GRANTVILLE, Pa. — Penn National Race Course in Grantville recognized 100 of its staff for Horse Caregivers Appreciation Day.

The faculty is made up of groomers, hot walkers, exercise walkers and people who feed and care for the horses year-round.

“I’m in this industry because I love this industry and I love working with animals and we’re all a big family on the backside,” said Haylee Houle, a groomer with Brandon Kulp Racing Stables.

Along with the 680 horses that stay at the race course, a number of caregivers also live in dorms on the backside of the racetrack’s stable barns. The staff takes care of the horses 365 days a year, making sure they’re healthy and improving their quality of life.

“We do many things. Me particularly, I treat the horses like they’re my children,” said Houle.

Houle is up by 5 a.m. every morning to start the day. Houle is responsible for cleaning out the horses’ stalls and adding fresh bedding, wrapping the horses’ legs and tacking the horses up with riding gear.

“These men and women spend more time caring for and nurturing these horses than anyone else,” said Todd Mostoller, executive director of the Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. “It takes a lot of commitment to be with these horses from sunrise to sunset, 365 days a year, ensuring they are properly fed, exercised and groomed.  It’s more than a career, it’s a vocation, and we appreciate all that these caregivers do for our equine athletes.”

Exercise for the horses starts at 7 a.m. every morning when they go to the race track with the assistance of hot walkers. After the horses have exercised and cooled down from their training, the groomers then do a detailed and thorough grooming process that improves the health of the horse’s skin and coat and reduces the risk of health issues.

“When it’s warm out the horses get nice soapy baths; now that it’s cold out they don’t get the soapy baths,” said Houle. “Instead they’ll go to the wash rack and get cleaned up and then they go over to the walk-room machines, and they cool-out.”

Appreciation Day kicked off at 7 a.m. Wednesday and featured food, hats and clothing for all the staff.

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