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Faces Of Racing — Kenny Ellis

Published: September 10, 2021 10:38 am ET

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Leading up to the 2021 edition of National Caretaker Appreciation Day events taking place the week of September 20-26, Standardbred Canada will profile caretakers from across the country in our Faces of Racing series. The series continues with a profile on Kenny Ellis of Guelph, Ont., employed by the Jean Tourigny Stable in Milton, Ont.

Harness racing is a lifestyle for the Ellis family, making it no surprise that Kenny Ellis, son of Jim and Lori Ellis, has been in the barn since the day he could walk and has been working directly with horses since the impressive age of seven.

After his parents introduced him to a horse by the name of Stan The Hood, Kenny instantly knew that he would grow up working with horses in some capacity. He has now been a full-time caretaker for 16 years, working for many credible trainers and currently works for Jean Tourigny stable.

“I was born into the industry and had been exposed to horses at a very young age to say the least! My parents Jim and Lori Ellis took me to the barn essentially from day one and my earliest memories were with a horse by the name of Stan The Hood. If you couldn’t find me, you could just look in his stall because I was likely there!”

After years of working in the barn alongside his parents Kenny pursued his passion becoming a full-time caretaker and has worked for several trainers throughout the years who have helped him become the caretaker that he is today.

“After working in the industry for as long as I have, I’ve had the opportunity to work with quite a few trainers either working for them for a catch paddock or as a full-time caretaker. Having said that, some of the people that have influenced me the most would be my parents Jim and Lori first and foremost, and some others I have learned a lot from would be Tony Alagna and Donna Lee along with Chad Milner who I had the pleasure of working for, and I have taken aspects of their training style into my own caretaking repertoire.”

Being born into a harness racing family has its perks; you get to grow up surrounded by horses, you get to attend the big Grand Circuit races and you also get the chance to learn the value of hard work from a young age. But for Ellis, his biggest perk of all was getting to grow up with his best friend and favourite horse of all time, Counseltross.

“My favourite will always be Counseltross, who my dad trained for owner Alfred Grummett. She was known for being a bit of a renegade or runaway on the track, but for whatever reason she loved me to pieces”, Ellis recalled. “When she got claimed from us, I was devastated to say the least. Fast forward a few months after she was claimed, and the new trainer called Alfred and said the mare had got hurt and she was not in good shape… Alf ended up buying the mare and paying for all the vet bills and gave her to me for my birthday! She never left my barn again. I had her for 19 years!”

Let’s meet Kenny Ellis in this video produced by Standardbred Canada’s Hailey Saunders with video and photo contributions from Hailey Saunders and New Image Media.

Falling in love and spoiling the horses in his care can be considered one of Kenny Ellis’ biggest “weaknesses” working as a caretaker, and although it’s a daily struggle for Ellis, the horses absolutely adore it! Ellis also admitted that he takes pride in knowing that he is the safe place for the horses he takes care of and that the horses essentially have him “wrapped around their hooves.”

“The biggest challenge for me as a caretaker Is kind of a weird one…I have a really hard time not falling in love with them. I’ve always been told not to get attached and that it’s a business, but I think it sets me apart because I treat the horses the same as if they were my own horses, a five claimer or a Grand Circuit horse, they all need to be cared for essentially the same way!”

Over the years, Ellis has had the opportunity to work with several different breeds of horses including the Standardbred and he divulged that they are the best breed of horse that he has had the chance be around, noting that they adapt quickly to situations, and that they are very intuitive, smart, and caring animals.

Kenny has some insightful suggestions for the up-and-coming generation that wants to pursue a profession as a caretaker in the harness racing industry.

“Some advice for new caretakers, I’ll be honest as I can with this question. There’s no easy button, it’s not always fun and glamorous and there will be tough, scary, and demanding times where you’re going to feel like throwing in the towel,” he explained. “I promise you if you stick it out you won’t regret it one little bit. The horses are incredible, and I personally can’t get enough of the way the horses rely on their groom. You become their person or safe place, you’re the one they are going to look at for comfort and guidance and I can’t think of any other job where you see your hard work pay off right in front of your eyes!”

Ellis also noted that good horsemanship can be different to everyone and that no opinion or definition is wrong. Having said that, he mentioned that he was once told “if you look after the little things, the big things are less likely to ever happen,” and that It’s about knowing each horse as an individual and taking the time to know what makes them happy and healthy.

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