Sierra Philipp

The Need for Speed

There was a time when Sierra Philipp showed horses competitively. Today she desires competition that is a little more fast and furious.

“I quit the showing western pleasure as soon as my family allowed me to sit behind a racehorse,” said the third-year Iowa State University veterinary medicine student from Mount Vernon, Iowa.

Beginning at age 10, Philipp started in the family business of harness racing where Standardbred horses race at a specific gait, either a trot or pace. The horse pulls a two-wheeled cart called a sulky. That’s where Philipp rides.

Philipp and three other members of her extended family compete in the Iowa Harness Racing Association from May to September every summer. The family races 2- and 3-year-old horses and annually attend 25 race dates at county fairs and other sanctioned events. The mile-long race features up to eight horses in a race with speeds topping out at 35 mph.

“Harness racing can be a little nerve-wracking,” Philipp said, “but I like it – it’s addicting, the thrill of going fast.”

With that speed goes danger. In her career, Philipp has been dumped twice. She escaped serious injury both times.

“It’s a dangerous sport but I’ve sat behind enough horses that I feel pretty safe,” she said. “It can get pretty crazy with eight horses and drivers all bunched together.

“Every race definitely gives you an adrenaline rush.”

Philipp has won her share of races. Prizes can top out at $6,000 and the vet student appreciates the cash flow it provides her. She cites victories at the Illinois State Fair Amateur Division and a win on the Humboldt, Iowa, track as her highlight wins. At Humboldt, her finishing time was the best of the season.

In addition to driving the sulky around the track, Philipp also has her trainer’s license and is “attempting to get through vet school without a serious injury.” As she enters her fourth year of vet school and its required summer rotations, it will be a little more difficult for her to compete.

“It will be a challenge to find the time, but I hope to be able to continue racing not only this summer but after I graduate as well,” she said.