1999 World Trotting Conference: Sydney November 24

Education of the Trainer and Driver
John Randles


Many memorable sayings have their origins in the folklore that surrounds man's connection with the horse. "Shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted", "putting the horse before the cart", "don't flog a dead horse", are just three that spring to mind. The most common, if not the most colourful, is often quoted by horsemen and women all over the world: "with horses you learn something new everyday".

The education of the trainer and driver is and always has been a continuous journey. What has changed dramatically is the social, economic and competitive environment in which this education takes place.

The most significant changes, I believe, have been the social changes that have steadily moulded the world around us since the introduction of the car and the steady encroachment of urbanisation. The direct association with horses that was commonplace for the majority of the population up to and including the early 1960's has become a rarity for most city based people.

Ever increasing mechanisation, growing suburbs, competing entertainment offerings and rural consolidation have removed the horse from the touch of the common man and limited the access to the learning environments that were once essentially rites of passage.

In the kinder and slower world of our fathers the education of the trainer and driver was largely family based and was passed on to children over a period of shared years working with the horses. In most cases the horses were an addition to the operation of the family farm or business and their breeding, training and racing was a considered and un-rushed program of events.

Horsemanship, shoeing, breaking, feeding, breeding and driving were skills and knowledge built up from collective experience under watchful eyes and in a world filled with knowledgeable and competent horsemen and women.

While this learning environment still exists for the lucky few, it is a very different world today and harness racing is moving to meet the needs of contemporary youth wishing to participate actively in the industry and to match the education and training systems found in industry and business.

Urbanisation and Mobility

Identifying and acting upon the training and education needs of the Standardbred industry in Australia paralleled the changing fortunes of the industry as it fought to keep pace with the rapidly expanding recreational opportunities available to the general public from the start of 1970's.

Australia, like many maturing countries was becoming more city centered and the car and its liberating mobility attracted a generation of youth away from horses and the patience of horsemanship. At this stage the standardbred industry was also reviewing its structure and its place in the world.

Linking with the National Training Agenda

Participation in the industry as either trainer or driver up until recently had no defined entry point with the exception of direct personal connection with family or friends. Knowledge and skills were deemed by outsiders to be closely guarded and the isolation of the industry was increasing. This situation was identified by a number of industry notaries and senior administrators as being of great long-term concern.

This period in the history of Australia was a growth time for technical and industry based training with a strong national effort placed on the development of vocational training courses and underpinning training for Australia's industrial sector. Considerable amounts of money were directed by Government to the Vocational Training sector and great effort was placed into the description and enhancement of competency based training systems. Simply put, the Government wanted a skilled Australian workforce and one with clearly defined training outcomes. More importantly it was prepared to pay.

Recognising this phenomenon, most States started working independently to design and implement training programs to address the need for access to training. Interestingly the driving force in a number of States was from family members of harness racing families who had returned to the family business after pursuing schooling or employment elsewhere and had in turn missed out on the informal apprenticeship common in earlier generations.

New Zealand had addressed the same problem with the introduction of a Cadet Scheme closely linked to their Rural Cadet system and catering for full-time cadets in the nations larger stables.

By 1989 Victoria had a basic training curriculum and considerable amounts of good intention but the introduction of an acceptable, national and industry based training system was still an unstructured dream.

Harness Racing, and for that matter Thoroughbred Racing, in Australia did not have a history of structured industry training for their collective workforces prior to the 1990's. A number of horse breeding courses were on offer at selected Colleges and a loose "apprenticeship" of sorts was available for jockeys but there was no defined curriculum, appraisal system or training resource that could commence an individual on a career in the racing industry. For that matter there were no career paths as such in the industry, only jobs that somehow someone gained and hopefully was capable of performing.

The ten years that have elapsed since the commencement of the first dedicated training course for young trainers and drivers started in Bendigo, Victoria have seen a remarkable transformation in the training outlook of the industry. The Standardbred Industry in Australia, little by little has worked it's way through the maze of issues and cultural changes that were hurdles to achieving a training and support mentality for industry growth and improvement.

The industry now is the proud owner of national and accepted training plans, competency declarations for all levels of industry employment and achievable career paths for young people wishing to work and grow in the industry. This is an enormous achievement and the basis for this paper.

