By: Chris Lomon
The Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association of Ontario’s (HBPA) latest initiative is something that looks to help one of many “unsung hero” groups that dedicate their lives to thoroughbred racing in Ontario.
On August 15, the HBPA will offer modernized vests and helmets to exercise riders employed by trainers at Woodbine and Fort Erie racetracks.
The one-day exchange will take on the Woodbine backstretch, with the equipment – of no cost to those wishing to participate - paid for the HBPA. Exercise riders wishing to take advantage of the opportunity will be required to forfeit / turn in their existing helmet and / or vest if they choose to receive a new one.
For Sue Leslie and the HBPA Board, it’s seen as a commitment to health and safety, along with the understanding that many exercise riders simply aren’t able to afford new equipment.
“The HBPA… we’ve been trying the past two or three years to put an emphasis on helping people on the backside, the workers,” said Leslie, president of HPBA Ontario and Ontario Racing board member. “Obviously, owners and trainers are our members, but their employees also work extremely hard, and not for a lot of money, really, in terms of today’s economy.
“We looked at it from the view of safety – how can we make things safer? The idea was brought to us about offering something to the people that get on horses every morning. If you come off your horse and hit your head, you should replace your helmet. It may not actually crack, but they are made to take one blow. The equipment is expensive, so we thought, ‘Why don’t we give everyone who works for our members the chance to have new, modernized equipment?’ Whoever wants to do that, they can have a fresh start.”
This isn’t the first example of the HBPA’s efforts to highlight members of the racing community and for those who support the industry. And it certainly won’t be its last.
From t-shirt giveaways, to raffles for bicycles – for those on the backstretch – to handing out HBPA blankets to horsepeople and attendees at this year’s Queen’s Plate draw, the association is continually seeking ways to shine the spotlight on the sport, and on those who don’t always receive recognition.
“We’re looking at something similar for grooms and hotwalkers, but nothing has been finalized as of yet,” offered Leslie, who is nearing 40 years working in the thoroughbred industry. “Sometimes it gets lost, exactly what these people on the backstretch do. It doesn’t get lost on those of us who work with them every day and talk to them, but sometimes they don’t get the appreciation they deserve. It’s incumbent on the leadership of the industry to be mindful that these are wonderful people that dedicate their lives to these horses. We can’t put on the races if they’re not on the backstretch. For this equipment trade in, it’s just a small way of the HBPA saying, ‘Thank you for your service.’”
Photo by Mr. Will Wong