Job: Racehorse trainer
The role: Trainers condition and teach thoroughbred horses how to race. Gail Cox of Toronto-based Gail Cox Racing Inc., said trainers take charge of horses once they've been "broken" (which means they have been ridden by humans) and start with the basics, including teaching them how to behave on a track and in the starting gate. She said thoroughbreds are delicate and high strung, so the work requires skill and patience. Trainers are also responsible for everything from arranging veterinary visits for the horses in their care to overseeing their fitness schedules and entering them in races. "The trainer's job is a big job," Ms. Cox says.
Salary: Trainers are paid a "day rate" of about $75 to $110, out of which they have to pay expenses such as salaries for support staff, feed and other supplies, which can eat up a lot of that total. Ms. Cox handles about 12 to 15 horses, while other trainers take care of more, and some less.
Trainers make most of their money by earning a share of a race's prize purse. They receive about 10 to 12 per cent of an owner's winnings. In Canada, purses can range from about $25,000 to $80,000 for regular races and between about $200,000 and $500,000 for stake races. Owners whose horses win a race receive 60 per cent of the purse, 20 per cent if the horse places second and 10 per cent if they finish third.
"If you're a trainer with good horses winning a lot of races, then you're making a lot of money," Ms. Cox says. It's a risky way to earn a living, but Ms. Cox says there's no life like it. "Any investment is risky, whether you invest in the stock market or the housing market. Horses might be the most enjoyable, because if you like racing, it's hugely exciting."
Education: There is no formal educational path in Canada for people who want to get into the business. "The most education a trainer gets is experience working for another trainer," Ms. Cox says. "You really have to work your way up the ladder." That said, you do need a licence to be a racehorse trainer, which in Ontario, for example, is granted on an annual basis by the Ontario Racing Commission.
By the numbers: Most racehorses will compete in about eight to 15 races a year, Ms. Cox says. "It seems that better horses run less often." Some stay in Canada, while others travel to places such as Florida or New Orleans to race in the winter months.
Job prospects: It's not easy to become a racehorse trainer today, Ms. Cox says. That's because there are fewer horse owners and breeders. In Ontario, for example, the horseracing industry was hit hard when the provincial government pulled the plug on the slots-at-racetrack revenue-sharing program, which helped to subsidize horse racing. "There is less business for everybody," Ms. Cox says.
Challenges: Keeping horses "healthy and sound" is the biggest challenge of the job, Ms. Cox says. Being a trainer also means dealing with a lot of different people who have high expectations, from the employees to the owners. "You're the greatest, as long as you winning," she says.
Why they do it: "People really have a passion for this career … and, of course, for horses," Ms. Cox says. That's important, given the long hours and all-consuming nature of the job.
Misconceptions: It's not as glamorous as it looks in Hollywood movies like Seabiscuit and Secretariat. "It's a lot of hard, physical work," Ms. Cox says. She says there's also a misconception about how horses are treated at the track, adding that their medical attention is better than many humans receive. "Horses are really well taken care of, and they have to be, because they are athletes – and they are treated as athletes."
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