I have noticed a disturbing trend among a few show barns out there that needs to be stopped. These stables are paying their grooms a salary that is actually proportional to the amount of work that they are doing.
Of course, in many industries this is considered the norm. Employees will actually keep track of the numbers of hours worked and they will be paid a certain number of dollars for each one of those hours.
That’s all well and good. But it’s not how things are done on the show circuit. Since the dawn of time, show grooms, the masochistic contingent who travel from show to show providing 24/7 care to their equine charges, have been paid a flat salary per week. The salary has always been based on about 40 hour work week despite the fact that the job typically requires 60 to 80 hours of their time.
This contractual agreement between the haves and the have-nots is part of the very fiber upon which the equine industry is built. A practice that must be upheld in order to maintain the delicate balance of the world, if not the universe.
I’ll tell you why: Natural selection.
Everyone knows there’s a hierarchy of intelligence among horse people. At the top are the ones who secured high-paying jobs to pay for their horse hobby. They are the cream of the intellectual crop by virtue of the fact that they get the greatest payoff in terms of labour versus horsey enjoyment and/or leisure.
In the middle are those who start their own businesses—the barn owners, horse sellers, trainers, etc. Their ratio of horse labor is higher compared to their horse leisure time, which suggests a dubious balance between brains and brawn.
At the very bottom are the grooms. They are the prehistoric cavemen of the equine world. They have traded in their horsey leisure time for labor because they have bought into the idea that as long as they work with horses, labor and leisure are one in the same. They tell themselves that horses are their passion, and that in today’s society it is a privilege to do something you love. That’s right, they think it is a privilege to work that extra 20 or 40 hours for free.
These people are usually in their 20s. Almost inevitably, they will burn out from sheer exhaustion before they reach 30. At this time, they will either get out of the industry altogether because their love for the animal is dead or will undergo the drastic mental evolution required to join one of the upper ranks of the aforementioned hierarchy.
Why is this so important, you ask?
Because these people will breed. And they will raise the NEXT GENERATION OF HORSE PEOPLE. If they haven’t quit or evolved, they will perpetuate the cycle of questionable thinking that ensures the equine industry fed a steady stream of cheap labor for years to come.
The system of underpaying and mistreating grooms has served us for many years. It helps us identify the foolish and weed them out. What happens if you start paying these people properly? Ensuring they have days off? Giving them health benefits? Chaos, that’s what.
Imagine a groom who isn’t downtrodden and operating in a continual state of depression over their bleak future of inescapable poverty? Imagine a groom with a savings account? One that felt well rested and ready to face the day? Imagine a groom with a RETIREMENT FUND?
I shudder at the thought.
To those barns thinking of paying your grooms a fair wage: Please, for the sake of our children and our children’s children and all the stalls that need mucking the world over, do the right thing. Underpay your grooms.
About the Author
Morgan Withers is a professional groom on the ‘A’ circuit who has been there and done that and then done that and been there some more for good measure.