I often hear show grooms say that they’re going to give up grooming and get a “real job.” Most of us don’t seem to consider it a career. Why? I mean, it’s practically enough work to be two jobs.
I can probably count the number of career grooms I know on one hand. Most people hack it for less than a year, then find something a little less demanding. So who are those brave souls who make a career out of brushing horses and, more importantly, what is it about being a professional groom that makes it a short-term life choice? Here are some hard truths if you decide you want to give grooming a try.
1. There is no stability.
Most pro grooms I know never fully unpack their suitcases. Why bother, when it's been such a short time since the last show and it's only a week or two until you're on the road again? Things are always in flux. You're in a string of hotel rooms and mucking a different set of temp stalls every few weeks. You'll need to have a GPS on your dashboard because you're rarely in one place long enough to get familiar.
2. Your loved ones will fall by the wayside.
When you're always on the road, it's hard to make time to visit your family. Most of my friends who've been in this field a long time haven't been home for a holiday—any holiday—since they were still in school. That can be hard for family-oriented people. Little ones get big, birthdays get celebrated, and life milestones pass by without you.
3. You are destroying your body.
I think my fellow pro-brushers and I are singlehandedly keeping the Back On Track line of human products in business with all of our aches and pains. One has a limp for the first hour of the day, one looks to be developing the beginnings of a hunchback from his heavy ring bag, and one is about to go in for knee surgery. A good back is as rare commodity in this field. Between unloading trailers, carting around trunks full of equipment, and being stepped on, kicked and shoved around by horses, a couple years of grooming makes you as lame and cranky as an old Grand Prix horse.
4. You might not feel appreciated.
Top riders know the value of a good groom. But I have heard many complaints in the industry of spoiled client riders being rude or condescending to the people that take care of their equine partners, and of employers that overwork their team and still treat them as though they are lazy and useless. Even in the best of situations, if you stay up all night with a sick horse and still have to be mucking the barn by 5 am, you will often find it a thankless job.
5. It can be lonely.
I can't think of a longtime groom over 30 I know that is married or in a committed relationship. Maintaining a relationship when you are on the road all the time isn't easy. A non-horse person won't understand your lifestyle and why you can't make more time for them. Finding love on the show circuit is next to impossible. For women, especially. A straight, handsome, faithful man in the horse show world is as rare as a unicorn. Even if you do find someone on the circuit, long periods apart are unavoidable, and long distance relationships are tough. That is why pro-brushers often fly solo.
6. You might not love horses the same way you used to.
This is a tough one. We all started working with horses because we love them. They make us happy, and we want to spend our whole day with them. But after a while as a groom, you sometimes forget why it was that you loved them so much. They're the reason you're exhausted. They won't stop pooping all the time. And dammit, one of them just stepped on your foot. We can get frustrated when they do normal horse things, like spook on the way out to the paddock, because it makes our job more difficult. We start to think of them more like our uncooperative coworkers than the amazing animals they are. We even use phrases that inherently blame them for causing problems beyond their control, like "my horse tried to die last night" in reference to a colic episode. We do love them, of course, and they are our passion, or we wouldn't spend 24 hours a day with them. But that excitement you used to get when you saw a horse in the paddock? It's gone.
7. Forget having well-rounded interests.
Used to play hockey? Did you paint or sketch? Maybe you were a cyclist or a writer. Well, forget about it. Grooming full-time doesn't leave time or energy for any other hobbies. You eat, sleep, and breathe horses. All you ever talk about is horses. All the people you surround yourself with are horse people. There is no space in your life for anything else.
8. It is REALLY hard to eat healthy.
Since you live in hotel rooms and work crazy hours, you're going to be eating a lot of fast food. You don't have time to sit down for a healthy lunch, so chips and crackers will be a staple of your diet. Health foods are not a viable option.
9. You're tired. Like, all the time.
And cranky. You've been tired and cranky for so long that it just seems like part of your personality now, and you can't sit in a car for more than 10 minutes without falling asleep. Actually, if you have a 10 minute stretch of quiet time any time of day, you may just stretch a Whitney across some trunks and take a quick nap. There are not enough hours of sleep in this lifetime to make you feel well-rested.
10. You will have to get used to saying goodbye.
With all of the travelling you do, it starts to feel like you are always leaving. Your coworkers are a constantly changing carousel of people. Clients come and go. The horses you're so attached to will be sold. Always saying goodbye to the people, places, and horses you care about can really wear down the soul.
Make no mistake, grooming is a hard life and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. But for some, it’s the only life worth living.