The growth of the training and education base for the standardbred industry in Australia was an important part of the case for having the industry recognised by Government as a serious and growing industry in national terms. Harness Racing is now recognised in Government Training plans in the same way as the Automotive or Manufacturing Industries and has the respect of planners when funds are allocated from tight Government budgets.

Racing Industy Training Package

The Racing Industry Training Package is the culmination of ten years close association between the racing codes and the determined and concerted effort of all involved to develop a clear and workable training system for the industry.

The Training Package includes clear and nationally agreed descriptions of the competencies required by each worker to perform in the industry, it describes the assessment procedures to determine the success of individuals obtaining these competencies, it describes the career paths and qualifications associated with the industry and finally the package provides training resource support with materials such as learning guides, contact points, internet connections and so on.

The framework upon which training package is built is the industry competency standards. These are nationally agreed, industry developed statements of the competencies required for effective performance in the particular industry.

For trainers and drivers the definition of these competencies was essentially provided in consultation with senior trainers and drivers. The competencies define the environment that would have been previously available only to those individuals working within the industry.

The training package in reality provides access to training and knowledge for all interested in learning and provides the industry with the tools to improve skills and to control industry performance levels.

In the case of trainers and drivers the competency list defines standards ranging from general horse handling to managing a training and racing program. Attached as an appendix to this paper is an outline of the competency requirements for the qualifications relating to harness drivers and trainers.

More than one way to skin a cat.

The training program for each individual seeking the required qualifications to perform as a trainer or driver is unique to that person. The underlying strength of training packages is that they allow for flexibility in the training process and are ultimately concerned only with outcomes.

For example an individual may gain the skills and knowledge outlined in the competency documents by formal training programs if they are available or by working in a professional stable or by some mix of formal or informal training. It is the outcome that is ultimately assessed, not the means of reaching the outcome.

With harness racing the training of trainers and drivers is evolving as a mix of training methods combining the best of the old mentor system and the availability and flexibility of modern vocational education and training concepts.

The new training methods and structures allow our future trainers and drivers to access information and knowledge from library sources and training repositories throughout the world. The collective wisdom of experts is packaged and ready for presentation in volumes that were unheard of twenty years ago.

One constant, however, is the requirement to spend many hours under the watchful eye of experienced mentors. No matter where information is gathered there is only one place to gain experience and that is in the presence of horses.

The training of our future trainers and drivers must be a partnership between the industry and the student. My experience over ten years with the delivery of training to young hopefuls in the harness racing industry has reinforced the need for quality mentoring of young talent by successful industry personnel.

Training deliverers occasionally make the error of attempting to be a "one stop shop" operating in isolation of the industry that they serve. This approach not only limits the delivery resource but also runs the risk of isolating those trainers and drivers whose knowledge and skill has been earned through time and hard experience. It must always be remembered that skills and knowledge are the desired outcome and that equal currency must be placed on the knowledge and skills obtained in a work/family involvement to that obtained through a more structured and formalised activity.

Acceptance of this concept is vital if the Standardbred industry is to collectively embrace a training culture for itís new personnel and for the industry to prosper as our community continues to become more city-centric. The industry has been a late bloomer in the development of an industry training system and must now carefully manage the introduction of training into the existing industry culture.

The Racing Industry Training Package was developed by consultation with industry experts, prominent trainers, drivers and administrators from every State in Australia for the very purpose of establishing an ownership of the training package by those who work and are prominent in the industry. The definitions of work requirements, knowledge and skill needs are those described by industry participants. It is hoped that the training programs that grow out of the package will therefore meet the operational needs of the industry.

An overview of the training plans for contemporary harness drivers and trainers and the contents of these plans will inform the reader that all aspects of the professional life of a trainer or driver are incorporated. Not only are the direct and obvious units relating to direct horse care and handling within the package but also the support areas of business, communication, facilities management and human resource management.

The contemporary trainer and driver training reflects the needs of a regulated, professional industry competing for an interested public and their recreational dollars. The training programs as such act as both the basis for individual improvement and as a strategic resource for the industry.


back to top