XENIA — Her hands still muddied from doing work around the Impson Family stables at the Greene County Fairgrounds, Gail Impson chuckled while watching the photographer try to take a photo of her parade horse, LC Plum. With each attempt at getting a photo of the horse, LC Plum would hurry into the back of the stable right before the shot.
“I’ve never known a horse to be camera shy,” Impson, 70, said with a smile. Gail Impson has seen a lot of horses, too.
The Impson family, out of Cedarville, has had a horse competing in area harness races since the mid 1950s when former Cedarville Schools superintendent Robert Impson first purchased a standard-bred horse from Skeet Williamson. Robert named the horse Billy Fisher, after school custodian Bill Fisher, his longtime friend.
Gail bought her first horse roughly 10 years later, after graduating from college. The horse was named Erla’s Queen.
“I bought her because she was pretty,” she said. “I would pay $20 each month until I had her paid for.”
Since then she’s lost count of the number of horses that have come and gone through the Impson Family racing stables.
When Robert retired from Cedarville schools in 1983, the city bought him a Gerald harness racing sulky as a gift.
“Be sure to tell everyone that we still have that race bike on the Impson farm in Cedarville,” she said. “We can’t ever part with that.”
Mom, Edna, liked to pet the horses, but Gail says “she always liked them at a distance. So she was our mascot. She went with us pretty much wherever we went.”
Edna passed away in 2001. Gail’s sister Susan died in 2009, then Robert Impson passed in 2011. The Impson Memorial Blanket has gone to the annual Greene County Fair race winner every year since then.
“It’s always fun to go to the races and to enjoy the camaraderie with the people,” Gail said. “It’s always fun to be with your friends at the fair! …. And whenever we present the Impson Family race blanket, it is always nice to hear their stories from the past about working with dad, or to hear how much the blanket means to them. Maybe some day people won’t remember us, I don’t know.”
Gail said the science of harness racing — from breeding, running lighter sulkies, improving training strategies to creating a better diet — has made harness racing horses a lot faster since when she first got into the business with Erla’s Queen.
“And there used to be a long leather strap that was attached to the horse that went all the way back to the driver,” she tried to explain in her best laymen’s terms. “Now there’s just a hitch that snaps on and off. It’s much easier to use.
“Back then, we trained horses for endurance. I’d say today the emphasis is much more on speed.”
With help from her younger sister, Katie Smith, Katie’s daughter Lauren and the training talents of Christina Smith (no relation), the Impson stable currently has three horses. Tinkpot, a 2-year-old filly, races the county fair circuit and will be on hand to race at the Greene County Fair. Another horse, Moochin Off Sam, has been competing on the Ohio Sires Stakes harness racing circuit, primarily at Scioto Downs near Columbus.
And of course there’s LC Plum, the ornery Christina Smith-trained former race horse turned parade horse that hates to have its picture taken. Maybe the horse gets it from his owner. Gail did not want her photo taken. She didn’t want to take any of the attention away from the Impson family.
“I think the most horses we had ever trained at one time was six,” Gail said. “We had a lot of favorites through the years. Probably one of the nicest horses we had was one named Flip Flop. That horse won a lot of races for us. We’ve had some really good horses … we’ve had some not-so-good ones, and we’ve had a lot of mediocre ones,” she laughed.
Sadly, the Impson Racing stables might be coming to a close soon. The family sold its two brood mares in 2016. They have two yearlings who are expected to race next fall. After that, the Impsons will be buying their horses from other stables, and that’s rarely an inexpensive endeavor.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Gail said. “We’ve started cutting back after we lost dad. There’s a lot to do in harness racing, with breeding and racing and training. … The ones we raise now, we’ll probably race next year. After these, you don’t know. It becomes a matter of purchasing horses to stay in the business, rather than raise them. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
One thing’s for certain. The Impson family name and its long legacy of harness racing will never be forgotten.
Contact John Bombatch at 937-372-4444, Ext. 2123. You can catch the harness racing action on the Chip Noble Memorial Race Track, Aug. 2-3 at the Greene County Fairgrounds.