A lot can happen over time. Time changes a person. That’s the biggest attribute to change, time… and pressure. It’s not any one thing either, it’s a culmination… we don’t actually notice it happening, it just does. One day, we wake up different. We go from loving the fast pace of our lives to wanting the moments to tick by slowly. So when the opportunity to make drastic changes pop up, we take them.
I’m not entirely sure when it happened but over time, there was a change. A shift occurred and I no longer wanted to live the life I had been living. I needed to mix it up. Even in my fast paced career, I felt stagnant. You can plateau easily if you don’t pay attention. I had maxed out in my training & earning potential, there was no room to grow or move up. With the new idiot in office (Agent Orange), I knew that my job was going to become infinitely harder. The man was going to start monkeying around with NAFTA and I moved commodities internationally for a living. I needed out. There were other factors involved as well, such as natural disasters (wild fires) which greatly affected my company’s ability to thrive, much less survive. So when I was presented with a severance package with three months wage, I didn’t see a reason not to accept. I had other pressing matters on my mind. If you aren’t aware, Devon & I own thoroughbred racehorses. Horse racing has become a passion of ours and we are almost always at the track on the weekend. We even have an oddball family of misfits that we sit with and we look forward to seeing on race day. Because I genuinely enjoy horses, becoming a groom seemed like a natural transition for me.
If there is one thing you need to understand about Devon, it is that she is loyal… incredibly loyal. I watched her work for a company for twelve years and for twelve years, I watched them walk all over her. She was good at this job, almost too good. She didn’t need anyone to help her with any aspect of it and she often took time out of her day to help others who seemed lost in their antiquated computer system, hello 1977. While I won’t divulge too many details, I can tell you this… she worked in plumbing & lighting, was the warehouse manager (though not paid for it) and literally everyone in three branches went to her with their issues. She flew back east to help convert two new stores into their system and every employee who met her, loved her. They were shocked when she didn’t yell at them for making small mistakes or not knowing how to do something. Her easygoing style made working around her relaxed and fun, and she knew just how to motivate people. So when the rumblings of her maybe leaving came to light, nobody believed it. She was a “company man”. But what the company didn’t know was there was another place willing to not only give her the same amount of holidays but pay her a fair wage as well. This would be the first time in her professional career that she would actually make the amount of money she should have been for all those years. And you know what? That felt good. If there is something else you need to know about Devon, it’s that she hates knick knacks, literally loathes them. You can imagine my surprise when she came home and told me she’s now in charge of a warehouse full of touristy baubles. I was proud of her, for taking the interview, for accepting a new position in a different industry, for leaving that abomination of a company in the dust. She too, felt something needed to change. The “lifer” had been paroled.
We had been horse owners for about four years before we seriously started taking a major interest in our “investments”. We don’t see horses as commodities, we see them as… well, horses. Each one has their own personality, their own set of quirks. Like humans, they differ. No two are alike. Every weekend, we’d go to our barn to visit the boys before heading up front to watch the races. Barn K has a special place in our hearts. In many ways, we grew up there. Personal growth comes in many forms and there’s nothing more personal than the relationship between man and animal. Horses, like dogs, choose who they show certain parts of their personality to. They are honest creatures and trust wholly. Barn K is affectionately known as the Barroby barn. Hall of Fame trainer brothers Frank & Harold Barroby have been mainstays at Hastings Racecourse since the 1970s. There’s not one person at the track that doesn’t know who they are or what they’ve done for the sport.
Francis Emry Barroby didn’t choose a life at the racetrack so much as the life chose him. Born in Saskatchewan, one of twelve children, including horsemen brothers Harold & Larry. Frank started galloping horses at 15 for his father and it just steamrolled from there. He traveled all over the east coast, from racetrack to racetrack, excelling at each stop. His natural ability as a jockey on display, he won 78 races in 42 days at Assiniboia Downs. His wins total kept increasing yearly and he seemed to have few equals as a rider. After battling the scales, he retired from riding in 1978 and transitioned to training. He remains the only person to be both leading jockey and trainer in the same season at Hastings Racecourse.
Fast forward many years and each time we walk down the shed row, we briefly stop and say hello to Frank. If you didn’t know him, you would think he’s a gruff individual. Upon chatting with him and observing him around his horses, you quickly deduce he’s a giant softy. When it comes to people at the track, there is no one warmer than Frank Barroby.Around October of 2017, I was no longer gainfully employed in an industry I was simply burnt out in… and so I found myself with tons of extra time on my hands. It was the end of the race season at Hastings and I knew that only a handful of trainers would still be there, cleaning up and shipping out. On a whim and advice from Devon’s aunt, I wandered down to barn K to see if anyone needed a hand. I noticed that Frank’s “help” was nowhere to be seen and he still had ten head. While this man has endless energy and can run circles around anybody half his age, I still offered my assistance… and to my amazement, he accepted.
