All horse jobs are prone to their ups and downs.
Some days you’re completely on point, all the horses are ready to go, the barn is clean, and you make it the whole day without dousing your legs, front or face in water! Other days…not so much.
Here are some of the most notable fails from my brief stint as a polo groom.
1. Getting the truck stuck in the river.
To get to work, my coworker and I had to drive across a floodway. When it rained a lot, the water level would rise and the floodway might become logged with mud and stray branches.
On the first morning at my new job, the boss loaned us his truck to get to work. It was manual. My coworker and I both drove automatic. Not realising how deep the floodway was, I immediately got the truck stuck, and we spent 15 minutes trying to figure out how to reverse out of mud, up a hill, with a stick shift. Again, it was my first day of work.
2. Nearly getting tossed off “the easiest horse in the barn.”
Despite the truck fiasco, we managed to get to work on time. As my new boss hadn’t seen me ride yet, I was given the kindest, most reliable horse in the barn—the one that all their kids had learned to ride on—and instructed to take her for a couple laps around the paddock. Thirty seconds in, the little toffee-coloured horse tried to crow-hop me off, while the boss muttered, “Huh, she’s never done that before…”
The upshot was that I stayed on, so they decided I could ride, after all.
3. Losing a horse while ponying.
Polo grooms typically exercise three to five horses at a time, riding one and leading the others alongside. It’s not uncommon to lose a horse, if one of them suddenly slams on the brakes or flies sideways (where I worked, at least one person would lose a horse every morning).
What’s a lot less common is to realise the lead rope you’re hanging on to suddenly feels different, glance down, and see that the halter it’s connected to is empty. Somehow, the horse you were ponying has vanished without your noticing.
Luckily, she was very sweet, and had only gone five feet away in search of grass. I quickly scrambled down, re-haltered her, and hopped on with a furtive glance around—hoping that nobody had seen.
4. Everything coming undone.
There’s a rule in polo—if a horse’s tail or bandages come undone while playing, then the groom has to buy the player a carton of beer. You quickly learn to wrap everything up in electrical tape to keep it all in place (electrical tape is, in my humble opinion, an absolute godsend).
There was one day when everything seemed to be coming undone. As soon as I’d rolled up a bandage, it’d come undone. As soon as I secured a pair of reins, they’d be loose again. And every time I looked, another horse had managed to snap their twine and was making a bid for freedom.
Somehow I got all the horses out, and watched them play with fingers crossed that it’d all hold up. I almost made it—just as my player was riding off the field, the horse’s tail came spilling out.
He very kindly pretended not to notice.
5. Losing a horse overnight.
I was responsible for a string of nine horses. One morning, I rocked up to the barn to find eight grazing in the field.
I spent half an hour searching the nearby paddocks; the missing horse was exactly the type of goofball who might roll until the fence and wander away to happily find some grass. Or she might’ve found something terrible to eat and was off colicking somewhere. She was nowhere to be found and the barn had no cell service, so I drove to a phone, called the boss, and was told, “Oh, yeah. She went to the vet the night before for a routine procedure! She’s fine.”
6. Getting the truck stuck… again.
Flustered from the lost horse experience, and wondering whether my boss thought I was really so incompetent that I wouldn’t notice a whole horse was missing, I drove back to the barn distracted and hit a bump on the way. And got the truck stuck, again.
(I had to walk back, which gave me plenty of time to consider whether perhaps there might some merit to the incompetent argument).
7. Forgetting all your problems because you love horses.
The next day, I reunited with the missing horse. The boss asked me to ride her from the vet’s place back to the barn. She gave me a big, dopey look, my heart melted, and all offences of being missing and causing me such worry were completely forgotten. We had a lovely ride back together, just the two of us, on a quiet afternoon.
There are definitely days when I still feel inept—but I like to think that’s just the price of learning something new. When I was learning to ride as a kid, my instructor always said that you couldn’t really call yourself a rider until you’ve fallen off 20 times. Most of life is just making one mistake after another, and hopefully—with time, patience, and a few stuck trucks—we eventually learn how to stay on the ride a little more often.