As a horse groom myself, people quite often say to me “When are you getting a real job?” At one time, I would have taken offence at this – at what I believe is quite a narrow-minded question. Call it what you like; groom, stable hand, yard worker; it is a ‘proper’ profession – and like anything, you get out what you put in.
This is not to say that it wasn’t once a dubious choice of employment – with many workers being overworked and underpaid (and I imagine unfortunately some still are) but it is an industry that is ever evolving and modernizing for the better and is embracing positive change.
I’m 29 years old, and after having a little break in between somewhere to get my degree – which is none horse related – I am back to being a groom. It all started with a Saturday job, aged 14, helping a local event rider. I had been raised in a ‘horsey’ family so I knew how to muck out before I could count, which may have given me a head start and a slight advantage when it came to general horse care. That’s not to say I didn’t find it daunting at first, of course I did. My mum would drop me off and once she drove off in the car that was it as far as I was concerned. I was on my own and unfortunately she couldn’t hold my hand all day! I was however, very lucky – I was well looked after with copious cups of tea throughout the day and people always around offering help if I needed it or looked lost. I was in charge of horses of great calibre, worth a lot of money, and I was well aware of these facts…but I was very proud to do so – I would go above and beyond to prove my worth, graft all day and learn as much as one girl could possibly fathom in one day. I loved it!
Students starting out today I think find it a bit of a minefield. Part of the problem I feel, is that people are scared to make mistakes, intimidated by professionals and too worried to ask questions for whatever reason, maybe that they don’t want to look stupid; but like the saying goes “he who asks a question is a fool for a minute; he who doesn’t remains a fool forever”. I genuinely believe that with passion, hard work and a bit of common sense – you can absolutely pursue a career as a groom. There will be blood, sweat and tears along the way no doubt but that is all part of learning.
Anybody reading this who is actively thinking about being a groom – there are a few different ways to go about this: there are apprenticeship schemes (perhaps better suited to a younger person) college courses or the BHS (British Horse Society)also offers nationally recognised qualifications amongst a few other options. Ultimately though, experience is of utmost importance in my opinion…if you can get yourself a little internship or volunteer or even get a weekend job like I did, it will give you a good idea of what’s expected of you and whether it is the right kind of job for you. The opportunities are endless, you can specialise as a show groom and travel internationally, you can opt for a live-in position, you can commute from home – it really does depend on your own personal priorities. It isn’t a job for the faint hearted by any means and I think you need to be relatively strong both mentally and physically, but if you enjoy being outside (rain or shine – but mostly rain in the UK!) and being active I think it’s a very versatile job.
If I were to offer advice to an aspiring groom I’d say, take pride in your appearance and your work, always keep learning and it definitely helps to have a bit of a sense of humour – but most importantly, always ask questions if you aren’t sure.
There is a British Grooms Association that offers great support, so it is worth looking them up for more in-depth information should you wish to look into anything further.
Contributed by: Jackie Smith