The 2017 New Jersey Horseperson of the Year has worked tirelessly for numerous equine organizations. Maggi Romano, 63, of Millstone, received the honor at the 61st annual New Jersey Breeders Luncheon, held on Jan. 28 at O’Connor’s Restaurant, in Easthampton.

Romano has served as president of the New Jersey Horse Council (NJHC) and represented the NJHC at the American Horse Council (AHC). At the AHC, she served on the racing committee and on the Coalition of State Horse Councils. Romano also served as chairperson and vice-chairperson on the New Jersey Equine Advisory Board(NJEAB).

She and her husband, Tony, were founding members of the Standardbred Pleasure Horse Organization of New Jersey (SPHONJ). Maggi served as president of the SPHONJ and managed the annual National Standardbred Show one year at the Horse Park of New Jersey. Currently, she serves on the board of the Open Space Pace and is a delegate to the NJEAB.

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Receiving the award was “overwhelming,” said Romano. Although Romano contends she’s more of a behind the scenes person who doesn’t like to draw attention to herself, she was honored by the award. She invited her sister over from Germany for the presentation and brought along 15 other guests. “It was exciting,” she said. “People stood up and clapped -but it was a little weird.” She’s more at home taking care of the six horses she keeps in her backyard – all but one retired – than drawing that sort of notice.

Dr. Karyn Malinowski, director of the Rutgers Equine Science Center, said she knows no one more deserving of the award than Maggi Romano. “She’s served the New Jersey equine industry and horses for decades. She gives 500 percent to the industry,” said Malinowski.

“Maggi has a great passion and deep appreciation for horses and everyone involved in the horse industry in New Jersey,” NJDA Secretary Douglas H. Fisher said. “She is very deserving of the Governor’s Award for Horseperson of the Year.”

Romano was born in Germany and had little exposure to horses as a child, although her father brought her to watch international show jumping at Aachen each summer.

She moved to the United States in 1977 and got involved with the horses by the early 1980s. Her introduction came when she rented a room from a woman who worked at the Meadowlands Racetrack, East Rutherford, N.J. Accompanying her roommate, she thought caring for horses was something she might do.

Romano started out working with Standardbreds at Johnson Park, in New Brunswick, N.J. where Sire Stakes races were then held. It was there she met Tony, whom she wed in 1986. His family had horses, and from then on Maggi took care of their own Standardbreds. She also “paddocked” harness horses for their owners.

Almost all of her equine experience involves Standardbreds. She did work briefly caring for riding horses, but isn’t fond of riding per se. “It’s too high up off the ground,” she said. “I’m more comfortable in a sulky or carriage.”

As far as Romano is concerned, Standardbreds “are the best breed there is.” She calls them willing to learn and hard workers with a good temperament who retrain easily to become riding horses after their racing careers are over. Romano works closely with New Vocations Racehorse Adoption, in Columbus, Ohio, which retrains and adopts out both Standardbreds and thoroughbreds. Several of her horses have gone there after retiring and headed to new homes as pleasure mounts.

The horses in Romano’s backyard tend toward special needs cases, horses which aren’t readily adoptable. Some of them are horses she cared for during their careers and took in when their racing days were through, as she grew attached to them. When asked about aftercare, Romano notes that while the Jockey Club has several good programs in place for thoroughbreds, the Standardbred industry hasn’t done as much, although there is improvement. “If racing and breeding pick up, I would like to see money diverted to [aftercare] programs,” she said.

As someone who has had a front-row seat in the state’s equine industry for three decades, Romano has seen lots of changes, both good and bad. For the former, she said that various sectors of the industry, including harness and flat racing and show horses, are working together toward common goals much more so than in the past. As for the latter, there has been a big decline in the numbers of horses bred and stallions standing in New Jersey. She said racehorses must have the same opportunities given those racing in other states for the industry to compete and grow. That doesn’t necessarily mean slot machines at the racetrack, which is true of surrounding states. However, the industry does need some sort of help that other states provide, she said.

Equines aren’t Romano’s only animal enthusiasm. She has long been involved in cat rescue, fostering and trap/neuter/release programs. The Romanos currently share their home with 10 felines and a dog. In addition to working for animals, Maggi is also a volunteer with the Millstone Office of Emergency Management.

This summer, Romano’s life may come full circle, as she and Malinowski plan a trip to Aachen. Eventually, she plans to retire and move to a warmer climate, but right now “there are too many horses in the backyard.”

Several other awards were also given out including the crowning of the New Jersey Equestrian of the Year, Madeline Crisp. The New Jersey Thoroughbred Horse of the Year went to Irish War Cry. New Jersey Standardbred Horse of the Year and Secretary of Agriculture Award for New Jersey Sire Stakes Premier Horse of The Year went to Ariana G. The Breeder of the Year went to Fair Winds Farm.

Scholarships, Superior Achievement awards and the Horse Park of NJ Volunteer of the Year were presented.

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