WOODSTOCK — Morgan Marston’s voice got louder and more excited as the horses began to take off.
“The horses are coming into the stretch, and they’re off,” Morgan said with excitement in her voice at the start of each race for Friday’s Shenandoah Downs harness races at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds.
Morgan called all but one of the 14 races on Friday, which had no spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but was streamed live on the Shenandoah Downs website. The 12-year-old from Edinburg is one of 10 novice announcers Shenandoah Downs is using for the races held each weekend until Oct. 17. In August, they announced that anyone interested in announcing the races should get in touch with Darrell Wood, the communications director for Virginia Equine Alliance. Wood said he had 10 responses which was the number of race days for the five weeks.
Morgan might be young but she is quickly gaining experience in announcing harness races. The seventh-grader at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School began announcing races in 2016 with the help of legendary race caller Roger Huston.
Morgan said she was introduced to Huston by Woodstock horse owner Betsy Brown and she liked hearing him call the races. Huston began allowing Morgan to announce a few races at The Shenandoah County Fair and she’s enjoyed doing it ever since. Huston, who started announcing races in 1960, has since retired from announcing.
“He moved a long way to Ohio, he can’t come down anymore,” Morgan said. “I got used to him and I was pretty good friends with him and I just liked hearing him.”
Morgan, the youngest of six siblings, said she enjoys announcing the races.
“It’s fun to be out there and look down and see the whole field,” Morgan said.
Morgan has been around horses most of her life, starting at around age 3.
Being around horses has been a family affair for the Marston family. Morgan’s mom, Melissa, said that two of her sons worked for Terry Kibler at Kibler’s Furniture Store in Woodstock and also helped Kibler with his horses. Kibler, who passed away in 2018, owned horses along with Brown and many of their horses ran in the harness races at the Shenandoah County Fair.
“Through my sons, Morgan became acquainted with Betsy and started hanging out there with Betsy (Brown) and Terry (Kibler),” Melissa Marston said. “So Terry was a great influence on her and developing her love of horses at a very young age. It was under his guidance and Betsy’s guidance and direction that she started interacting with the horses and started jogging the horses.”
Three years ago, Morgan was given a special surprise for her ninth birthday — she became co-owner of one of Brown and Kibler’s horses — Believe In Him.
“She started at a very young age and she’s stuck with it,” Melissa Marston said. “And I think that’s part of the reason now why she has part ownership of a horse. She has continued to stick with it.”
Morgan said she works with the horses on Brown’s farm throughout the year.
“Right after school, I usually go to her farm and feed them and pet them,” Morgan said. “Or in the mornings when we don’t have school, I would go out there and jog them.”
The one race Morgan didn’t call on Friday was the one that her horse, Believe in Him, raced in. Morgan stood along the fence at the track and cheered her horse on in the seventh race of the day. Believe in Him finished second.
“It was pretty exciting,” Morgan said of the race. “I thought she would have won, but she was on the outside almost the whole mile.”
Melissa Marston said that the whole family tries to go to as many of Believe in Him’s races as they can.
Melissa Marston served as Morgan’s spotter on Friday and said she was very proud of her daughter.
“I can tell each time she does it, she gets better and better and better,” Melissa Marston said.
Morgan said that she was nervous at the start on Friday, but she relaxed more as the three-and-a-half hour race card went on. The 13 races were the most she has called in one day.
Morgan said that she’s not sure if she wants to pursue a career in race announcing or not.
“I might, but I might not,” she said. “I get nervous. I did also want to drive (the horses), but it’s a little scary because you can wreck or you might go over the lines.”