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A GROOMS LIFE BLOG

I was embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t OK

As part of World Mental Health Day, we share one BGA member’s story about how her failing mental health led to her reaching rock bottom and leaving the industry.

I have been lucky enough to have had an incredible career at the very top of my game. I have seen the industry at its best and know what an amazing life choice being a groom can be – The best!

As an experienced groom on the international competition circuit, I’d quite often be the go to person for the younger grooms who were struggling. I’d always gladly give my time and support to them and now I want to share my story to prevent other grooms from reaching rock bottom.

Our love of horses

Fundamentally we are grooms because we love being around horses. That connection between ourselves and the horses is what keeps us in the industry and what we get up for every day. The horses were everything; my whole world, and my therapy when I was having a bad day or week. I think people can be dismissive of the amount we ‘need’ the horses – they are such a strength.

We become so involved in their existence and become such a huge part of those animals’ lives. They become dependent on us; but even more importantly we become dependent on them. I felt like if I wasn’t caring for them to my very best all the time then I was letting them down and those team members and riders around me.


As a groom you become part of this huge equine family, an extended community, it’s incredible when you are part of it – a supportive network, or so it appears. I always just wanted to be exceptionally good at my job, give my very best to the horses and employers and those connected, be well respected and cared for, it was my way of life – one I never regret choosing.

The job though is all consuming – even when you are at home you are consumed by the next day, week or show, and all the preparation. I was obsessed with perfection; it's like an addiction – you are not only giving the horses 100% but making sure your rider is OK and supporting them in the good times and the bad times, ensuring the team around you are all ok , owners, supporters etc. You are that constant support, rock and strength.
But as grooms we never invest hardly any time in ourselves and that is where it can start to go wrong.

  A series of events saw my mental health start to deteriorate, everyone in the team was under pressure and the cracks started to show.


I did reach out, but no one wanted to listen or deal with me fundamentally – so I just kept going, I kept trying, thinking that if I buried my head it would be fine, I kept believing it would be genuinely OK. I was such a strong person?

But then I started doubting my ability to go to work and do my job, I was emotional and tearful but had to put a brave face on for others, I felt exhausted, I felt myself shutting down, I just couldn’t cope with anything. I had gone from being incredibly calm and practical and amazing under pressure to feeling like everything was tougher; a drama and it all felt like too much.

No one around me appeared to reach out and check in with me or pull me aside and suggest ‘I think you need to go and see a doctor or talk about it’; the problem is stopping to genuinely check in with someone takes time and as we all know as grooms there are never enough hours in the day!

At the time I felt alone with ‘it’ but I also know they were trying their best - people are awkward at knowing how to check in with people and it is often easier not to ask.

I was falling apart

I knew I was falling apart but I thought I would be alright because I always had been. I kept telling myself that so many people go through so much worse, I just felt like I just had to get a grip and be OK.

Then my communication with my team suffered, and because they were all under pressure too for once I couldn’t be the support to everyone anymore. I felt frustrated and felt I needed someone to pick me up, like I always had for them, but instead I felt alone and anxious, almost paranoid. I was the one that wasn’t allowed to fall apart – it wasn’t in the plan!

But I did fall apart and life snowballed.

The emptiness was indescribable. I felt like I was 50% of the person I was and I got very low. I failed to recognise myself, I struggled to cope without the contact of the horses and without the daily, weekly routine and the contact with my extended equine family/friends.

I felt alone and abandoned by an industry I had invested so much in and the people who went with it. You know that you have to seek support, but quite where to go to initially seems a minefield.


Sadly for me I didn’t reach out to a professional until my circumstances changed.

The horses and the routine that were keeping me going were suddenly not there, my coping mechanism had disappeared along with so many things that meant so much to me.

 

I thought things like 'What did I do wrong?', 'why was my best not enough?', ‘I don’t matter’, ‘I’ve wasted my entire life’, ‘I miss this, I miss that, I want it back’, ‘I’ve given everything so why has this happened to me?’ I questioned everything that had been so incredibly dear to me.

I got myself incredibly low and I felt so worthless.


I ended up in a place I didn’t want to be in and felt like there was no way out.

I didn’t want to admit I wasn’t coping, but something inside told me to focus on the good things I do have. I knew those close to me didn’t know how to cope or help; but with their support, I fundamentally had to start helping myself.

