Bobby Zen

Last week, I attended the Race Track Chaplaincy of America (RTCA) national conference at the Falls Creek Conference Center in Davis, Oklahoma. There were more than 100 participants including track chaplains, local council leaders, national board and staff. I am here to share a good news story about a group that is serving God, serving people and making a difference in horse racing.

At its core, our sport showcases the Thoroughbred, one of the greatest creatures on this earth, and the dedicated group of people who love and work with those animals. Millions enjoy our sport on all levels, including casual fans, horseplayers, industry workers, breeders, trainers and owners.

I groomed horses prior to my senior year of college, and I learned many things that have stuck with me my entire professional career. Of course, I loved working with the majestic Thoroughbred. I also gained an appreciation for the dedication of the many individuals who are involved in the care of our horses.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of people who make up our industry. Most have demanding, non-traditional work schedules, and many have to travel on a racing circuit. It is difficult for them to develop a relationship with a church and attend traditional services. Also, the work can be physical and demanding. Especially in the past, there was nowhere to turn when life’s challenges caused a “bump in the road.”

In a traditional setting, many people can access their church or family and friends to help them through tough times.

In the 1970’s, RTCA founder Salty Roberts recognized this situation, and the need for a ministry within the racing industry.  The RTCA was formed as an evangelical, interdenominational, 501(c)(3) non-profit Christian organization whose purpose is to minister to the spiritual, emotional, physical, social and educational needs of workers within the horse racing industry.

In its simplest terms, the primary mission of any Christian is to “Love God, love others.” The Chaplains, council members and volunteers of the RTCA carry out this mission every day. As the Vice President of the RTCA Board, it is a pleasure and honor to spend time with this group of humble servants who make such a difference in our industry.

The most visible part of a chaplain’s duties may be worship services and Bible studies. Those important efforts just scratch the surface of the chaplain’s job. It is a ministry of presence with Biblically based counsel, as well as offering resources like food and clothing banks, recreational activities and educational workshops. Chaplains perform weddings, handle funerals, do baptisms and make numerous trips to the hospital. When workers need a ride to the grocery store or a doctor’s appointment, many times it is the chaplain or a volunteer ready to provide transportation. Like many other jobs in the horse racing, industry it is seven days a week.

At the national conference there was an exchange of experiences and ideas. The chaplains described it as a ministry of presence. It is important to get to know the people. Ask questions. One chaplain called it loitering with intent. If someone is going through a tough time, pray with them. In 2023, every RTCA chaplain went through QPR training (Question, Persuade and Refer) to help educate them about the mental health issues facing many of our workers.

As you might guess, there is not one chaplain that does their job for the financial reward. As a matter of fact, I heard about a chaplain that was ministering on a small circuit which raced only on weekends. This person was dedicated to filling a need each weekend at the track, and then would drive home and get up early Monday morning to drive a garbage truck to pay the bills. There are many stories of volunteers who provide important assistance to serve the workers at the track.

Mindy Coleman, representing the Jockeys’ Guild, was in attendance. That organization has worked with the RTCA for many years to make a difference in the very difficult lives of jockeys. A track chaplain brings together the jockeys and leads a prayer prior to the races at virtually every racetrack served by the RTCA. The chaplain is there to counsel and pray with the riders in times of need. And, when a rider is injured, the chaplain is always one of the first ones at the hospital. During my career in track management, I have witnessed the difference in the environment in the jockeys’ room before the RTCA, and after. In a very competitive and demanding profession, the presence of the chaplain has made a major positive impact which is summed up by the RTCA theme of “Bringing God’s Grace to the Race.”

The conference was about God’s Love, and unity and focus for the RTCA. It was obvious that every chaplain present felt blessed to be in the role of serving others. There was not one complaint. However, chaplains can be under a great deal of pressure with the many duties they are tasked with. Let’s reach out to support and encourage them. If you are part of a horse organization, ask what you can do to support the RTCA at your track or training center. If you are in track management, make the chaplain part of your team.

To learn more about the RTCA, visit www.rtcanational.org.

The post Letter to the Editor: The Importance of the Race Track Chaplaincy appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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