Heroes of the South African Thoroughbred Industry

thoroughbred horse groom

Photo: Candiese Marnewick

The success of any equine breeding business depends on its ability to keep mares and foals healthy. As such, stud grooms play an indispensable role as caretakers, nurturers and guides to Thoroughbred horses.

In their commitment to promoting and encouraging the breeding and genetic improvement of Thoroughbred horses, the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association (TBA) wishes to recognise the vital role that South African stud grooms play in all aspects of horse care, stable and farm management.

Caring for these animals is a matter of great passion, dedication and sacrifice, leaving little time for other endeavours. However, this level of hard work has never discouraged local stud groom, Furdy Swartbooi, from working towards advancing his professional career.

Swartbooi is one of the highly skilled stud grooms at Varsfontein Stud Farm – an internationally renowned stud farm located outside Paarl in the Western Cape.

He is no stranger to the everyday demands of caring for foals, racehorses, or breeding stallions or broodmares as he starts the day in the stables, performing the most basic tasks such as cleaning and feeding the animals. His job requires much more than hard physical labour; Swartbooi is a devoted stud groom who shows incredible dedication and attentiveness to the protection and welfare of these majestic animals.

Having grown up in Riverview – a disadvantaged and gang-riddled community in the Worcester District – Swartbooi and many other stud grooms start their careers with very little support or formal knowledge of equine breeding activities and bloodlines. Stud farms are usually situated in rural areas and are an important source of employment to local communities.

However, low levels of education amongst rural farm workers can make it difficult for grooms to fully understand the complexities of the stud farm business and thus to rise up in the stud farm industry, despite the important role they play.

Swartbooi has achieved the highest level of qualification for a stud groom currently, and now serves as the youngest member and leader of an industry co-operative – a group of independent stud grooms who aim to put their skills to the test by means of a small business, funded through the Department of Trade and Industry.

In order to become a member of the co-operative, Swartbooi and his team had to successfully complete a minimum of three training modules offered as part of the training initiatives supported by the TBA.

The training is aimed at empowering grooms to gain the necessary practical and professional skills that will enable them to eventually pursue success in their own business enterprises. Supporting this initiative, the TBA believes that these hard-working, knowledgeable stud grooms will not only bring up healthy, competitive racehorses – they possess the potential to invest in their own, or a share of their own, Thoroughbreds, either mares to breed their own foals from, or weanling foals that can be auctioned on for profit once they reach the correct age.

TBA CEO, Catherine Hartley comments: “It is our goal to promote the industry at large through initiatives that encourage the breeding and genetic improvement of Thoroughbred horses in South Africa, but also that open doors to a brighter future for the previously disadvantaged members of our community.

We look forward to placing greater focus on more sustainable and formalised training courses for grooms in the near future, enabling them to participate more equitably in the industry. We are delighted at the prospect and believe that this will change the future of SA horse breeding as much as it will change these grooms’ lives.”

Commenting on finding his passion, Swartbooi says: “Grooming never even crossed my mind! I can still remember the first day that I arrived at Varsfontein – just after finishing high school – and had to learn to deliver a foal! Since then, I have come to understand the importance of our role within the breeding industry.”

With new blood already arriving this spring season (which officially starts on the 1st of August for Southern Hemisphere horses), Swartbooi will focus his attention on ensuring safe deliveries and the health of the mares and foals – critical components of raising healthy and sound race-horses. Varsfontein is known to sell most of its yearlings annually, so the initial development stage is paramount to producing horses capable of commanding top prices at auction.

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