3, 2, 1 UP! I hold my breath and fight the impulse to tuck my own knees in. He lands, the poles stay up. I stay transfixed as he bounces his way to the final fence, his head is held high yet tucked in soft to his rider’s hand, his big neck arched proudly to ears stretched forward, focused on the next fence, he so clearly loves his job. Instinctively I count the final strides again then half cover my eyes as I see he’s slightly off, I hear the whole crowd gasp with me as White Star puts in an almighty leap and sores high above the fence kicking out his back legs in an incredible show of athleticism. As they land Justin pushes him on hands up his neck like a jockey, they thunder through the flags and the whole crowd roars, they’ve won! Tears come to my eyes and pride wells in my chest as I watch them gallop around the arena waving to the crowds. The horse looks a million dollars, almost blinding in his whiteness as the sun shines on him, muscles rippling just under the skin as he comes back to a trot and practically dances back towards me such is the power in his every stride. When you see him perform you have no doubt that this is a star of the future you’re watching. As they leave the arena my boss catches my eye and gives me a huge smile, a smile that says a thousand Thank you’s because it’s moments like these that make all the hard work worthwhile.
Of course the description above is just one of the highlights you can expect from this unique career. These moments of pride can come in many forms, for some, it’s seeing a horse you care for every day and have turned out so beautifully winning a competition or just standing at the meet ready for a day hunting. For others it is the birth of a new seasons crop of foals, matching a sold horse to the perfect owner or seeing a new rider jump their first course.
However, this is a job you need to go into with your eyes wide open to the amount of hard work involved. Most of the day to day tasks are repetitive and menial. You have to be willing to put in long hours of physical work in cold, wet, muddy often stressful conditions. It is a complaint of many that there are usually too many horses and not enough hands, the pay is shockingly low to start with and sadly even when your very good at your job, compared to other trained professionals its still rubbish. A survey from H & H suggests that
- The average groom works 49 hours per week and is paid £2 per hour less than minimum wage
- 46% don’t get holiday or sick pay
- 70% don’t get paid overtime
- 90% have no pension
When looking at these figures it is difficult to say if they are a true representation of a groom’s salary as most jobs come with cheap, often free accommodation all bills included. Livery for a horse including hay and bedding can be included with tuition and transport to events. As a student you are usually paid very little but will receive vast amounts of help improving your riding and general knowledge which will set you up for the rest of your career. One of the great benefits is that this is an international career making it easy to get work abroad opening doors to many incredible experiences. At the same time in your chosen sphere you will often find it’s a small world and you will regularly be surrounded by famous names of the sport that you avidly admired as a child – in fact you may even be working for one! Above all the main plus of the job should always be the time you get to spend every day with the horses themselves. The bonds you build with each individual character as you care for them every day and watch them grow as they progress through their careers has to be what drives you to get up out your warm bed at the crack of dawn every day.
A fun day out Autumn hunting with the team
I spoke to a couple of successful career grooms to find out what their best bit of advice was for anyone considering following in their footsteps:
“Make sure you don’t want a life full of wealth and holidays if you do horses isn’t the job for you!!!”
You have to be prepared to work hard and start at the bottom and earn your respect. You’ve got to love the job you’re doing!!
If you get to the interview stage then remember that it’s just as much an opportunity to find out if you think the job will be for you as it is to be interviewed. Horse jobs can be 24/7 and you will often live and work with your colleagues so don’t hesitate to ask questions to find out if something really is the best job for you before you commit.
The best grooms are always the ones that are the most willing to learn and that are happy to follow instruction, even if you don’t always agree. No job is ever beneath them, teamwork is at the centre of any well run yard. Life will always be made easier by an ability to organise tasks well. You will need to multi-task whilst still maintaining a good level of attention to detail and of course a good portion of common sense!
The life of a groom is undeniably a hard one, unsociable hours and poor pay can put off even the most dedicated worker. From talking to other grooms it is clear to see that those thriving in the industry are the ones who are really enjoying their work. So be sure to pick a job where you will have the opportunity to do the things you enjoy. Think of it as fuel to the fire that drives you to keep at such a demanding job! You will be putting in a lot of hard work so communicate with your employer to make sure it’s a 2 way thing! Above all else the reasoning I’ve heard the most over all the years I spent on the job is that you do it, simply for the love of horses.