In Demand: The issues surrounding the stable staff shortage

On Wednesday ITV Racing posed a question which prompted an interesting discussion amongst us. Their main discussion on The Opening Show on Saturday will be about the shortage of stable staff in racing stables, as well as the conditions for stable staff in their workplaces.

This sparked a discussion amongst the members of our own team about the difficulties in the way of becoming stable staff in racing. All of us would like the option to work in racing at some point, so we thought it would be appropriate to write this article of what we discussed in terms of what stands in the way of becoming stable staff, hence leading to the decrease of active stable staff members.

All members of our team are actively pursuing a career in the racing industry. Two members were originally looking to become stable staff in a racing yard however, due to limitations which will be discussed further below, they are now looking to work in the breeding industry.

Of course, there isn’t one simple factor as to why less people are getting interested in racing, its a large accumulation of different factors that have come together to make this crisis what it is.

Primarily, the majority of the issues which have contributed to the shortage of stable staff, are issues which are seen across the equine industry. These include the affect of having connections and ‘being born into it’, as well as classism, and the difficulty with accessing riding schools and similar.

Having connections within racing, or even the equine industry as a whole is one of the main issues we personally with entering the sport. From the outside looking in there appears to be a culture of having to be ‘born into’ the sport to get anyway in it. This is a view shared by many parents, including the parents of one of our team members, who believe that it is practically impossible to get a job within racing if you are an ‘outsider’. This also links to the ideas of classism within the equine industry.

It’s plain to see that the majority of equine activities have high asking prices, and this includes basic riding lessons. Therefore, the sport is almost completely inaccessible to those from low income backgrounds. This is also seen by the reluctance to educate youngsters for free, which is shown throughout the equine industry.

The lack of equine experience also exists, due to the often inaccessibility of riding schools. Due to the need for pasture, riding schools are often in the sticks, without nearby public transport. Because of this, only youngsters with dedicated parents are those who can easily access horses. Again this just highlights the classism within the equine industry.

We also asked Americans about why they felt their racing industry was easier to become a part of, and their response all but highlights the issues surrounding the sport in the UK. “It seems more relaxed to me. At Emerald Downs [an American track], if you really need work, you go to the security officer and they announce you and somebody comes out and hires you. So… somebody would come out and hire you and automatically train you.” This response just shows the cultural differences between UK racing and American racing,

Our Personal Experience:

Evie: I was originally planning to attend the British Racing School for my Post-16 education, however my parents were extremely against the idea, believing that this was just a ‘phase’ and I would soon grow out of it. Instead, I am now doing an Animal Management course, which I hope will still give me skills I can use within racing. However, for me personally, the issues I’ve faced by trying to enter the racing industry are more to do with the culture surrounding the racing industry, and the fact that my parents, like so many others, believe that you have to have grown up around horses, or have multitudes of connections within the sport. Therefore, getting people into the sport isn’t just about introducing more people to the sport, but also changing the culture surrounding the sport so people like my parents don’t jump to conclusions. However, due to the fact that I am now starting in the racing industry 2 years later than I intended to, I am now looking to working in the breeding side of racing instead, potentially working on a stud farm in the states, rather than a racing stable.

Samantha: Working in racing is a dedicated profession as horses have to be looked after 24/7 especially as the racehorses are so valuable. Yard staff have to work seven days a week with early mornings and sometimes late evenings especially when flat meetings can go on until eight o’clock and later in the summer and on the All Weather. The low wage to do such tasks, and the danger of it, puts lot of people off a career as they need to make money to pay for a good standard of living even when they have accommodation at the yard.

I personally have struggled a lot trying to get into riding horses without starting riding at a young age and I think the equine world as a whole isn’t very welcoming to new people trying the sport. It costs money to pay for lessons for riding and lots of people struggle to pay for them for their children. It would be beneficial for more funding to go into making new schools, like the BRS and NRC, all over the country. It would also be good if trainers can play a part in this too. They could offer programs in their off season for local young people to learn the ropes and eventually assume a permanent, full time position at the yard.

In my opinion, the BHA need to focus on two things when trying to resolve this crisis- education and reputation. I know first hand the way most young, horsey people feel about racing through social media. They think it’s cruel and horses are forced to run and end up getting hurt. As we know, this is not necessarily the case. If the BHA joined up with the Pony Clubs (which most areas have so it would be accessible to lots of people and have decent fees), they could work to change these beliefs in young people and increase the amount of young people interested in horse racing and want to work in this industry. Trainers and racecourses could work in partnership with this by offering visits to the yards and courses so they can find out what it’s like. The members of the Pony Club are already dedicated to horses and probably want a career in the equine world so they would be well suited to a job in racing.

I strongly believe that the racing world can sort this problem out by increasing the education on horse racing available and working together to come up with an effective solution as stable staff are the back bone of the industry. Education is the future to racing in modern times.

Niamh: Stable staff are what holds racing together, without them the sport would simply be unable to function. More young people are entering the sport through training facilities such as the British Racing School and I believe it could be beneficial to develop another of these establishments further South so as to reduce the distance people would have to travel to seek this further education. I am in the fortunate position to be fitting work experience within a racing yard around my education to develop my knowledge and I believe that if more of these opportunities were sought out or offered by people, perhaps through links with local schools, this could increase the number of young people looking to work within the industry. The stable staff crisis will not be solved overnight, but with more attention being drawn to it surely it will not be long before an achievable solution is found.

Lois:

-Costs should be lower, and everything should be easier to access with minimal travel (I come from a disabled single parent household).

-Lack of thoroughbred specific experience is also an issue, as thoroughbreds tend to be more highly strung that the bog standard riding school pony.

-Negative stereotypes based on bad experiences with riding schools and ‘horsey’ people.

-There also tends to be bad stories from people within the industry, with substance abuse, poor mental health care and animal welfare issues.

-Not enough trainers willing to take on young people.

-There’s only two racing training facilities which guarantee work if accepted.

-Promotion of pathways to take within racing.

-Promotion of changes being made to make racing safer/more ethical in the eyes of the public.

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