by Chris Lomon
It was only fitting that Justine McTeer had to take the good news in stride… literally.
The paddock at Hanover Raceway was bustling and the young horsewoman, the one who had to ready three horses for their respective races that day, was in the zone, focused on each task at hand.
When she was approached with the news that she had been selected as ‘Groom of the Week’ at Hanover Raceway, the half-mile track celebrating its 58th Anniversary of pari-mutuel wagering in 2022, McTeer had only a few seconds to process the words she had just heard.
“We had three horses in on the Saturday in Hanover when the track opened for the season. I was literally running around between all three of them, trying to get them ready, making sure everything was done right for their races. I believe it was the paddock judge who came up to me and asked, ‘Are you Justine? We’ve just awarded you Groom of the Week.’ I was stunned. I remember I said, ‘Okay, that’s amazing… but I’ll be right back because I have to go get another horse harnessed.’ It was great news, but I had to go take care of the horse. When I finally had a moment to let it sink in, I it was a great feeling to be recognized in that way.”
It’s by no means a stretch or a pun to say that the start of her standardbred career has been picture-perfect.
Working in the barn of Shawn Hyatt, the 22-year-old McTeer, who has been riding horses since she was 12, has played an integral role in the outfit’s success.
“I’ve only been working with Shawn for a month, but I’ve been lucky to have eight win photos on my wall. That’s such a great feeling. Every time I look at those photos, it just makes me smile. When I look at the pictures, I think the one thing that comes to mind is how proud I am of them. I do it for the horses. That saying, ‘Do what you love, and you never work a day in your life,’ it really resonates with me. That’s exactly how I feel.”
It was during her early days when she was employed by Hanover that the thought of working with pacers and trotters first came to mind.
“I worked at Hanover Raceway starting in 2018 and I fell in love with racing,” said McTeer, who took Equine Care and Management at the University of Guelph. “Watching them race – my job was track maintenance – and seeing them walk down the paddock, and people getting the horses ready, seeing how calm the horses were, all of it just really fascinated me. With horses, you can tell when they love their job, and so many horses I saw loved what they were doing. I just wanted to be part of that.”
McTeer, who hails from Walkerton, a picturesque Ontario town situated on the banks of the Saugeen River, is certainly glad she made that decision.
She’s developed strong bonds with the horses in the Hyatt barn, grateful for the opportunity to work with them one-on-one and the chance to learn more about their personalities.
“You’re with them every day and you feel that connection with them. I’ve been racing almost every night, but I am in no way complaining. I truly love it. We race all over southwestern Ontario. We go to Georgian, Grand River, Clinton, Western Fair, Flamboro.
McTeer is looking to build upon her current groom role and eventually become a licensed trainer.
For now, she’ll continue to do an abundance of homework on the industry.
“I’ve only been in racing two years, so I’m still trying to get a handle on things, like the different classes and races, where each horse belongs where. Some do well on a half-mile track, others do better on a five-eighths track. I’m trying to learn everything about that. My goal is to become a trainer. I’d like to get my license and have my own stable.”
McTeer has several role models who act as an inspiration for achieving that goal.
She would like to see more female trainers in the sport.
“I see people like Lindsey Kerr and Cassidy Schneider, and I would love to follow in their footsteps. This is a male-dominated industry, so I would like to be a trainer, and I want to get the word out that women can do this too, that we can aspire to be trainers.”
When she isn’t appearing in win photos or travelling to various tracks throughout the province, McTeer makes time for one particular hobby outside of her hectic schedule.
Not surprisingly, it is an equine-related pursuit.
“I have a riding horse, so I go out on different trails. My life literally consists of horses, and that is just fine with me. Every day I’m on my horse or working at the barn, I’m truly happy.”
It’s easy to see why she would feel that way, especially with Hyatt having already set career-best seasonal marks in wins and earnings.
McTeer is hoping for the good fortune to continue, and with it, the chance to place some new win photos on her wall.
“It really is hard to put into words what it means to see yourself standing with those horses. That’s the best part, that you get to be in the picture. Your name isn’t on the photo, but you get to have your picture taken with them and that’s so great. It is the best feeling you can have. Like I said, everything I do, I do it for them. They are just amazing in every single way.”