The first thing I did was reach out to my doctor, I couldn’t even make the phone call so I sent an email and they rang me and encouraged me to go in and speak to them – that small step felt huge…

 

I did go, but I was terrified and felt emotionally frazzled. With the doctor’s advice I made up my mind that I was prepared to talk to someone, but not to take antidepressants. I was ashamed that I needed them, but I didn’t realise the importance of them at this stage.

I then reached out to a counsellor who I felt would suit me – but even at that point I felt selfish trying to put time aside, I thought I couldn’t afford it, but then I also knew I had to invest in myself.

During the first couple of sessions I just cried, but it was the best thing as she didn’t know me, my life, my history or anything about horses. It was a breath of fresh air being able to offload and be listened to; whilst also understanding that I wasn’t alone and that actually a lot of my feelings were validated and ok!

 

Getting back on track

Getting back to where you want to be is a really long journey, one I still work at and you have a lot to process. Some days are still hard but I now have the ability to not be consumed by it, and to focus on the things that truly matter. It has been important to understand that it’s actually ok to fall apart sometimes, emotions and honesty are ok, but you have to give yourself the time.

You have to realise that life is not just about everyone else and their needs, you have to be selfish – which is hard because as grooms we are not selfish people so it doesn’t come naturally.

I think as grooms we are incredibly strong mentally, so you feel ashamed when you are falling apart and you don’t want anyone else to know. But the reality is that not everyone has to know.

In order for me to get back on track I decided to completely step away from a sport I had invested my whole life in and take a break from social media - this gave me the time to look at new ventures, new beginnings and start to feel a sense of normality again… I know now I have enjoyed the most amazing career, with incredible horses and people and memories and that I know I did my best – I just sadly fell apart and felt incredibly abandoned.


The industry is losing a huge amount of great and experienced grooms who can give so much to the sport because people are not talking about how they really feel. I want people to be able talk more about mental health struggles and for employers and yards to stop and do their best to listen and support those grooms in the same way they would have supported you and your business.

Quite often there is no time, or privacy, to have a conversation. Sometimes getting an hour to yourself knowing that you’re going to cry and fall apart without being questioned can feel like a challenge, but if you are having a hard time and struggling at work, reach out to a professional. Make a little time for yourself. We are all bad at not taking any time away but sometimes you need to.

  Eventually I’d love to be the voice on the end of the phone helping people. I’m inspired to want to help keep the younger grooms in a profession that is fantastic; but by making sure that they also look after themselves.


My experience nearly destroyed me, but if this helps one person to reach out and talk to someone before they get to a point where they question their worth then I share it wholeheartedly.

Invest in yourself- it’s so important.

World Mental Health Day takes place annually on 10th October. 

Grooms Minds is an online resource dedicated to supporting the mental health and well-being of BGA members. You can access it here.

 



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What the personal accident policy covers you for:

  • Whilst at work
  • All stable duties – mucking out, grooming, washing off, turning out
  • Clipping
  • Riding – including hacking and jumping
  • Hunting
  • Lunging
  • Breaking in
  • Holding horse for a vet and other procedures
  • Travelling horses both in the UK and abroad
  • Competing in line with your job including: jumping, dressage, eventing
  • Injuries that may happen to you whilst you are teaching - but you must also be grooming as part of your duties and not be a sole instructor

What the personal accident policy doesn’t cover you for:

  • Riding in a race, point to point or team chase
  • Stunt Riding
  • Accidents occurring whilst travelling to and from work
  • Riding and competing your own horse (but you can upgrade when applying for membership to include this)
  • Public Liability – this is a separate insurance policy - the Freelance Groom Liability Insurance
  • Care Custody and Control – this is a separate policy - the Freelance Groom Liability Insurance

If you require additional cover then please contact KBIS directly.

   GROOM  RIDER  EMPLOYER

When you are working for other people you do most of the following; muck out, turn out/catch in, tack up, groom horses, exercise Horses (including hacking, jumping and schooling), in the care of your employer/client.

 
YES

 
NO

 
NO

Predominantly ride horses for other people including schooling, exercising and competing.   
NO
 
YES

YES
 Provide grooming services for someone else either full time or on a freelance basis i.e. an employer or a client.   
YES

NO

NO
Employ staff – have an employers liability policy in your name NO NO YES
Buy and sell horses NO YES YES
 
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