Free Rein With: Jonathan Horowitz

Sep 25, 2020 - 2:58 PM

Jonathan Horowitz is looking forward to the day when sporting events return to normal. A professional sports commentator based in Denver, he misses the routine of announcing, a hobby turned career that began at the Los Alamitos Race Course in California, where he announced his first race at the age of 14.

As a teenager, Horowitz was captivated by the running commentary nature of broadcasting in boxing and horse racing. His family encouraged the letters he’d write to announcers and the days he’d spend glued to the stands with binoculars and a tape recorder. He got his chance to sit behind the microphone when the track’s general manager asked him to commentate at a Quarter Horse championship for juniors. From there, the opportunities grew.

“For me, it’s about being part of an atmosphere and telling a story,” said Horowitz, 35. “Once I showed that I could do horse racing, when I got to college I expanded into soccer and basketball, lacrosse. I’ll announce whatever I can because, for me, it’s about the stories and being part of that atmosphere.”

WEB 2020-07-05 Announcing with Teenser at Spring Gulch HT (1)
“I wanted to be the one to describe what’s happening, get people excited,” said Jonathan Horowitz of his broadcasting career. Zina Balash Photography Photos

In 2015, Horowitz began announcing for the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover. That year he also started riding for the first time, and he’s now training the 4-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred Cubbie Girl North with his wife Ashley Gubich, owner of Super G Sporthorses. Horowitz plans to enter “Cubbie” in the 2021 Thoroughbred Makeover. He also became president of CANTER USA—an organization that helps facilitate second careers for race horses—in 2019.

Horowitz said he started riding to become a better broadcaster. “If I knew what the horses were doing, it would help with my announcing,” he explained. “I also just liked the idea of spending time around horses and had spent more time in the racetrack backside and stable area.”

He began riding with Gubich, an eventing trainer. They married this year, and she has a child from a previous relationship. “That first meeting led to a new passion and way of life,” said Horowitz. “Now a new family, too.”

In addition to announcing at horse shows and races across the country, Horowitz, a freelancer, broadcasts for several collegiate sports at the University of Denver and does work for the Arabian Jockey Club. In 2016 and 2017, he was an Emmy finalist in the Midwestern “Best Sports Play-by-Play Announcer” category. “It can be a nightmare when I’m doing my taxes based on how many different states and organizations, but that’s part of the fun of it, getting so many different opportunities,” said Horowitz. “It’s never really the same from year to year.”

WEB 2020-07-05 Jonathan and Cubbie Girl North at Spring Gulch HT
Jonathan Horowitz is preparing the 4-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred Cubbie Girl North for the 2021 Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover.

What surprised you most about horses once you began working with them closely?

Most people think of horses as machines or cars. “All right, you turn the engine on, and the horse goes, and hopefully you have the one with the fastest engine, and then you’ll win.” Now I realize that for a race horse, it’s not just about being fast. Those horses are so young at 3 years old, and they’re being put in a race where there’s so much external stimulation. They’re being asked to go full speed and maybe take a narrow opening in between a rail and another horse. I think what surprised me was learning what the mental side is for Thoroughbreds. What I learned is they, I believe, do everything to the extreme. When they’re on and ready to do what you ask them, they’ll do it amazingly well, and then when they get a bit nervous, they show their nerves amazingly well.

Talk about the preparation that goes into announcing an event.

For any sport I do, the focus is the preparation. A lot of people think, “Oh, that must be nice, to be an announcer. You show up, and you get to be at the game and talk about it,” but the actual announcing—I don’t want to say that’s easy, but that’s the fun part. If I’ve done my preparation, then I kind of get to go on autopilot and describe what happens as it comes. I try to get as much background information as I can and have it all organized either on one scoresheet or across different papers that I can reference if I need it. I’ll oftentimes prepare information that I won’t get to use, but it’s there in case a certain moment happens. People appreciate that you bring a little extra background information, and I think that’s important. The riders work so hard to get there, so people should know what it took to get there and know about their stories.

What do you do to relax?

I don’t do it that often, but I really like watching TV shows about food, especially food TV shows based in foreign countries. I’ve found that that relaxes me. In a weird way, the announcing—even though that’s my job—that’s also kind of relaxing to me. In general, I’m in high-stress situations, so I should do a better job of trying to relax.

What are you currently watching?

I grew up not really watching many of the classic movies of our time, so Ashley’s had a great time creating this kind of film festival where she puts me in front of movies she’s seen and feels like everybody should’ve seen, but I hadn’t. There have been a number of classics: “Tombstone,” we just watched, and then “Dangerous Minds.” “Fight Club.” As far as TV shows, “Arrested Development” I think is pretty awesome, but we don’t watch that much with all that’s going on on the farm.

