First things first, if you are looking for a 9-5 job, this is not for you.
If you value manicured nails and hairspray—look elsewhere. If you’re offended by bad language and the odd missing P&Q—think again. There is a whole world of difference between owning your own horse and working in the industry, no matter how well you care for your own, or to what standard you compete.
Colleges undoubtedly try their hardest but though they may teach you a whole lot of theory in these times of health-and-safety gone mad, they’ re severely limited in real world experience value. A hat and gloves to drag a half dead mule to the field? Give me a break. Try three 16.2+ eventers at once and if your hat and gloves are on it’s a mere coincidence as you haven’t had a chance to remove them yet. Speed and efficiency is everything.
There is no denying you have to be a little bit mad to pick this career path over a nice safe office job. You have to be a whole lot crazy to carry it on once you realise what it actually entails.
Never fear though, us full-blown loonies are here to give you a heads up on what to expect in your new life as a professional sh*t shoveller with our top ten tips we wish someone had told us. Welcome and good luck!
1. Experience outweighs a bit of paper
While I have every respect for those with the academic ability to achieve a degree, when it comes to the very practical task of handling a frisky stallion or backing a youngster, I’d pick a groom with four years on the job experience any day. In my opinion, apprenticeships, working pupil positions or whatever work-based training on offer in your country is the best possible introduction to the job. These types of training will always produce the best grooms. Not to mention the extensively varied life experience they offer (think travel, big shows, riding superstar horses at home.)
2. We are all, always, still learning
A wise man once said. “If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.”
Freelance riding groom Charlotte Hutt seconds that opinion: “Never think you know it all…in the equine industry, it doesn’t matter how old you get there’s always something new to learn, so watch and listen to how other people work and think.”
3. A good attitude goes a long way
All the ability, experience, branded gear and qualifications amount to zilch if your attitude stinks. You are not judged by what you say you can do, but by what you show people you can do. Be honest about your limitations but also willing to give things a go. You have to have trust in your employer that they wouldn’t ask you to do anything they didn’t think you were capable of. Show everyone how keen you are, smile and try your hardest. That is all anyone expects of you.
4. Never be afraid to ask questions
“Ask questions, no matter how small and pay attention to the answer,” advises Beth Kearn, head hunt groom turned event groom.
“Never say, ‘Ok,’ if you don’t understand and ideally learn from your mistakes. People want to help you, as long as you show eager and willing to learn. Above all else remember it’s a hard, physically taxing job, and you’re going to get things wrong, and you’re going to be told off, it doesn’t mean people don’t value you. The good days are totally worth it. Lastly, someone once told me in my first job at the Warwickshire, if you cannot think of anything to do, sweep. Fairly sound advice.”
5. Every horse is different
The truest measure of your ability is how you handle the horses themselves. Remember, they are each their own unique character. Watch them carefully, learn how they think and take the time to build a bond with each horse individually. Try not to let the stress of a busy day interfere with your ability to handle each horse in the way that suits them best.
6. Don’t get too easily offended
“For your own sanity you need to have thick skin, it’s a tough job at a fast pace. Harsh words do get spoken but 99% of the time, it’s forgotten in 10 minutes. The job doesn’t stop if you grazed a knee or get bitten, suck it up,” says Natalie Halkyard, a stable lass and work rider with 11-years experience in racing.
“Try to go in with an open mind and ask how the people you work with would address a situation and show you are willing to apply this knowledge. Don’t keep quoting what you did previous places.
“The reality of it is, you will never get on with everyone you work with but being civil works wonders.”
7. Organization keeps the madness in order
“Pay attention to detail and be as organized as you can. Make lists so you don’t forget anything, and always give yourself more time than you think you need—it keeps you a step ahead and reduces stress if something unexpected happens!” shares Bryony Milton, competition groom to 4* eventer Vittoria Panizzon
8. Communication is key
A well-run yard is the product of teamwork. The places I have enjoyed working the most weren’t the ones with the “best” horses or flashiest equipment or even the best pay. They were the ones where everyone, including the boss, chipped in to get the work done. A happy atmosphere makes even the longest, coldest, darkest days almost enjoyable. To achieve this, try to plan your days together allowing everyone some input. Encourage the newbies, respect the elders and look out for each other. You’re doing this job for the love of the sport so enjoy it.
9. Efficiency is everything
“You need to learn the art of multitasking but still being thorough,” says professional groom Natalie Halkyard.
“Always look at how others save time on the small things—e.g. putting tack outside the next horse you have to ride, always have a body brush with a hoof pick attached to the handle you can drop off or pick up on your way to do something else. Don’t stint on time doing the important things, such as grooming. You’re not just brushing them your checking them over for any abnormalities. Shoddy work reflects on your personality to the job. Being thorough takes time but in the long run the more willing become the more able.”
10. Enter with your eyes open
I’d love to pretend the job is all long hacks on a sunny summer’s day, celebrating big wins, comical (slightly wild) fun rides on youngsters, crisp, frosty mornings autumn hunting. But it’s not.
It’s also long hours, physically exhausting, poorly paid and plagued by rude and arrogant riders or owners. Then let us not forget the almost certainty that you will at some point get injured. This is not a job to take on because you don’t know what you want to do and you like patting ponies.
However, if you can hack the hard work, stay cool under pressure and maintain high standards, few jobs are as rewarding. To do a job you love and take pride in is a pleasure few people can claim. It is the highs of watching your gleaming charge outshine and outperform his rivals to win at a competition that create long lasting memories, but the nicker over the door every morning and contented munching every night that feed your soul.
There really is no other job quite like it. I hope our advice can help you enjoy it as much as we have and still do.
About the Author
After 10 years working as a competition groom all round the world Becky has now taken a step back to care for ex racehorses part time while she pursues a new career in Equestrian and Adventure sports Journalism.