Unbridled enthusiasm

By on September 19, 2018

Eighty-three year old horse trainer, Bob Hess, refuses to ‘rein’ it in

Upon turning 18, Bob Hess decided to “bet it all.”

He drove from Lititz to California on a quest to find new experiences in life. Prior to landing on the west coast, Hess, born in 1934, grew up like many other boys in the Lititz area &tstr; graduating in 1952 from Warwick Township Senior High School in Rothsville.

“I grew up on a farm. I’d shoot game and would bring it back to my mom,” he said. In California, Hess attended college in Pasadena, where he told his counselor that “I’m trying to learn how to learn.”

After college, he entered the U.S. Army. When his service to his country was up in 1959, he decided to fall back on something familiar, training horses.

Lititz native Bob Hess always has time for family, as seen here with his grandson William Hess.

“I remember Ben Forney (growing up) who played polo,” he said of the man whose name adorns Forney Field, home to Lancaster Polo Club. “My dad trained horses for him and I helped out.”
While serving in the army, he’d go the racetrack whenever possible, earning $35 a week in the process. Over the next few decades, Hess would grow to become one of the best horse trainers in the business. Today, almost 60 years later, he’s never left the track, although the pay has increased. And at age 83, he has no signs of slowing down.

Hess still makes his way back east to Lititz to visit family and attend class reunions, but his home base is none other than Golden Gate Field in Berkeley, California. That’s the location where most of his horses run.

With 19 horses, “they run almost every day,” He said. Also in the business is his son Bob Jr. who’s worked around racetracks alongside his father since age 6. He became his father’s assistant in 1983, and went out on his own in 1987.

“He’s a real smart guy,” Hess added of his son. “Between races, he’d sit down and write essays. I urged him to pursue a college degree.” The father and son combo have collectively earned their runners well over $50 million, and racked up over 2,000 combined wins.

“I’ve been very lucky. I’ve met some wonderful people in California. “I don’t work for anybody I don’t respect,” he says. “The horses allowed me to be what I want to be.” When asked if he’s had a special mentor while learning the business, Hess states that there has been a few, although he points first to his late father back in Lititz.

“I learned from everybody, but my father was the guiding influence in my life,” he states. “He did more for the kids in my neighborhood than anybody.”

So what’s his secret to success? Great horses.

“The most important thing is to get that horse to train,” he said. “Most times, if you get a good horse, it will prevail.” Hess noted the saying at the racetrack is that a good horse makes a good trainer.

Hess (left) with his wife Maria in this undated photo.

“I’ve won between 1,600 and 1,700 races, and the first big win was the first horse I got,” he said.

Though he still works seven days a week, there’s no place he’d rather be. Amazingly, Hess never put a lot of emphasis on winning and in the end what matters most is how you live your life.

“Marrying and having four lovely children…now that’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “I’m the luckiest guy around.”

Cory Van Brookhoven is a staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your comments at cvanbrookhoven@lnpnews.com or 717-721-4423. 

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