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Winter racing: Groom with a view

By: Chris Lomon
 
“I look after horses all day. That’s my job. I treat them as my children. I’m not a horse, but I like to see things from their view. In the winter, I take more time to make sure they are okay.”
 
Ben Hollingsworth has been around horses since he was 12. From the day he rode his bike to Truro Raceway in Nova Scotia, hopped off, walked into a barn and started sweeping, he was hooked.
 
Fast-forward to the present and Hollingsworth, who graduated from Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture with a Bachelor of Science (Agr) in Animal Science and minors in both Agricultural Business and Food Science and Technology, is working for highly decorated trainer Mark Steacy.


Photo courtesy of Dalhousie University. 

Hollingsworth tends to Steacy’s sizable stable of horses and plays his part as groom in ensuring they are in peak condition for winter racing. He has also driven and trained over the course of his standardbred life.
 
“We turn a lot of horses out,” said Hollingsworth, who made the move from Nova Scotia to Ontario in 2015. “The horses in the wintertime – we turn them out with a blanket on just to help them brave the elements. We have their coats as slick as they can be because they wear blankets in the barn. When it gets extremely cold, you don’t turn them out as long. The paddocks might be icy and uneven. The bottom line is that you do right by the horse.”
 
It’s something that takes on even more significance when the temperature drops and racing conditions become more challenging throughout Ontario.
 
Hollingsworth is meticulous in his care of the horses before they step on to the racetrack and when they return to him after the race is over.


Photo courtesy of Dalhousie University 

“As far as warming them up goes, you just want to keep them as warm as possible,” he said. “It’s about keeping them as warm as you can, to keep their muscles healthy and to make sure they are in top condition.
 
“I paddock a lot and do a lot of catch-paddocks,” he continued. “For me, if I’m taking care of a horse, I want my horse to be as close to dry as possible before they get in that trailer. In the summer, fall or even in the spring, you can put the horses in the trailer a little bit wet, but that’s not what you want to do in the wintertime. When I jump out of the shower, I don’t like to deal with the cold the minute I step out. I want to stay warm and I want to be dry, so that’s what I want for the horses, too.”
 
Hollingsworth has regularly seen certain horses thrive in the winter, especially the ones that contend with summer-related issues.
 
“Horses with bad allergies or breathing problems enjoy racing in the colder weather,” he noted. “The summer can be tougher on them, especially when there is pollen in the air. The cold air can really be beneficial for some horses. You’ll see some of them race very well and peak in the winter. They can be a little fresher in the wintertime and you see them enjoying that cooler air. They can go out and jog and not overheat. It’s probably a refreshing feeling for them.”
 
Hollingsworth, who is looking to train his own stable one day, was recently reminded of that very thought.
 
“Not too long ago, it was about minus-three and sunny out,” he started. “I turned to someone on the track – we were jogging horses – and said, “This is perfect weather. It would be great to have this all the time. It’s good for the horses and it’s good for us.’”
 
It also reinforced Hollingsworth’s long-standing respect for the “amazing athletes” he works with every day.
 
“Standardbreds are one of the toughest breeds out there,” he said. “Regardless of what the conditions are, they give it their all. It’s just another reason to admire them and respect them. They are truly magnificent animals.” 

Ontario Racing Infographic

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