Most horse farm owners, breeders, show barns and racing businesses can agree that finding suitable employees can be extremely difficult, frustrating and time-consuming. The Ontario Equine Education and Employment Program (OEEEP) has a welcome solution, providing job seekers with sound equine knowledge while offering employers the chance to receive a 50% rebate of their employees’ wages for up to 18 weeks/$5,000 while they settle into their new positions.

This unique program was launched in 2022, thanks to the Ontario Harness Horse Association (OHHA) in partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development and supported by Equine Guelph. Participants in the program, which is absolutely free, undergo a six-week interactive training course taught by industry experts specializing in horse health, grooming, management and welfare; assistance in finding a relevant job is offered at the end of the course.

Employers are encouraged to visit HERE to get more details, watch an employer information session or sign up anytime to be connected to keen potential employees, and also to advertise open positions for free with Equine JobTrack. The next virtual employer information workshop is July 12th from 3-4 pm.

As more industry businesses take advantage of the OEEEP graduates, confidence in the program continues to grow. John Charalambous has been training racehorses for over 40 years at Woodbine Racetrack in Etobicoke. The OEEEP had been on his radar since its inception in 2022, and this year he found himself looking for a full-time hotwalker ‒ without any success. “I asked around, I couldn’t really find anybody, but I needed somebody pretty much right away. I ran into Brian Tropea [of the OHHA] here one morning, coming in and checking on a couple of graduates of the program. About a week later I emailed him and got the process started.”

Charalambous ended up hiring Abenezer Yemane, a young fellow from Ethiopia. “Brian sent me his contact information, and I got his resumé. Brian thought he might fit for what I was looking for. He’s been with me three, four weeks now, and it’s been very good so far.”

He describes the hiring procedure as fairly seamless. “The process was fairly quick, a small amount of paperwork. He was the first person I contacted, I brought him here one day for a tour around and to be honest, he’s adapted very well. The pace is very hectic here but he’s handled it well. He gets along with my staff, the other people in the barn – he’s definitely a pleasure to be around.” He adds that “the wage subsidy helps the trainers a lot.”

Katerina Vassilieva also trains Thoroughbred racehorses at Woodbine and recently employed Kseniia Hunchenko, a young woman from Ukraine, via the program. “The experience has been generally positive,” Vassilieva remarked. “The student came with some existing horse-related skills and was able to pick up new skills she did not know fairly quickly. She had a good attitude, she was a team player and was generally an asset to my stable.”

She agreed “it was helpful to receive a portion of the wages back; definitely an incentive for other employers to try and hire an OEEEP student, and I would recommend OEEEP to other horse-related businesses looking for employees.”

Suzanne Latchford-Kulker is the owner of Heal With Horses, a mental health and wellness therapeutic centre in Hillier, Ontario. She is also impressed with the OEEEP and her employee Beth Lafay. “The OEEEP program has been great so far! Beth is very keen and eager to learn. She came with some horse skills but now she cannot only handle the horses well, she can also tack them up and has learned some groundwork.”

A woman painting a foal's hooves with oil.

Colleen Clarke applying hoof oil to a foal’s hooves at Spring Farm. (photo courtesy C. Clarke)

Suzanne continues, “We have taken full advantage of the wage subsidy. What has been ideal is that it’s not just for a month, rather it’s four months long and Beth will have continued employment here after the program is complete.

“I would absolutely recommend the OEEEP program to other equine facilities. It has been very positive for us so far.”

And on the other side of the equation, OEEEP alums are just as enthusiastic about the course and the opportunities it affords. Colleen Clarke is a program graduate currently employed at Spring Farm, a thoroughbred breeding facility in Granton, ON. She was impressed with the program and loves her new job, saying, “A year ago, I had zero horse or farm experience! The program provides a great ratio of detailed information about all aspects of the horse from anatomy, diet, and care to safety and environments. I felt confident to be able to apply hands-on what I learned online.”

She is tasked with a wide range of activities each day. “My duties are broad and include everything necessary (and fun!) on a horse breeding farm. For example, I assist with horse breeding, foal care and rearing, basic first aid for minor injuries, training yearlings and presenting them at the Premium Yearling Sale held each year at Woodbine Racetrack – plus baling hay and property maintenance.”

Colleen concludes, “The entire OEEEP process has been completely positive for me. My lifelong dream of working with horses has come true because of this program. I continually spread the word about OEEEP and recommend it to anyone who, like me, doesn’t have experience but does have a passion to work in the horse industry. You won’t regret it!”

Recruiting for the next student cohort begins the week of June 19th, with classes set to start on July 31st. The final course for 2023 is scheduled to begin September 18th. Interested students can sign up HERE to start their journey to an exciting new career with horses.