Groom Elite Program Beginning In June at Laurel Park

As part of its overall backstretch outreach program, the MTHA for the first time will offer courses that are part of the highly regarded Groom Elite Program.

The most basic course, Basic Grooming 99, is scheduled for June 25-29 at Laurel Park. It will be followed at a later date by the program’s primary course, Groom Elite 101.

The MTHA Board of Directors earlier this year signed off the plan to bring the Groom Elite Program to Maryland. Dr. Reid McLellan visited Laurel to make a presentation on how the educational program works, and at that time noted the courses are based on differing levels of knowledge and experience. During his almost 15 years directing the Animal Industries program at Louisiana Tech University, McLellan launched an equine specialty program by which students were licensed as trainers by the state racing commission and trained racehorses on a half-mile track at the school. He has held other positions in the racing industry along with voluntarily leading Groom Elite in the early 2000s.

The introductory course is 16 hours devoted to preparing people for entry-level jobs such as hot walker or groom and doesn’t include certification. Groom Elite 101, the only nationally recognized groom certification program, is far more extensive with 40 hours of education over several weeks in order to accommodate the schedules of students.

McLellan oversees Groom Elite classes at many racetracks in North America, and keeps a busy schedule doing so. From May 7-11, Presque Isle Downs & Casino in northwestern Pennsylvania will offer Basic Grooming 99, which provides four days of hands-on instruction and one day for evaluation and job-placement assistance.

An important part of the program is assessing the interest of each student to identify those who may seek future employment. The first Groom Elite class in Iowa had 24 participants, and eight ended up taking jobs working with horses.
McLellan and track management were pleasantly surprised when the course overfilled with 24 people. At one point 31 had signed up, but seven were unable to attend for various reasons.

“Most of those that signed up are from the Erie area,” McLellan said. “We asked them whether they planned to apply for job (working with horses), and most of them said they do. We’re always happy to get new people. The point is to get hot walkers to become entry-level grooms.”

McLellan said the number of sign-ups at Presque Isle is twice that of a recent course in Kentucky, and many of those people came from other states. He believes the Maryland program can be successful.

“We need to get the word out about the program,” McLellan said.

Former Maryland-based trainer Chris Grove is helping coordinate the Groom Elite Program at Laurel. The effort involves grassroots outreach to college students who may be interested in learning about basic racehorse care and grooming during the summer break. Grove said the Groom Elite Program curriculum is set, so it comes down to marketing. The MTHA hopes it eventually helps increase the backstretch workforce.

“It’s a great program, and I think we can get some new people involved,” Grove said. “Our goal is to better all horsemanship skills—that is what this program is intended to do. Horsemanship has suffered over the last two decades, and this program can help turn the tide. Reid has the playbook for it.”

McLellan said the program is for those who have never worked with horses or have very limited experience. He noted the program is also beneficial for anyone interested in adopting retired racehorses or simply to learn about basic horse care.

To register for the free classes please call 410-902-6844 in english and spanish. Space is limited.

The following is an overview as provided by the Groom Elite Program:

The education programs are based upon the fact that education is most effective when it is immediately relevant to the person in their day-to-day life, is dynamic, engages students in multiple methods of learning, and is easy to understand. Materials were developed by college professors with more than 60 years combined experience in horses, racing and teaching, along with contributions from veterinarians, farriers, equine dentists, and human health and safety professionals.

Programs are designed to provide knowledge and skills training that will enhance the ability of grooms and others to care for their horses. There also are vocational programs that prepare individuals without equine care experience for entry-level positions.

Certification courses for experienced workers require demonstration of minimum knowledge on a written assessment and demonstration of minimum skills in five areas during a practical assessment. Non-certification courses provide information and hands-on experiences for those seeking to improve their equine care knowledge and skills.

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