I used to pretty much show up on race day, say hello to the parents and horses then head on up to the front side to watch the races. Oh, and of course, Iâ€™d be ready to step into the winnerâ€™s circle for our picture when we won.
A lot has changed since then. Now I show up and am immediately put to work, but I have to admit: I think I like this a lot more.
To be on the back side of the racetrack, you must be licensed at every track you are at. My parents are owners, and Mom is a licensed trainer. (She trains our horses and those of other owners.)
To get a trainerâ€™s license, you actually have to take a written test, as trainers are responsible for just about every aspect of the horsesâ€™ lives at the track. They employee the grooms.
Then there is me. I am a licensed groom. To get a groomâ€™s license, you pretty much just have to have a trainer sign off that you work for them. There may not be the same â€œqualificationsâ€ but grooms are still important.
Grooms are usually assigned only a few horses in a trainerâ€™s stable. They are then responsible for feeding, bathing, walking and grooming the horses plus cleaning stalls on a daily basis.
On race day, I (like most grooms) get the horse ready for the race, I walk them to the paddock, hold the horse while the trainer (Mom) saddles and eventually I hand the horse (and jockey) off to the pony horse as they step onto the track at post time. Since Mom insists on ponying her own horses for the race, she has to have someone hold her pony while she runs to the paddock, saddles, then runs back to her pony to hop on before I get there with the horse and jockey.
Canterbury and Prairie Meadows offer a great program called Groom Elite. The course started in Texas but has grown to tracks across the country. The 101 class teaches the basics of grooming, such as how to tack up on race day, how to do leg wraps or correctly use a lip shank. (Thatâ€™s not as bad as it sounds; it is a little chain that goes on the inside of a horseâ€™s lip when leading it. It is not to be jerked on, rather held with some pressure, because it causes the horseâ€™s body to release endorphins, calming it, and making it feel rather nice, actually.)
The class also teaches a number of physical and physiological aspects of horses.
Iâ€™ve graduated from both the 101 and 201 courses. Even though, I had my groom license before taking the courses, Â there were many things Iâ€™ve always known but I liked that the class showed me why we do what we do.Â
Mom attended the trackâ€™s â€œgraduation ceremony.â€ I could have sworn she was more proud of me then, than at my college or high school graduations (and I even graduated both with honors). Â
However, the best part was probably the fact that taking the classes forced my mom to allow me to â€œpracticeâ€ on our horses â€“ wrapping legs, tacking up; all things my slightly-obsessive-horsewoman-of-a-mom used to prefer to do herself.Â The only downside of all this: Once I finally wormed my way into showing her I could do it all, Iâ€™m now expected to do it. But, I can live with that.