There is a lot that goes into creating a champion racehorse and many people play a role. It’s not just the owner, jockey and trainer. Behind the scenes, looking after the horses day in and day out, is a team of people.
One of the key roles in that team is played by the stablehand.
What Is a Stablehand Exactly?
Stablehands are often referred to as stable boys or groomers, and their role encompasses a number of important tasks. Essentially though, as the name implies, stablehands are in charge of looking after the horse stables.
Generally the stablehand will be an employee of the stable owner. The job of a stablehand isn’t just restricted to racehorses alone. They may be employed on agistment properties, riding academies, anywhere there are horses that need looking after.
As was the case with many positions in horse racing, this role used to be dominated by males - hence the term “stable boys” - but these days many women and girls become stablehands.
What Role Does a Stablehand Play?
First off, like most things related to racehorse grooming and training, the job starts early morning. Often weekend work is involved, and sometimes on public holidays as well. No matter what the weather conditions, stablehands often work long days, rain or shine.
The stables need to be kept clean, tidy and hygienic at all times, so this is one of the regular duties of the stablehand. But the job isn’t all about cleaning. There is a lot more to it than that.
Often under the guidance of the trainer or the stable’s owner, stablehands are responsible for both feeding and watering the horses. Depending on whether a horse is still in training or preparing for a race meet, the diet of the horse will vary, and stablehands follow the diet put together by the trainer and their constituents.
While they may not be in the limelight like the jockeys and trainers are, stablehands play a major role in the horse’s development, and if a horse they’ve worked with goes on the win a major race like the Melbourne Cup, the stablehand shares in that victory as well.
Grooming is another key task a stablehand performs, hence why they are often referred to as “groomers”. This involves washing down the horse and brushing their coat, keeping the racehorse clean, with a healthy and shiny coat.
Stablehands are also in charge of leading the horses to and from the stables when a track session is on, or the horse is racing. Groomers will also regularly exercise the horses, taking them for walks and swimming sessions.
The role of stablehands is varied and quite vast. Another key element to the job is to regularly check horses for any hint of injury or lameness. This also includes things like infection, and whether the horse seems ill. Stablehands are not veterinarians, but they will alert the vet or trainer if they spot something that’s not quite right.
Generally the stablehand will also accompany any horse in their charge to race meetings.
Becoming a Stablehand
Horses are a huge industry in Australia, with racehorses making up a large portion of that industry. There is always the need for quality, reliable and dedicated stablehands.
Some areas where stablehands are required include:
- Trotting stables
- Riding stables
- Breeding stables
- Racing stables
One important thing to note about stablehands is they don’t necessarily have to know how to ride a horse. It’s handy if they can, but it’s not a prerequisite of employment as a horse groomer. A love for horses is really a must, but being able to ride is secondary.
It’s reported that the job of stablehand has a very high turnover rate, so new positions are opening up regularly. There is a lot of work involved in this role and a lot of responsibility. A stablehand must be able to live the lifestyle of early starts, weekend work, and be able to communicate effectively with the team involved in rearing, training and racing a racehorse.
It’s not for everyone, as indicated by the high turnover rates, but stablehands are really one of the unsung heroes behind every champion racehorse that graces Australian race tracks.Updated Date: 24 April 2019, 06:48