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Morrisville State College Equine Student Named Groom of the Year, Is Youngest Recipient and First Student to Receive Award

MORRISVILLE, N.Y.—When William “Will” Harmon isn’t in the classroom, he can be found in the horse barn at Morrisville State College, grooming, harnessing or helping care for the standardbred racers housed there.

The Morrisville State College equine racing and management student has taken his equine devotion off- campus too, volunteering or working for little money to assist trainers and others with grooming and caring for their horses.

Learning everything there is to know about horses and the harness racing industry is what drives the 20-year-old Morrisville student. But it’s his work ethic and tenacity, patience and horse genuineness that have turned heads in the grooming industry and reined him the honor of Groom of the Year.

Harmon, of Afton, N.Y., is the youngest recipient and the first student to win the award. Sponsored by Harness Tracks of America and Hanover Shoe Farms, the award recognizes grooms who maintain the health and welfare of the harness sport’s horses.

Traditionally bestowed on veteran groomers who take care of stakes-winning horses, a judging committee of executives in the racing industry who were once caretakers/grooms, expanded this year’s criteria and cast their votes on Harmon.

“We found his story compelling,” Paul Estok, general counsel of Harness Tracks of America, said. “The fact that he goes out of his way – what he does for little or no money is practically community service.”

“We (the committee) all read his story and he was ultimately selected based on the compassion, work ethic and maturity level of a 20-year-old kid,” Stan Bergstein, executive vice president of Harness Tracks of America, said.

A full-time student barely able to afford college, Harmon has devoted countless hours to paddock horses –expecting nothing in return.

“Everything I do is a learning experience,” he said. “I love horses and just want to know all there is to know about them.”

Last year, the soft-spoken student gifted with abiding patience and horse instinct, helped stable owner Richard Andresen, who is being treated for cancer, care for his horses at Afton Fairgrounds. Horse owner, Wayne Lockwood, noticed Harmon’s dedication and nominated him for the award.

In the industry, equine grooms are a fundamental factor in a trainer’s/owner’s success, providing healthy and content horses that can perform at their peak.

“He is the most motivated young man I know,” Lockwood said. “There is no end to his willingness to give and he asks for little in return.”

Andresen started Harmon grooming horses but quickly gave him more responsibilities.

“He’s a fast learner with so much patience,” Andresen said. “And in this business, patience is number one.”

Andresen even entrusted a lame horse to Harmon who worked him until he was eventually ready to race again.

Harmon’s equine passion is radiant.

“He is that kid who loves what he does and always goes above and beyond,” Lockwood said.

But Harmon’s humility credits Andresen with much of what he has accomplished, including his recent kudos.

“I am so grateful to him for all he has done for me,” he said. “He was a mentor, took me under his wing, gave me my own horse to care for and taught me so much.”

Harmon’s equine commitment is encompassing.

During racing season at Vernon Downs, he hangs out at the track providing any assistance he can to trainers and drivers.

Juggling a full course load along with volunteering and part-time work, Harmon still managed to earn a spot on the Dean’s List at Morrisville State College his first semester.

But what stands out more than academic accolades is the spirit inside the zealous student who lives off of money saved from construction and cook stints and small paddock jobs so he can drive place to place doing what spirits him—caring for harness racers.

“I never think about payment or recognition,” Harmon said. “I just enjoy what I do.”

Instilled with horse charm, Harmon grew up around horses but never really considered a career in the industry until a few years ago. Once he set his sights on the track, there was no stopping him.

And there isn’t on campus either.

Keith Cluff, head of the college’s standardbred racing program describes Harmon as a fervent worker gifted with patience and a gentle nature, especially when working with young horses.

“He remembers everything you show him and applies it on a daily basis,” Cluff said. “He has a great work ethic and is always willing to do extra and to help other students.”

But the fundamental quality behind his success is his love and compassion for horses.

Instead of going home during the last school break, Harmon stayed on campus to help Cluff take care of the standardbred fleet at the college.

“Whenever I need him to help out, I can always count on him,” Cluff said.

Through his daily visits to the college barn, Harmon’s learned all of the horse’s names, knows their eating habits, even their quirks.

“I look at this kid and I see a bright future ahead of him,” Cluff said.

“He is exactly what the industry needs,” Lockwood said of Harmon. “It needs more people willing to get involved, who are willing to work, learn and help.”

Morrisville State College offers a bachelor of technology degree in Equine Science and two associate degrees in Equine Racing Management and Equine Science and Management. An Equine Breeding and Training Center, a 34,000 square-foot breeding and hunter/jumper facility, includes a breeding and foaling barn, hunter/jumper barn, stallion barn, a complete breeding laboratory, collection area, laptop classroom and three indoor riding arenas.

In addition to the Equine Breeding and Training Center, the college has an 80-acre Equine Center complete with paddocks, stables, and the only half-mile harness racing track on a college campus in the nation. Additional stables include a draft horse barn with a covered round pen and runouts.
Morrisville State College offers more than 75 bachelor and associate degrees and options including a new associate degree in autobody technology and a new bachelor degree in technology management.

Considered to be one of the most technologically advanced colleges in the nation for its ThinkPad University program and wireless technology initiative, the college recently became the first in the nation to comprehensively replace landlines in residence halls with individual cellular phones. Morrisville State College was also chosen as one of the top five colleges in the nation for campus activities by Campus Activities magazine.

The Morrisville State College Norwich Campus offers associate degree programs in accounting, business, computer systems technology, office administration, liberal arts transfer, nursing, early childhood, criminal justice and human services to south central New York residents and employers. Students may also apply coursework to other associate or bachelor degrees at the main campus.