Over 200 grooms, hot walkers and exercise riders — individuals who feed and care for racehorses year-round — were recognized on Dec. 14 during the first annual Pennsylvania Horse Racing Caregivers Appreciation Day, held at Parx Racing in Bensalem.
The appreciation day was created to recognize horse caregivers for their commitment to caring for equine athletes. Their work day typically begins at 5 a.m. 365 days a year, rain or shine, in both freezing and sweltering temperatures.
A groom usually arrives to the stables at this time to feed the horses breakfast. By 7 a.m., the grooms have already cleaned out the horses’ stalls and added fresh bedding, wrapped the horses legs and tacked the horses up with riding gear. Beginning at 7 a.m., exercise riders then take the horses out to the track for training and workout sessions.
Once the training session is over by mid-morning, the grooms then remove the tack and wash down the horses. From there, hot walkers will hand walk horses around the barn to let them “cool out” after their training. That is typically followed up by a detailed and thorough grooming process that improves the health of the horse’s skin and coat and reduces the risk of other health issues.
This grooming process includes curry (rubbing of the horse to remove excess dirt and stimulate the release of natural oils), brushing, combing and trimming of manes, applying salves and poultice, and detailed cleaning of the feet and legs. Caregivers also ensure that horses have a constant supply of fresh water and feed them lunch and dinner. They also let trainers know if they have any concerns about the horse, like a cut or rash, or if they are not eating or drinking properly.
Unknown to many, a number of these caregivers live in dorms located on the backside of the racetrack in close proximity to the more than 1,300 horses who live year-round at the racetrack’s stable barns. Parx, which is slated for 151 race days in 2023, is one of the few racetracks in the country that offers year-round racing and stables horses on the backside of the track.
Caregivers were treated to food, as well as provided a free winter hat and hooded sweatshirt, courtesy of the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Association and the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.
“Caregivers, such as grooms, exercise riders and hot walkers, are the backbone of the state’s racing and breeding industry and their contributions too often go unnoticed,” said Jeff Matty, executive director of the PTHA. “Horses don’t understand what a holiday or a weekend is — they still need to eat, be provided fresh water, get their exercise and be groomed. These men and women are out here every day making sure the horses are properly cared for and nurtured. We appreciate all they do and this is our small way of acknowledging their significant contributions to horse racing and, by extension, the state’s overall agricultural industry.”