Groom Elite Program Goes International, Underway in South Africa

April Glaspie, the United States Consul General from Cape Town, South Africa, contacted Susan O'Hara in early 2002 about the Groom Elite Program, requesting information on the possibility of running the program in Cape Town, South Africa. As a result of that and subsequent communications, the groom training program developed by O’Hara and the Texas Horsemen’s Partnership (THP) has officially become international. A Groom Elite course is currently underway in Cape Town.

The Groom's School "Groom Elite" training course in Cape Town, South Africa, has 11 students. All of the students are full-time working grooms. Nominated by their trainers and chosen from an increasingly long list of aspirants, the grooms meet for eight hours a week for three months.

Theory is taught in the classroom, a donated converted container, and practical instruction takes place in trainers' yards. On the average, the students are in their early thirties, from the Xhosa tribe (Nelson's Mandela's tribe), and have come to Cape Town to seek employment. They have traveled many miles from the extremely impoverished rural areas of eastern South Africa, the former "Bantustans" of Ciskei and Transkei.

Boarding now with acquaintances in a shantytown near the racetrack, the students have had little, if any, formal schooling. They have no previous experience with horses.

The course aims at providing the opportunity for the grooms to build a profession in horse racing. By learning the basics of “The Elite Program” of stable care, bedding, feed, shoeing, veterinary care, tack use and repair and the like, successful students can reasonably aspire to moving up the ladder to Jockey Club certification as "Stable Employees" and even to qualify ultimately as certified Assistant Trainers. The fact that they could be certified as "Groom Elites" is a step along on the way.

The Cape Town Groom’s School is funded by a registered charitable trust headed by John Freeman, a leading South African bloodstock agent. The Deputy Chairman is April Glaspie. Management support is entirely voluntary and comes from a wide range of Thoroughbred owners, trainers and racing officials.

The course is directed by a highly qualified English expert in equine management. On October 15, 22003, the grooms will be tested by Groom Elite President and THP Director Susan O'Hara and hopefully become "Certified Groom Elites."

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