The world of horse racing is an exciting place. But how
many punters who lay their bets each day think about the
people behind the scenes of their favourite sport? All
will be familiar with the jockeys and many of the
trainers, but what about the others who work long hours in
all weathers to bring the sport to the public eye?
The head lad
Every horse racing yard in the country
has one, bigger operations may have two. Sex
discrimination doesn't happen in racing stables and the
head of the yard is just as likely to be a head lass. The
head lad/lass is responsible for overseeing the yard when
the trainer or his assistant is otherwise engaged.
They will make sure the yard is kept tidy, that the
horses are fed and groomed and that all veterinary
medication is given to the right horse. They look for the
minor detail, the applying of antiseptic spray to a wound,
the locks being closed firmly on the door. They also act
as a kind of sounding board to many of the staff. If they
have a problem they will go to the head lad first.
The head lad can book leave, change working rotas and
even hand out a telling off if needed. Think of them as a
racing team leader, who does everything that everyone else
does with a bit more thrown in for good measure.
The stable lad
These are the true unsung heroes of
horse racing. A standard day begins at 7am. The head lad
or assistant trainer will already have done the morning
rounds of feeding. The stable staff then arrive and get on
with the thankless task of mucking out the boxes.
They are normally allocated a set of horses to look after,
usually about five, although if other staff are away at
the races they can do a lot more. They then start with the
exercise of the horses. Placing them on and off the horse
walkers, riding them on the gallops and cooling them off.
Every horse will be washed down, dried off and
checked over. Any abnormalities are reported to the head
lad, and then hay is given to all the horses. Most stables
have an off period in the afternoon then everyone gathers
back at the yard at some point after four to start the
rounds again. No riding this time, just tidying up beds
and doing the evening feeds.
Being a stable lad is
hard graft and is not for the faint hearted. Recent legal
changes have brought in an NVQ qualification in racehorse
care and all stable staff under the age of 19 have to
complete this course before they can work with a trainer.
The course is held at the country's two racing
schools in Doncaster and Newmarket. To get on the course a
fitness test has to be passed just to prove to aspiring
stable staff that the life they are choosing involves
physical work. Staff get every other weekend off working a
six day week in most yards. Going racing is a perk of the
job, but involves long hours, late starts and early
The racing secretary
This is the
person responsible for all the administration of a horse
racing yard including entries to races. The bookwork,
wages, invoicing and ordering of feeds and equipment all
falls under the remit of the racing secretary. A course
for racing secretaries is also run at the British Racing
School in Newmarket, along with courses for amateur
jockeys and new trainers.
Horse racing is a sport
strictly governed by the Jockey Club and the British
Horseracing Authority. Gone are the days when a person
could just take a fancy to becoming a trainer of horses.
Today's trainers have to undergo strict investigation and
yards are constantly checked to ensure they are complying
with the rules.
Trainers fees are being forced
upwards in accordance with the level of licence fee they
have to pay and also to meet the rising costs of feeds and
bedding. Many trainers sadly, despite being talented, drop
out of the ranks every year as they struggle to meet the
Those who do stay in the game will
admit that they rely heavily upon their staff to keep the
cogs turning at home as their job is one of travelling and
meeting and greeting owners at meetings. A trainer also
has to source the horses for owners, often at his or her
own financial risk.