You can’t equate the town of Hawkinsville in Pulaski County with horse racing. But every year, at the onset of winter, the central Georgia town is the destination for many harnessed racehorse owners and trainers from as far north as Canada, bringing with them dozens of their most successful drivers and trotters. taken.

One Mile Track Training, Lawrence Bennett Training Facility

They spent the winter in Hawkinsville training the horses before returning north in the spring to race on harness tracks with pari-mutuel bets. Hawkinsville’s mild winters, good pastures, and other amenities attract harness racing enthusiasts, but the biggest draw is the town’s superb Lawrence L. Bennett Harness Horse Training Center.

The sprawling facility is there primarily because of Hawkinsville’s early devotion – dating back to the 1890s – to harness racing. This early connection led to a grant in 1975 to build the Lawrence Bennett Complex, which opened in 1977 on the outskirts of town. It is now the only such facility in Georgia and one of the top Standardbred driving horse training centers in the eastern United States.

(The Standardbred is best known as a harness racing breed – well-muscled, long-bodied, slightly heavier than a Thoroughbred, strong legs, and strong shoulders and hindquarters; able to trot or walk for racing.)

During training, the elegant horses, pulling their “drivers” in small two-wheeled racing carts, trot or pace a mile-long red clay track or a half-mile all-weather track . The horses are housed in 15 barns with 32 stalls measuring 10 x 12 feet each. Each barn also has wash racks, tack rooms, feed/hay rooms and groom’s quarters. When not training or resting in their stalls, horses may also graze in the outing paddocks.

Lawrence Bennett Training Center, Hawkinsville

Blacksmiths, farriers and other support services are also available.

At the start of their winter training, the horses start at a jogging pace on daily laps around the track. Over the weeks, they gradually pick up speed; late March or early April, they are at full racing speed and ready for competition.

If you visit the training center, the best time to see the horses training with their handlers is in the morning, after the animals have had their breakfasts. Some horses and drivers, however, may take turns around the track in the early afternoon. After their training, the horses are washed, rubbed and brushed by their grooms, then fed again. After that, the horses, often dressed in blankets, can rest in boxes or venture into the exit paddocks.

“They get a lot of loving care,” said Gerald Lilley, the facility’s superintendent who moved to Hawkinsville from Rockwood, Ont., and is a racehorse owner himself.
This year’s training season will culminate on April 2 with the annual Hawkinsville Harness Festival, where horses and their handlers will compete in one-day races. Lilley noted that it will also be a fun family event featuring local music, arts, crafts and great food.

But you can’t bet: betting on horse races is illegal in Georgia.