What frustrates you most about people?

When people who present themselves in a certain way are something different once you get to know them. I’d rather get to know people who maybe are a little bit more abrasive up front, but you know exactly what you’re going to get.

Talk about your most embarrassing career moment.

I used to be very serious, and if I made a mistake, I’d beat myself up for it, but now I realize on any given day I’ll be saying thousands of words. So, if I say something wrong, I’ll just wave it off. One of the things I noticed that I’ve done as a pattern, which is not really embarrassing, is I’ll mix metaphors. There’s the phrase “to raise the white flag,” and then there’s also the phrase “throw in the towel,” and I’ll just end up combining everything. I think I said some horse was “raising the white towel.” The other embarrassing thing is I work very hard not to have a hot mic, and I always just assume that it’s on, and that’s why I’ve never gotten in trouble with profanities that go out. But there was a time before a race that I was humming to myself, and the mic was still on. I got a phone call like, “Hey, your mic’s on.” I’m out there in the public, so I have to be OK with the idea that I’m going to do these types of things.

Name something that’s always in your refrigerator.

Milk, and if it’s not, it’s a problem in our house because I drink a lot of milk, and [my stepson] Chase [Gubich] drinks a lot of milk.

Ideal destination for a shopping spree?

Right now, it’s pretty much Walmart, which is a huge change for me. I grew up in Orange County, California, where there are all the shopping malls and designer brands. Now for me, I’m very happy going to Walmart because I think most of my disposable income goes to the horses.

Wine or beer?

I like both. Between those two, I’d say beer, but if you gave me the choice, I’d pick a Scotch whisky.

Finish this sentence: “People would be surprised to know that…”

I really like EDM and going to night clubs, and I also like hip hop as well. When people find that out about me, while I don’t hide it, they’re kind of surprised to learn that that’s the case.

Who’s your favorite rapper?

Tupac. I like the old school rap, where I felt rap was an outlet to make a statement about society. Being from the West Coast, I probably gravitated more towards Tupac and Dre and Snoop Dogg more so than Biggie and Nas on the East Coast. I’m still very much in awe of Tupac’s life; he was very much an artist. He died when I was young, so I didn’t really experience him in person, but he always came across to me as someone that was larger than life.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

I would change how people communicate with each other. I think we’re at a point in the world where people are very set on their opinions, and they happen to be very extreme opinions, especially in the United States. Rather than communicating—which is not just saying what you feel but listening too—I think people are looking more to justify their own viewpoints. That’s just making us further and further apart. I think right now we’re more divisive than we’ve ever been in society.

What food do you crave?

I generally like breakfast foods, especially if you eat it for lunch or dinner. Some type of egg-dish with all kinds of things mixed in.

While announcing, have you ever witnessed a horse break down on the track?

Yes, and it makes my stomach turn. Especially now that I’m very heavily involved with horses, caring for them on a daily basis, it absolutely guts me. The one I saw happened right at the finish line, and it broke my heart to see the horse struggling, knowing that this was going to be the end for the horse. Now that I see horses from their mental side, it’s really tough to see and eats me up.

Horror movies, yes or no?

I say no, my wife says yes, so the answer’s yes. 

Roller coasters, yes or no?

I say hard no, my wife says hard yes, and we’re still working that one out. Weirdly, I’m OK with anything with water. Water parks, I’ll do any ride, but roller coasters, not for me. With the roller coasters, I get motion sickness, and I get this weird panic in my head, which I guess seems absurd if I’m willing to ride OTTBs eventing. If it’s a water slide or a drop from a water slide, for some reason, I feel safer surrounded by the water. It’s all irrational because nothing should happen.

What’s a hobby you’d like to pick up?

Being able to play a musical instrument like the guitar. I’m in awe when people come over and bring their guitar. I have so much that occupies me that I haven’t thought to try something new, but I guess when it happens, it’ll happen.

Best piece of advice you’ve received?

Not to take life so seriously and not to try to be perfect. Nobody is, and then once you accept that, it kind of becomes a lot more liberating. When I started riding, I tried to do that—like everything else in my life—perfect, and I felt like if I made a mistake, that would show that I didn’t belong. But the truth is through the mistakes it actually makes you more endearing and authentic. That’s probably been the biggest learning lesson in my life.

Who inspires you?

It’s going to sound cliché, but I guess it’s a reason why she’s my wife: Ashley, just how passionate she is about what she does but, at the same time, is so caring and so sincere for other people. Celebrities that I’m inspired by—the Queen of England. I feel like she’s been through so much in her life in terms of history and has always maintained a dignity about her. She also has that horse connection as well.


This article ran in the Sept. 21 & 28, 2020, Thoroughbred issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.

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