I was like ‘Is this real life?’… And before I knew it I was working at The Meadowlands, on the weekend, doing paddock interviews. I don’t know why, but being on camera made me so nervous,” she says. “I got to work with experienced and knowledgeable guys like Dave Brower, Dave Little and Ken Warkentin - who were so welcoming when I first started - they helped so much…”

Jessica’s newest job title, within The Meadowlands, is Marketing Coordinator… ”So in addition, to doing TV, I work alongside Rachel Ryan and help out with the big events. We run the social media platforms together - posting about our events, our dining, menus, promos and the races. I spend a lot of time on the computer and my phone - scheduling posts, seeing what horses are racing, noting milestones - anything that’s of interest, about our sport, goes on social media, because let’s face it - that’s where people spend a lot of their time now and not everybody can make it out to the track. I think it’s even more important now, than ever, with tracks having to race without crowds. Whether it’s a video of a horse warming up, a picture of them in the paddock, a fun fact, anything really - the more people see - the better - in my opinion…”

So what may the future hold for this young broadcaster? “I don’t have a degree in marketing or broadcasting yet, but I am a big hockey fan and yes I’ll admit I’m a Red Wings fan too… I guess if I absolutely could not do something in harness racing - then maybe I’d try to do something with hockey. I do enjoy football too, but my dad and sister both played hockey - so I grew up watching a lot of it… But it’s the horses I love - so I’d rather just stay within harness racing if I could.”

With some harness tracks opening up and many more to do so in early June - The Meadowlands may not be too far behind. “Right now I’m home, in Michigan, spending time with my family and helping out in the barn - so I’m keeping busy,” says Otten. “But once we get the OK to race, I’ll head back to New Jersey and hope to pick up where I left off.”