Sulky racer Kenny Wood finds a way to save lives using his racing hobby as a means to help
By Reen Waterman // Photos by Stephen Walker
Kenny Wood at his well digging company in Denton where he oversees local wells and runs his sulky racing horses and stables.
Across America people are changing the world. How? By adding purpose to their passion. When the thrill of chasing another wily whitetail or winning another trophy leaves you feeling empty, maybe it’s time to reassess your involvement in your passion. Do you keep engaging in it while accepting your lack of satisfaction or do you try to something different? What about using it for a higher purpose?
Kenny Wood, owner of Lifetime Wells in Denton, Maryland embodies this shift from serving self to serving others. Woods decided to use his passion for “harness racing” horses to change lives. By using his horse racing winnings to self-fund drilling wells in Africa, he continues to provide potable drinking water to over 1,500,000 people in Ghana and Tanzania. (As I was interviewing him, he received a video of his 2502nd well in 14 years being completed!)
Growing up on a dairy farm in Denton, from the age of 5, Kenny spent his life working with animals. Kenny’s dad decided to expand his business to include raising horses. When someone brought him an unruly horse, Kenny was asked to break the bronco. Kenny soon traded the dairy business for a 40+ year equine passion.
Kenny Wood visits his horses in the stables at his facility in Denton.
When he raced in his first harness race driving a sulky (a two wheeled cart attached behind a horse) at age 30, he was hooked. “For me, racing horses was therapy. The sheer adrenaline rush of racing a horse in a sulky…trotting at 30 m.p.h. - 35 m.p.h. ...was unbelievable.” Sulky racing is a fast- paced sport with 8-10 horses rocketing around a mile track. Back when Wood started racing, a fast run would be 2 minutes. Now a fast time is under 1:49 minutes.
The sport is now very competitive and while horse prices used to be $1,000 - $3,000, now horse prices range from $30,000 to well over $100,000. When asked why this is, soft spoken and affable septuagenarian Wood replied, “With the coming of slot machines to the tracks, the prize purses have increased dramatically. As a result, more has gone into training and raising horses capable of becoming real winners.”
Wood’s hobby took a decided turn from passion to purpose after he donated a used well drilling rig to a church in Pennsylvania, finally agreeing to accompany them to Africa to train them. “When I saw how this impacted so many people, it really captured my heart. Seeing how these people had to risk their lives to walk miles to get water for drinking and cooking— water that you wouldn’t even let your dog swim in — I couldn’t just go back to my normal life.”
TOP LEFT: Kenny Wood’s crew drill a new well at a village in Tundaru District in Tanzania; TOP RIGHT: Well is starting to pump in the Itakara District.
MIDDLE LEFT: Woman in the village collects rain water; MIDDLE RIGHT: Village children watch a drone video the well’s successful installation.
BOTTOM: Kenny Wood and crew beginning to “blow the well” in the Tundaru District.
Upon returning to Denton, he put plans in place to go back to Africa and drill on his own, doing so by self-funding. “As I have mentioned before…this is all a God-thing. When I started drilling these wells on my own, my ponies REALLY started to win.” It was fascinating to sit and speak with Wood about the journey from simply enjoying a passionate and financially rewarding hobby to using his horse-racing proceeds to change peoples’ lives.
Wood humbly and genuinely attributes his success in business and racing to his deep, abiding faith. When you see all the trophies and framed photos of his award-winning horses in his office, you wouldn’t expect him to be one of the most modest, unassuming, and genuinely nice men you could ever meet. When you are around Wood, you quickly sense his gentle nature, which is one obvious key for success in his life, business, and racing. He genuinely cares about helping others, taking care of his horses, and doing the most he can to save lives in Africa.
Discussing the strategy of horse racing he sagely commented, “You have to have good horses to be competitive. I look for good breeding, temperament, and strong mental ability. Believe it or not…horses either have the mental ability to know they can pass other horses, or they don’t. God has led me to the right horses. For example, I almost passed, but then decided to buy a “throw away horse” (one that didn’t have much going for it). I ended up paying $15,000 for it and it made me more than $300,000 in two years.”
Wood typically keeps 10 horses in his stables on his 40- acre Caroline County farm. He has four full-time trainers on staff who work the racehorses six days a week. Two of the four trainers have been with Kenny since they were 16, and one is nearing 60. So, not only is Wood good with horses, but he also takes great care of his staff and everyone on the farm.
Horse racing has gotten a great deal more scientific than it was when he began 40 years ago. Today, there is a lot of maintenance that goes into owning and racing horses. There are nutritional supplements to support joint health, and a wide variety of grains that can impact track performance. He and his team closely monitor each horse’s performance and modifies the feed and supplement regimen depending on how each horse races.
Early morning exercise around the track at Kenny Wood’s farm.
Asking what advice he would have for people wanting to enter this arena, Kenny scratched his chin and responded, “I would caution anyone interested in racing. The sport has gotten very pricey. Since the stakes are high, don’t get into it if you can’t afford to lose your investment.” One can get into racing with as little as $10,000 to buy part of a horse, but with the associated costs, many owners have partners who share the risk and the reward.
One of Wood’s most successful horses, JL Cruze, won numerous trophies and purses totaling over $1,500,000. Another of his horses won over $800,000 in two years. With such valuable horses, I asked if he insured them. Shrugging his shoulders, he responded that he used to, but due to high costs he now doesn’t. He just takes the risk of losing a horse.
I asked him the obvious question -- if he had any spills. With a wry grin spreading across his weathered face he shared one experience from his early years of racing. “A friend had just given me a gorgeous pair of boots before one race. During the race, my cart took a spill (as they often do) and catapulted me into the air. I kid you not…I flew through the air ahead of my horse like Superman, with my arms out ahead of me. When I hit the ground and skidded to a stop, the emergency personnel swarmed over me. I had to brush them aside to check out my boots before I let them attend to me.”
I’ve had the privilege of knowing Kenny for over 10 years, with his quiet, kind, and soft-spoken manner. When he talks about his ministry in Africa, he speaks volumes with his twinkling eyes. He travels there four times a year, each time staying for three weeks. His wife is 100% behind him, as is his entire family. He has a well drilling company here in Denton, and one also in Ghana and Tanzania.
To expand his ability to provide more fresh water, he founded his ministry, Lifetime Wells International, and its slogan is “Water is Life.” To learn more about this, and to support his vision, please visit www.lifetimewellsinternational.org.