“The HRA Backstretch Foundation provides benevolence to the sick and injured, counselling services, memorial services for those who have lost a loved one and provides social events to create a sense of community,” says Chaplain Jim Haggan, president of the foundation.
It is for more than just jockeys and grooms.
“The services are provided to anyone who makes their living as a Horse Racing Alberta licensee,” says Haggan, who was at The Horses At Evergreen Park recently to meet with those involved in the sport.
Haggan was born and raised in Belfast Northern Ireland and immigrated to Winnipeg in 1970 where he went to work at Assiniboia downs in 1993 as an addictions counsellor for the Winners Foundation - which is an organization based in California.
“I provided addiction services to the people in the backstretch, one-on-one counselling, referral services and was an advocate for the backstretch,” he says.
He moved to Edmonton in 2004 and was hired by HRA to set up a program similar to what he had created in Assiniboia downs. The program is currently based out of Edmonton.
It was started in 2005, to enhance and improve the quality of life for all backstretch workers. Originally the program was titled the Backstretch Chaplaincy program and in 2012 they applied for non-for-profit society status and became the HRA Backstretch Foundation.
“There are a number of jockeys from Grande Prairie who have benefitted from our program,” he says. “We have provided more support to riders on the community circuit than we have in any other jurisdictions in Alberta.
“Currently we have two riders (at The Hoses At Evergreen Park) who have benefitted from our program and at the moment they are experiencing great success.”
He says over the course of the eight-plus years the program has been in effect in Alberta the number of those in the backstretch who have benefitted is “in the hundreds” with the most requested area of support being from grooms, exercise riders and jockeys who have suffered an injury.
They get the program message to all racetrack horsemen in Alberta by providing a monthly newsletter that is sent out to all their provided email contacts as well as posted on the HRA website.
“We also make at least one visit to the harness, A Circuit and community meets throughout the racing season. There is also a Facebook page – www.facebook.com/HRABackstretchFoundation - that is updated regularly and is a source of information and correspondence for the backstretch people.”
While Horse Racing Alberta does supply a small grant at the beginning every year the majority of funds come from “owners who believe in what we are doing and generously support our fundraisers.”
He says there is a need to expand the program.
“We would like to see learning centres on-site at Lethbridge, Grande Prairie and Lacombe. I would like to see peer counsellors on-site at all locations to provide referral services, information and support to those who need it. The other area where support is needed would be volunteers from all racetrack locations.”
Horse Racing Alberta is also involved in preparing people for the industry through a racetrack program at Olds College.
“The programs are the Certified Racetrack Groom Training and Exercise Rider/Jockey programs,” Haggan says. “Our goal is to recruit, educate, and train individuals to become professional workers for the racing industry in Alberta.”
“Our programs have achieved a great level of success,” he says. “Out of these programs we have Omar Moreno (Eclipse and Sovereign Award winner), Scott Williams (Sovereign Award winner), Jenna Reid (Sovereign Award nominee), and this year Aimee Poolie.
“All of these riders started at Grande Prairie and we are excited that Corinne Andros has also had her start in Grande Prairie.”
Haggan is thrilled he and the foundation can have a positive effect on those in the industry.
“There is a feeling of accomplishment and we are very proud of the individuals who take advantage of our services and go on to be successful in their profession,” he says.
For more information on the program contact Haggan at 780-405-4559 or Theresa Sealy at 403-540-8707.
Courtesy of the Daily Herald-Tribune: original link here