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Becoming A Groom

Posted on: April 19, 2014 by Emma Ford

I’m 19 years old and in college to work with horses. I love your blog and read it avidly. I was curious to know if it was too late to start as a groom (I only know the basics) and what it truly entails and takes as a career. If you could give me any and all insight into your experiences and the job itself I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks! – Danielle M. from Morgantown, WV

Whilst standing in the busy show jumping warm up at the fork this past weekend, the Canadian coach asked if I knew of any good grooms needing work… Honestly, the answer …no. As a professional groom I am often asked if I know of someone looking to be a groom. What I have witnessed over the years are many young people who are happy to help but they all want to ride, very few people these days want to remain on the ground and whole heartily take care of the equine athlete from nose to tail.

I first came to the states when I was 21. I came from a strong hunting background but also having passed through the ranks of pony club. I was lucky enough to ride during my first USA job and actually made it through prelim, having said that I knew I would never make an amazing rider. You’ll often hear me say that I always use to win the turn out prizes but not many riding ribbons! I think maybe someone above was trying to show me the way! One trip to Blenheim CCI*** in the UK and I was hooked on grooming! I wanted to fly with horses all over the world. Since then I have not looked back, Hong Kong, Rio, Germany and Amsterdam have all been visited and now I have an amazing second family and have had and still do have many sensational horses in my life.

Waiting to board the 15 hour flight to Hong Kong. 2008.

As a career, grooming can be one of the most rewarding jobs when working with animals, however there are plenty of heartbreaking times that will have to be negotiated along the way. Learning to groom starts at the barn. Being there day in, day out understanding what makes each horse tick puts you on the right path. If you think an eight hour day is long, grooming is not for you. Dedication to the daily health and care of each individual horse many times will take a 10 hour day and at competitions that can go up to a 14 to 15 hours a day, repeatedly. Obviously it all depends on the barn you work at, how many horses you take care of, whether you have the appropriate amount of help and many other factors.

As grooms, we are the behind the scene people, the rider needs to train the horse but it is our job to ensure the horse looks and feels healthy and comfortable at all times. At competitions we are expected to run the day as smoothly as possible so the rider can concentrate on riding and not be worrying about whether a horse will be at the ring on time. Again it all comes down to the individual situation, one horse at a one day event is very different to seven at an away show. Attention to detail is a must when taking care of horses, knowing what is normal, whether a splint just appeared on his leg or he hasn’t eaten his lytes, being able to look at him and think “something is a little off” is all so important when trying to keep these equine athletes at their best.

America needs many more grooms, especially in the eventing world. If you are looking for recognition, a big paycheck or that 401k then grooming is not for you. However if you know you have the drive and dedication that is required to help realize each horse’s full potential, then maybe it is the right path. The eventing community is a close knit group that always offers support and advice where and when needed. As grooms we stick together and help each other do what is best for each horse. When times are bad we are the first to give hugs but when celebrations are in order we will be the first to throw a party.

I don’t want to sugar coat the job, there are days when you feel that horses are all you do. There will be nights that maybe a stall is your bed, you will get to see many 3am alarm calls or you’ll be feeling so sick that you will ask yourself why you do it. Why do any of us do it? Because we love and respect these horses for what they give and mean to us. Watching Connaught win Rolex in 2008 will always be one of my personnel highlights. He was a quirky horse to take care of but all he wanted to do was please and trust you, when the stars finally alined for him I was a sobbing happy mess when we knew the result! However on the downside, losing Woodburn was a day I will never forget, he was a horse that never got to realize his full potential, it comforts me that I was with him till the end. If you ask any groom that has been in the job for years they can all give you their personal highs and lows. All of us get up every morning because in truth we need the horses companionship more than they need us.