Job security is a two way street. It’s a continual dance of give and take. In the transient labor pool of American race tracks, finding good help on the backstretch is like catching fire-flies in a bottle. The tenure of a hot walker, groom or exercise riders is more accurately measured in terms of weeks instead of years. Re-stocking the shelves of employees to work with the horses is all part of the business.
Given all the personnel movement from barn to barn, the file of George Salmond, who has worked for Lane’s End Farm for 25 years, is worth a second review.
The employer—employee relationship started at a training center in Camden, South Carolina. At the time, Salmond was 40-years-old and owned a long work history of low-paying, menial labor jobs. No benefits. No insurance or retirement. Cash over the counter. The future looked un-inspiring. Then, by accident and circumstance, his life found a new groove.
“I knew some guys that were hanging around the horses,” Salmond remembers. “They kept after me and running it down like it was decent, steady work. I wasn’t doing much of anything at the time. Hard work never scared me, so I decided to check it out.”
It’s strange where a man’s memory remains anchored. Twenty-five years later Salmond remembers the exact day of the week that he entered the world of race horses.
“I went up there on a Tuesday,” he said, “and started work on Wednesday. From that day, I guess you could say I done something of everything with a horse.”
Under the watchful eye of trainer Neil Howard, Salmond turned out to be a quick study. “I saw right away that (Howard) wanted everything done up nice and tidy,” Salmond says. “You can admire somebody that does a nice job and is professional in the way he does his business.”
Employment experts and management executives could learn something from George Salmond and it would not be complicated theory. The 65-year-old is a living lesson in how organizations can retain good employees. Good manners may be just as important as high pay and it is probably the main reason that Salmond has been with Lane’s End for so long a time.
“I’m a type of guy that if you treat me nice then I’m going to stick around,” Salmond said. “I can’t find no fault with the way people treated me in this job. Mr. Farish (owner of Lane’s End Farm) is a nice person. Treats you like a man. He walks in the barn and goes right up and speaks to you.”
There is a quality of deliberate silence and spaciousness in the man who groomed Horse of the Year Mineshaft, as well as Secret Status and multiple other graded stakes winners. It is clear that he has his own special way of handling horses.
“Some grooms can communicate with a horse and some horses can communicate with a groom,” Salmond explained, moving his hands back and forth to demonstrate. “The way they prick their ears and stand straight up when you come around makes you feel welcome. A horse is like a person. You don’t need to use words. You got to take your time with them.”
When does it all end? Salmond doesn’t have plans to retire just yet. “I can’t tell you right now,” he said, lost in thought for a moment. “That kind of thing is not in my mind. I was never one to complain and as long as I like what I am doing I can’t see no reason for quitting.”