If you ever wondered what it was like to take care of a racehorse at the track, prepare him for a race, and later perhaps celebrate with him in the winner’s circle, Woodbine’s Horsemanship Training Program is just the place to start.

A stable of 16 interested horse lovers and racing fans are learning some of the skills needed to take care of a racehorse at the track through Groom Elite 101, a program based in Kentucky and brought to Ontario by Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) and the Ontario Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

[To learn more about the Groom Program, click the ‘Watch Video’ button here.]

The 40-hour course introduces registrants to horse care, putting on a saddle and bridle, nutrition for your racehorse, fitness and training and legwork including bandages.

Instructors are trainers from Woodbine: Jamie Attard, Renée Kierans, Sarah Sullivan and Paul Attard as well as Dr. C. Reid McClellan, executive director of Groom Elite, who also instructs and assesses students.

Graduates, who paid $50 (Can) to sign up for the course and will receive $25 back upon completion, will have the opportunity to get a job on the Woodbine backstretch with a trainer and his or her stable of horses.

“One of the great things about our horsemanship training program is that there are people living in our community that always wanted to work with horses but didn’t have the training and the background,” said Jessica Buckley, VP of Community Relations and Corporate Affairs for​ WEG. “We’ve been able to take local people from Rexdale and the Toronto area and give them the training they need to work here at Woodbine.”

The range of ages of backgrounds of the students in the Groom Elite class is wide. Estelle Clunies joined groom school looking to improve her horse care knowledge and eventually train the horses for her and her husband Martin.

“Ten years ago, I hadn’t so much as touched a horse,” said Clunies, 59. “My husband Martin and I own a small farm with five racehorses in Flamborough. Martin’s been more the horsey person but neither of us had a deep enough understanding about the care of horses at the racetrack.”

The Clunies have raced a couple of horses in the last two years and have two at Woodbine in training. What Estelle wants to do is learn how to take care of the horses herself and prepare them for race day.

“Right now, I am hotwalking my two horses at the track for my trainer Darren Glennon. I think I am up to 22,000 steps of walking a day,” Clunies laughed. “Groom school is so valuable to me I can’t even describe it. Some of the trickiest things to learn has been putting on a bridle or bandages on the legs.”

A groom’s job at the racetrack can pay up to $500 a week and most groom’s also will receive a percentage of earnings from the horse when he races. There are almost 2,000 horses at Woodbine under the care of dozens of different trainers and there is always a need for skilled grooms.

“You learn a whole, new interesting perspective of horse care and racing in this course,” said Clunies. “The other people in my class, we all share the same desire to learn about these beautiful athletes and how to care for them. I am getting tremendous value with this course and then practicing what I learn on my own two horses. One day soon, I will be excited to bring my horse over from the barn area to the track to race. That will be a great feeling.”