Can the Horse Racing Industry set the Standard for how Workers are Cared for?
Can the racing industry set the example for the rest of the horse world? In many respects, yes.
Let’s do a quick review of some of the major issues in the sport horse industry today, as seen by yours truly with a slightly skewed viewpoint from the Groom’s perspective.
-Grooms do not yet have a powerful voice to represent their needs. (Working on that!)
-Some employers do not follow current state and federal laws regarding classification of employees and providing workman’s compensation insurance. We are not here to judge, and the reasons for this are wide and varied. It is what it is. (Over time, with education, this will change. Again, not here to judge.)
-There is no governing body to monitor these issues within the horse industry.
So what does this have to do with the racing industry? Plenty. In terms of the above issues, the racing industry has a system of state governing bodies (The Racing Commissions) which address most of these concerns.
For example, here is a tidbit of knowledge about workman’s comp insurance in the racing industry. If you are a trainer, and want to race your horses, you must provide proof of workman’s comp insurance for your workers (ALL of them) in the states that you would like to race your horses in. No insurance, no racing.
Some states even take this a bit further, and challenge your very license to be a trainer. In Kentucky, you must obtain workman’s compensation insurance and a copy of your insurance certificate must be forwarded to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission office with your Trainer’s License application. Failure to comply with this law may result in the revocation of the racing license.
This is a great example of the work that a racing commission does for the workers at the track. It shows requirements for obtaining a license and consequences for failing to fulfill the requirements. Many other states have similar requirements and consequences in reference to trainers, licenses, and racing privileges.
Most states also have specific funds set up to protect other horse racing industry workers. If you are a jockey in Maryland, you are considered by The Maryland Jockey Injury Compensation Fund, to be an employee who is entitled to workers’ compensation. You are subsequently covered, even if you work as an independent contractor for several different barns.
The Jockey’s Guild is an organization in which members can receive life and health insurance. They also have funds for permanently disabled members, among a zillion other things. (How neat would it be if we could grow Pro Equine Grooms into something like that!! That would certainly be our powerful voice, right?)
Here’s another tidbit of info for you. Some tracks have medical programs set up specifically for the backstretch workers (like Grooms), so that any health issue, work related or not, can be seen by a doctor. Belmont Park has such a program, and was highlighted in this newspaper article: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/06/at-belmont-park-a-clinics-doctor-gets-track-workers-back-on-their-feet/
How convenient, and beneficial, and handy for treating rat bites and other injuries, like the multitude of broken jaws this particular doctor has seen. Scary stuff can happen at the barn when working around horses.
So in a nutshell, we all know that no one particular discipline of the horse industry is perfect. Yes, the racing world has it’s share of bad press and problems. However, the racing world is the only sub-industry of the horse industry that has steps in place to protect and help and serve the workers at all levels of the employment ladder.
I have searched high and low to find out information about how the sport horse equivalents take care of it’s folks, and I have found really nothing. The major governing bodies of equestrian sport don’t have the same programs for workers or the same requirement for trainers/riders.
In fact, some show organizations require vendors at major shows to carry and provide proof of workman’s comp insurance, even though the riders, trainers, and Grooms that are there working with the horses are not required to do the same. Food for thought, right? I have been unable to find any case of any performance horse (non-racing) governing body that have any similar programs, requirements, or consequences.
In the performance horse world, there are a few organizations (yeah!) which may provide limited accident coverage for it’s members. However, this type of accident coverage is not the same as worker’s compensation coverage. It’s typically not available for Grooms, as these organizations are geared towards farriers and trainers and riders, for example. Certainly these are the best examples in the performance horse world, and hopefully just the beginning.
Would the performance horse world change if employers were not allowed to compete without proof of worker’s compensation insurance for their employees (as required by the state in which the competition is held?) Would more Grooms have access to preventative and emergent health care if there was some system in place, similar to some racetracks?
I want to be perfectly clear on something. I am in NO WAY WHAT SO EVER bashing any organization that supports horse sports or horse people. I’m also not saying the racing industry is the end all and be all of horse organizations. I’m simply wondering if the racing industry can be used as a template for the performance horse industry to follow. I understand that many of these issues are outside the scope of some performance horse organizations, so maybe one needs to be created?
What are your very respectful thoughts? Ideas? Experiences? How can we start to protect our workers (and, protect our employers, too)?