Helen Green is a strapper, one of the many unsung heroes that make Spring Racing Carnival possible. Here, she takes us behind the scenes of her daily routine, and tells us about what makes the relationship between a strapper and their horse so special.
What exactly is a strapper? What does a strapper do?
A strapper is responsible for the day-to-day care and wellbeing of each racehorse. Daily duties would include exercising the horses, feeding and grooming them and preparing them for the races.
Please take me through a typical day: what time do you wake up, what is the first thing you do, what else happens during the day?
My alarm goes off at 4am, and I’ll arrive at the stables about 4:45am. A couple of people, including our foreman, start slightly earlier and will have the first lot of horses saddled and the second lot on the walker.
As I’m also a rider, my morning consists of track riding until about 8am. The strappers who work on the ground will get each of our horses ready for us to ride. After they’ve worked, they’re responsible for swimming and washing the horses off.
Once I’ve finished riding, I will swim my last horse and then help tidy up around the stables. Before we all head home, we each go around our horses that have been assigned to us, and give them a brush and check them over. A normal morning will finish at about 10am.
The afternoons start at 2pm. In the afternoons, we either take the horses to the pool for a swim (depends on the weather) or put them on the walker for 20mins just so they can stretch their legs. Whilst each horse is on the walker, we clean their yards and prepare them for the night. We then rug and feed them, checking they are all fit and well, and leave them for the night.
What about during race days? Are there any special tasks you need to do?
It’s my job to prepare the racing bag, so each day we have a runner I’ll be given the list of what gear each horse will be wearing. For example: blinkers or tongue ties. I’ll pack everything they need for the day. Each horse will have a shampoo before they head to the races to make sure their coats are gleaming.
Are there any superstitions and/or traditions around training horses? Do you do anything special on race days for luck?
I have a favourite bridle that I like to use on my horses on race days, I’m not sure whether that’s because I’m superstitious and think they run well in it or I’m just fussy and think it looks the smartest.
What made you decide to become a strapper?
I actually started working in racing almost by accident in England, and then I just fell in love with it. Horses have always been a passion of mine and I’ve been riding since I was a little girl, so it was perfect that I could combine my hobby and work together.
“We grow a bond with our horses, sometimes they start their life with us as yearlings and we watch them grow and mature. We get to know their individual characters and treat them like our pets, it gives them a happy environment which horses thrive off.”
How long have you been one?
I have worked in racing for about 10 years now, it was always just meant to be temporary until I decided what career I wanted in life (I’m clearly still not sure).
What does it take to become one? What sort of training is needed? Is a license necessary? If yes, how is this earned?
Every person is required to do mandatory training, to show they’re efficient and safe around horses and the work place. There is also on the job training, especially as some people start in the industry without ever being around horses. We are all licensed through Racing Victoria who provided us with strappers’ passes to allow us to take horses to the races.
What does it take to be a good strapper?
To be a good strapper, you really need to love your job and horses, and pay attention to detail. Each horse is different and when you spend every day with them, it’s easy to tell if they aren’t feeling themselves, or are feeling and looking amazing (in which case you know they’ll run a good race).
What’s the most fulfilling thing about your job?
Watching your horses perform well — they don’t always need to win to make you proud of them.
But when you go to the races, and you know you couldn’t have them looking or feeling any better, and they run well, it really is so rewarding. Obviously when they win and you see how happy the owners are and the horses (I’m sure they know) it just puts a huge smile on my face.
What are your favourite/most memorable stories on the job?
My favourite story is about the one horse that really makes waking up at 4am everyday worthwhile. He is called The New Boy, but he is nothing like new — in fact, he’s now 8 years old.
Last year, he had a few disappointing starts and retirement was talked about. I think he actually had 4 days of retirement before we decided to give him one last go, with everything in his favour. We had decided that he might just need a freshen up and have some fun so I took him jumping, which he loved.
He then had a race at Geelong, led, and won! This was the start of an awesome season for him where I think he was only out of the placing twice. To see him get a new love for the game was amazing, and he’s such a pleasure to ride and look after every day.
How important are strappers in training and caring for horses? For example, Tommy Woodcock is often cited and given lots of credit when horse enthusiasts talk about Phar Lap.
I believe strappers are extremely important — we grow a bond with our horses, sometimes they start their life with us as yearlings and we watch them grow and mature. We get to know their individual characters and treat them like our pets, it gives them a happy environment which horses thrive off.
Where in the UK are you from? Why come to Australia instead of staying there?
I’m from a town called Cheltenham, which is most famous in the racing world for the Cheltenham Festival. It’s one of the biggest jumps carnivals in England. I came to Australia for a change and experience another part of the world; however, I fell in love with the lifestyle and the country and although I miss home, I just prefer it here.
Can you tell if a horse is going to become a champion? What are the signs?
Our foreman has always said a horse that you can do everything with is already halfway to being a good horse. They need to be willing to learn and have a good attitude, but also work well. After a few gallops you normally get an idea of how good they’re going to be.
Which horses under your care are you betting on this Spring Carnival, and why?
I look after a horse called Verstappen. He’s a stunning colt by Stratum and has always shown a lot of potential at home. His first start was a winning one at Packenham where he really impressed everyone.
Another horse who I think very highly of is a filly called Merriest. She’s not actually one of my horses but I ride her every day. She is a big strong 3-year-old who has already had two impressive wins.
This interview has been slightly edited for clarity. All images were provided by Ms. Green.
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