I started off by mucking one stall, then walking the horse that belonged to that stall. And such was the routine for the next ten days. These were the best ten days I had enjoyed in quite some time. I am not a morning person. That doesn’t mean that I’m in a bad mood, I rarely am. I wake up happy… but I am not alert. I must admit that getting up before the sun was difficult… but so very worth it. I got to spend quality time with ten very sweet horses who were only too happy to be walking about in essentially, an empty barn. I was able to walk them from the top side, down into the bottom half of the barn (which is something you don’t usually do during the season unless you have permission). Lady Cash, in particular, enjoyed these walks. She’s a pretty big mare, about 16.2. She’s the kind of horse who knows what she wants, when she wants it. As mares go, she’s pretty nice. Most mares are ornery but Lady was always patient. You could tell she was humouring you. She never wanted to go back to her stall, she’d pick up the pace when you started to approach it. She is clearly in charge when it comes to her walks. Captain Jones is just as nice and about the same size. He has an even temperament. He does a good job at making you feel in charge… even though you really don’t need to be there, holding the shank. He knows when to turn and how much water to drink. For him, having a human hold the shank and walk beside him is just a technicality. He’s basically on autopilot when it comes to the shed row. The one with the mildest manners is the Texas Kid, the grey. He’s only about 15 hands so he’s an easy walk, and I mean easy. He doesn’t pull, waits his turn and enjoys the pace of it all. He likes to pause at the top of the barn and look out, which I oblige. The sweetest one in the barn is Goldie. She’s the puppy of the group, not a mean bone in her body. A chestnut mare, standing 15.2. I haven’t met another horse as laid back as she is. Nothing fazes her. She doesn’t mind if you brush her, pick her feet, put ice boots on her. She cares not if you’re in her stall with her. She’s truly a good girl. She’s also the hardest horse to get out of the water bucket after a work. She goes from 1000lbs. to 10,000lbs. Frank thought I was kidding, until he walked her after the track. Remarkable how fierce a drinker she is. If ever there were a horse that Devon would adopt… it’s Goldie.
Last year was my first full season as a hot walker and a groom at Hastings and I learned a ton. Frank is a man of few words… he doesn’t have to say much at all. You learn by observing him with the horses. He’s different with each one, as they are with him. Each horse has its own personality and they act accordingly. I learned more from watching him do his thing than by actually asking him questions. He’s a patient man with sharp wit. He loves to joke and loves a good joke. I don’t think I’ve ever met a more humble human being. I am lucky that he selected me over others to work with. I asked him why once and he told me “I’d rather work with someone who’s green and don’t know anything than someone with experience that thinks they know everything”. I took that as a compliment. I told anybody who would listen that I know nothing and am willing to take any and all advice. I think people appreciated my honesty.
On my down time throughout the season, I cleaned and conditioned tack. My predecessor either didn’t believe in cleaning tack, or didn’t know how. As a ball player with 38 years under my belt, I am no stranger to oils & conditioners. You could say, I took a shine to it. There is something calming and transfixing about cleaning tack. There’s a definitive beginning, middle and end. You see results and its instant gratification. I limped in easy, starting with shanks and halters. They seemed easy enough and, they were. I graduated on to harder items, such as exercise saddles. I like a good challenge and you really have no idea how much leather you’re working with until you work on a saddle. There’s the underside, which never sees the light of day and is dryer than a popcorn fart. You need to clean it once with saddle soap, rinse well, then hit it once with neatsfoot oil, remember to thoroughly dry it, then go over it with a good conditioner like Lexol or Fiebing’s Aussie Leather Conditioner with beeswax. It’s the beeswax that’s the not so secret ingredient which locks in the moisture, keeping the leather supple and adding a buttery softness to it. I was surprised when, several times, people stopped and informed me that “that wasn’t something you saw very often anymore” when I was cleaning saddles, shanks and halters. I still don’t understand that. What else was one supposed to do when you didn’t have any other work to be done? I like keeping busy and cleaning tack is right up my alley.
As long as the season is (it runs from April to October) it went by fast. We only got in about three races a month which made the season fly by. Before I knew it, we were halfway through and it felt like it went by in the blink of an eye. We had five babies to work with and let me tell you, you haven’t worked with horses until you’ve worked with babies. Fast, unpredictable and downright adorable. Each day presented you with a new set of challenges. We had two colts and three fillies. The boys, Soldier & Mander, were polar opposites of each other. Soldier is a massive chestnut, bum high, aware of his size but a giant wuss. Mander is much smaller, a dark bay and has zero clue how strong he is (thank Jebus!). The girls, Zee & Little B, are quite sweet and like to keep eyes on each other. Zee is a bigger chestnut, is in her head too much and spooks easy. Little B is a smaller chestnut, sweet disposition and takes everything in stride. And then there’s Sweetheart. You would think she was a mare, she’s so huge. This filly might very well be the biggest horse I’ll deal with. Thankfully, either she doesn’t know her own strength, or doesn’t care. She loves to run. She’s a smart horse and enjoys being on the track. I cannot wait to see what she’s capable of doing. There was also Violet… sweet, misunderstood Violet. A three year old, named after Frank’s sister who passed away. Violet is a headstrong horse, who isn’t very sound. For a very brief moment, we had Quinn. He was a sweet natured bay, well-mannered and enjoyed attention. He suffered an unfortunate accident during training… and we enjoyed his presence in our barn for just nine days. He is deeply missed.
The off season (or winter if you’re fancy like that) is a short one, but it feels much longer than it is. It’s getting close to racing season and I, for one, cannot wait to get back to the track.I’m not sure what others do in their off season but Devon & I have kept ourselves busy. It has been our goal for the better part of a decade to travel around in a big rolling turd (that’s RV to you). Well, we have been working on a project that’s nearing completion. Come season’s start, we are hopeful that we’ll be rolling up in our very own travel trailer, built from the ground up with our very own hands. The only thing we didn’t fabricate ourselves is the frame. In upcoming posts, we will be filling in more of the missing information on this build. For now, just know that we have learned more about ourselves and travel trailers in the past six months than we have in the past twelve years. If you can build a travel trailer with your partner, you can achieve anything.
I am excited for the new season. I am excited for the new travels in our future.
I am excited.
- Devon & Jade