Race Track Chaplaincy of America ministers to Eastern Panhandle horse-racing industry

September 30, 2012|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — A horse show in Inwood, W.Va., next week is one of two major annual fundraisers needed to keep the word of God spreading among the 1,000 or so “backstretch” workers at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races.

The money augments the $100,000 annual budget of the Charles Town Race Track Chaplaincy. It pays for a full-time chaplain and two part-time secretaries, said M. Victoria “Torie” White of Shenandoah Junction, W.Va., a member of the chaplaincy’s council.

The chaplaincy is an arm of the Race Track Chaplaincy of America. It ministers to the employees of the horse-racing industry in the Eastern Panhandle, including those on horse-breeding farms, many of which are in Jefferson County.

Most horse racetracks have chaplaincies, White said.

Chaplain Peter Criswell ministers to the nearly 1,000 people who work in the backstretch, the area rarely seen by the public, with its 21 barns, each with 50 stalls, to house the nearly 1,000 horses stabled there on any given day, White said.

Criswell was unavailable for comment Friday.

Among the workers are nearly 250 trainers and the grooms, hot walkers and exercise riders the trainers hire to care for their horses. Veterinarians and blacksmiths also are part of the backstretch mix.

George Yetsook, a trainer and council member, said each trainer employs two to four grooms and hot walkers.

“The horse industry in West Virginia is second only to the number of workers in the coal industry,” he said.

“It takes a lot of people to take care of that many horses. They make a decent wage, but they work seven days. Their work is never done,” White said.

The chaplaincy also ministers to the workers’ families.

The ministry conducts a weekly Bible study and Sunday service in space provided by Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. The casino is an important contributor to the chaplaincy, White said.

The ministry handles weddings and funerals, provides pastoral, spiritual, marriage, and drug and alcohol counseling. It conducts prayers for the safety of the jockeys and starter-gate crews before each race, and generally provides the daily presence of a chaplain in the shed rows and jockeys’ room. It also works with other area churches.

The chaplaincy depends on the two annual fundraisers — the horse show and an auction in August — plus donations, White said.

The Oct. 8 horse show, which will will be held rain or shine, will feature English-style and western-style riding in multiple classes in an indoor arena at Sulphur Springs Stables, 55 Strobridge Road in Inwood.

Admission is free to spectators. Participants pay a $7 entry fee per class. To register, call 304-725-4028. 

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