Spring has arrived. The dogwoods are blooming and many of the barns at Churchill Downs have been freshly painted. Vans are arriving with hundreds of horses. Many stable employees ride with the horses returning to Churchill from their winter training areas. The horses are unloaded from the vans and taken to their stalls. Everyone works long hours setting up the feed tubs, water buckets, webbing, and hay nets… not to mention setting up the office area, the feed room, and the tack room.
An entire community of people are on board to care for hundreds of horses. Grooms, hot walkers, exercise riders, night watchmen, and assistant trainers all are doing their jobs. Veterinarians are available when needed. Blacksmiths appointments are being scheduled and feed companies are delivering more grain, hay, and straw. Trainers are outlining training schedules and entering horses for races.
It takes a complete village to put on the greatest two minutes in sports, the Kentucky Derby, and countless other thrilling races at the track. Like other communities, the racing community consists of hundreds of people from all walks of life who have all the issues and problems that come with being a human being.
Substance abuse issues, mental health issues, gambling addiction, depression, and marriage and family issues are just some of the normal problems that any community of people have. The racing community is no different with two exceptions – the work environment and the lifestyle. People who work on the race track work seven days a week. They might move three to five times in just one year with little opportunity to get familiar with community agencies that offer services. There is an expression that alcoholism is a slippery disease… well racing can be considered is a slippery lifestyle. In and out of cities, very long work days, a disconnect from families and friends, and a limited time to get away from it all. It is the perfect breeding ground for problems to grow.
Located on the backside of the racetrack, in the recreation building is the office of The Healing Place Lifestyle Program at Churchill Downs.
The Healing Place Lifestyle Program at Churchill Downs is a work-based program that provides services for backside employees and their families. We recognize that substance abuse contributes to many workplace problems. We work closely with our referral sources – race track security, Churchill Downs management, the Kentucky Racing Commission, and racing stewards – to get help to those in need.
It makes sense to reach out to help backside employees and strengthen the working backbone of our racing industry. To maintain and support a strong and vital work force and healthy work environment adds to the integrity of our sport.
The phrase that alcoholism and addiction are equal opportunity diseases is so true! It’s not just in horse racing but in all walks of life and all industries. For us in racing we are lucky that Churchill Downs has partnered and bridged the gap to get help with experts in the community – The Healing Place.
I’ve spent the last 30 years in the racing industry. Before becoming a counselor, I was a groom and assistant trainer for many years. I continue to love the horses, the sport of racing, and the people who dedicate their time and energy to care for the horses that put on the greatest show!
Bet on us. It’s a win for us all.
Click here to view the Courier Journal’s story on the prevalence of addiction in the racing industry and how The Lifestyle Program and The Healing Place change lives on the backside.