Shelley Perham knows all about juggling her many roles and is passionate about working across racing, whether that be inspiring young people or supporting those already plying their trade in the sport.
A challenging start in racing
My first job in racing was riding out for legendary trainer, Fulke Walwyn.
The ‘governor’ did not employ many girls so Darkie Deacon, Head Man, called me Bob. Thrown in at the deep end I got run away with every day until Darkie took me under his wing and found the right horses for me. I was lucky enough to build a partnership with a huge horse of HM Queen Mother’s called ‘Dudley’ and rode him every work morning.
Richard Hannon (senior) took out my amateur licence and I had many rides for him, as well as for Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds, where I managed syndicates for Hon. Harry Herbert. A spell riding track work in Santa Anita for Richard Mandella was the highlight of my riding career and I always tell young people, including my daughter, that riding racehorses can take you all over the world. You will never be out of a job! Engineers dream of working for Ferrari, but how often do they get to drive the car?
Face-to-face with the next generation
Working with the charity Racing to School gives me an insight into what is important to young people and the challenges they face. Today, young people see the world in a very different way to my generation. I rode ponies and horses because it was all we had and life was quite boring otherwise. Now there are so many choices available to the young and racing has to wave its flag proudly and open its doors to work experience.
The next generation of school leavers ‘Generation Z’ are very different to millennials, they highly value mentorship and a work culture with a high degree of autonomy. They want to work for an employer who is focussed on providing them with career growth. They want professional development opportunities and are high achievers. Gen Z demand equality of treatment and diversity in their professional lives.
I am always surprised trainers advertise jobs stating that grooms ‘must be able to ride’ rather than turning it on its head and promoting the opportunity to ride work and school over fences. Gen Z are hungry for new challenges but they need the help to achieve their goals.
The prohibitive cost of riding lessons and health and safety measures mean it is less easy to get experience with horses and learn to ride. When I work with equine college students, I tell them about my experience and how rewarding it is to be passionate about doing a job you love.
There has never been a better time to work in racing – the package of benefits and support just keeps getting better.
Working with the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust
Most of my colleagues are Olympians but due to my record competing at the Horse of The Year Show, Dame Kelly asked me to become an Athlete Ambassador working on a London 2012 legacy project called ‘Sportivate’.
Capitalising on the enthusiasm for sport after the Olympics, the aim was to inspire young people into sport and mentor them through the process. I worked with those with a variety of emotional, physical and mental disabilities and it was incredibly humbling and exciting to witness the bond created between horse and rider.
Improving benefits for racing staff
In my role at the National Trainers Federation (NTF) I have been working on the new Racing Groom website. The idea came at a time when I was looking at university prospectuses with my daughter. I found that the information that universities provided meant we were able to make a very informed decision on where she would study. I was impressed by their portal, where all relevant information personal to the student could be accessed in one place and I started to search for something similar in racing.
The NTF’s new website has two purposes: to promote the role of Racing Grooms and to provide them with their own hub where they can access many tools for working in the industry. This would include details of training opportunities; work experience; news; competitions; rewards and discounts.
Three years ago we did not have a clear and concise message about what the role involved and how to access training. The website is a one-stop shop to pull together all the fragmented information provided by our stakeholders to encourage and inform anyone interested in working with racehorses.
A new racecourse benefit for stable staff
At the start of Racing Staff Week, Arena Racing Company (ARC) announced a new badge scheme for racing staff who are members of Racing Groom to attend ARC racedays with friends and family. Former ARC Director of External Communications, Susannah Gill was ahead of her time with this initiative. I approached Susannah with this idea before she left ARC and got a yes immediately. Her colleague, Sam Cone has now made it happen.
Staff had told me that they felt aggrieved that having worked behind the scenes that they were often prohibited from going racing and meeting up with their friends and family. I wanted to be able to say to staff: ‘If you are a long way from home and taking your horse racing at a racecourse near your family, bring them along, make them proud to see you lead up your horse or go and attend a concert at the end of the day, you have deserved it.’ Surely the more people that go racing the better it is for the industry.
The rewards and discounts section that offers staff meaningful benefits really is exciting. The opportunity to promote a brand or product on the website is free and open to anyone, as long as they provide a discount to our members. Thankfully, The Jockey Club has now interested in joining in on this initiative to provide the same benefits to racing staff at their 15 racecourses.
Retaining staff by celebrating best practice
When I first started in my role for the National Trainers’ Federation, my thoughts were that staff retention was the ‘low hanging fruit’. Why train so many new recruits only to lose them a few years later? Our message to employers is that the requirements of young people have changed and the next generation have very different expectations and needs. Where possible, they need to adapt or the staffing crisis will not improve.
NTF boss, Rupert Arnold and I developed the Lycetts Team Champion Award to showcase the employers that have excellent management training practices, and to share methods and policies proven to get results in other industries.
Racecourses have also begun to improve their facilities for staff and the industry is making great strides to provide a better overall workplace for our grooms and encourage new blood into the industry.