Groom Elite Basic Grooming Class A Success Cultivating Workers

The first Groom Elite program in Maryland June 25-29 proved a success, as it helped fill six hot walker positions and one groom position.

About 20 people participated in the weeklong Basic Grooming 99 program, which is designed to introduce people to the basics of working with racehorses. The program instructor was Dr. Reid McLellan, who formed the program almost 20 years ago, with assistance from former Maryland-based trainer Chris Grove.

McClellan made all the students feel at home when the program began. After a brief introductory period, he went one by one and called each by name. “I think it’s important that I know your name,” McLellan said.

The students spent roughly four hours a day together, so familiarity was important. Bobby Lillis, a former jockey who serves as MTHA Director of Assistance Programs, said he was impressed with the proceedings.

“Absolutely nothing was left out,” Lillis said. “Everyone who participated was very interested and very engaged. A lot of questioned were asked, and they were answered. I thought it was pretty elaborate.”

Lillis said three days featured quite of bit of hands-on experience with the horses—10 horses that handle ponying at Laurel. Lillis said Doug Leatherman and Sharon Greenberg were very helpful in providing the ponies for the program; Lillis, McLellan and Grove taught the students how to handle the horses.

Groom Elite’s debut in Maryland is part of the MTHA’s effort to cultivate people who want to work with racehorses. The horsemen’s group, along with many others around the country, continue to lobby for visa changes at the federal level, but there also are opportunities to appeal to locals with a general interest in horses.

A second program, the more advanced Groom Elite 101, is scheduled to begin Sept. 11 at Laurel.

McLellan explained the rules of racing to students as well as rules of conduct and “shedrow etiquette” to drive home the basic points required to work around racehorses.

“If you follow the rules, everything is good,” he said. “Grooms are very important. You’re the ones taking care of the horses that make up this industry, and we have to do what’s right by the horses. By you taking care of these horses you are important to our industry.

“For trainers, you are their eyes, ears and nose. For the horses, you are their confidence-builder.”

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