Confessions of a horse groomer
Racehorses can be temperamental creatures and it is his job to keep them as happy as he can.
Mr Jason Ong, 26, is horse groomer to some of the stars of local racing. Among his charges at the Singapore Turf Club stable where he works are champions War Affair and Laser Storm.
It's crucial to keep these multi-million-dollar steeds happy and in good shape so that they can go on to win multi-million-dollar races.
Mr Ong's daily routine begins before 5am, when he prepares the horses for their morning track work.
After a quick breakfast, the horses are led out of the air-conditioned stables for a morning run around 6am.
During this time, their stables are cleaned, their bedding changed, and their food and water troughs refilled.
By 9.30am, they are led back to the stables to be hosed down and fed again.
The team spends the next few hours making sure the horses are eating well, happy and rested. They check the horses for injuries and irregular behaviour, and also send them to the vet for treatment if necessary.
Mr Ong says he can tell when an animal is feeling off. "You'll notice if the horse's movements are different. Rather than just judging visually, it's like you can feel it if the horse is unwell or unhappy," he says.
After noon, the horses are taken on leisurely walks around the compound or they swim in the equine pool. Once again, the groomers check the horses' shoes and ensure that everything is well.
For instance, some horses prefer shredded newspaper over sawdust for bedding. Some are stubborn and sometimes refuse to listen to their handlers.
One horse deliberately turns in circles to avoid Mr Ong as he attempts to lead it out for us to photograph. Before long, he gives up, shaking his head.
"He's just been brought back, so he probably doesn't want to go out again," he says with a laugh.
He confesses that his career started off on a whim five years ago.
After completing his national service, he convinced his parents to let him go to Australia and New Zealand to learn more about the trade.
There, he was attached to more experienced trainers who showed him the ropes.
"I wanted to try it out and see if this career would be suitable for me," he says.
"It was quite intimidating at the beginning. Many of the trainers there had been interacting with horses since they were young. For me, it was completely new."
He learnt to ride, too.
He has had a couple of major falls and spills, which left him fearful and discouraged.
Though he felt like giving up, he instead redoubled his efforts to understand the horses under his care and to master riding in order to catch up to his more experienced peers.
The biggest challenge?
Maintaining constant vigilance while handling the horses and keeping them relaxed.
"It can sometimes be dangerous if they're spooked by loud noises or vehicles. They can weigh as much as 500kg, and there's a risk of being bitten, kicked or trampled on," he says.
"But I've never been injured."
While he says that his paycheck varies, he takes home about $3,000 on average each month for taking care of the more than 40 horses at the stable.
The most rewarding part of the job for Mr Ong is when he watches the horses under his care perform well and win races.
"That's when you know you're doing a good job and your hard work is paying off," he says with a touch of pride.
"Especially since we're quite a small team compared with those at some of the expatriate trainers' stables."
He adds: "You have to really love the horses in order to take good care of them."
It may not be a job for everyone, but Mr Ong has no regrets.
"I always knew I wanted to do a sports-related career. Doing this now is almost like a childhood dream come true."
Secrets of the trade
1 Love the animal. The job can be frustrating at times, and the odd hours can take a toll on you. Unless you have a real passion for horses, you may regret choosing this career path.
2 Be patient. Horses can be stubborn and "throw tantrums", just like children. It's important not to lose your cool. Never scold or lash out at an unruly horse.
3 Pay attention to even the smallest details. An approaching vehicle can scare horses. Slight changes in their gait or movements can indicate an injury. Ensuring the horse's health and happiness means looking out for existing and potential threats to their well-being.