BGA Member Kate Harley is a yard manager and travelling groom for an International dressage rider.
Kate blogs about her life as a professional groom to give aspiring young grooms an insight into being a groom and working in the equestrian industry.
CARING FOR THE COMPETITION HORSES LEGS - NOVEMBER 2017
There’s the age old saying ‘no foot no horse’ which is very true, I also think this is true for legs. If you really think about how fragile the horses legs are and the stresses we put them under its really quite scary, so its our job to do everything we can to help prevent injury, wear and tear on the limbs.
What if horses are born with a certain amount of jumps, twists, turns, spooks, bucks before their legs inevitably get injured? Are some horses genetically predisposed to weaknesses or injury? How much does conformation play a part in injury? Or do all horses have as much chance as the next of injury?
All of these questions have had vast and extensive research done to help us try and understand better how we can help to aid recovery of injuries and also hopefully prevent injury happening in the first place.
As grooms we play a vital role in helping to ensure the horses in our care remain injury free. I always get to know the horses legs, I check them probably more than is healthy, but small and subtle changes are so easily missed or overlooked, so get to know what lumps and bumps (if any) are normal. Some horses’ legs fill overnight, or if stood in for long periods, so if you are unsure then check if this normal for that horse.
So how can we help to try and keep legs healthy and injury free?
Use boots or bandages for exercise to help support the legs. There are pros and cons to both. For example boots are quicker and easier to put on and take off, but maybe don’t give the level of support that bandages do. However badly applied bandages can be detrimental and cause more harm than good.
If bandaging, it’s important to put pads underneath to prevent over tightening, make sure you apply them with even pressure and no rucks or lumps/bumps in the bandages or pads, never apply bandages to wet legs.
Cooling legs after exercise
There are lots of theories regarding which methods work best. There are various options and some great products on the market. Cold hosing is one of the easiest and cheapest options, however this can be quite time consuming as research suggests that you should hose each leg between 5-10 minutes to cool them adequately.
Equine spas are brilliant but unfortunately pricey. These are great because they not only cool the legs with a consistent water temperature they also use salt water and have a massage function to help improve circulation and reduce swelling.
As well as cold water options there are some great products available, such as ice boots. These are simple and easy to use and a lot less time consuming as you simply put the boots or the ice pack inserts into the freezer and then when needed take the out and put on the legs, they then stay on for roughly 15/20 minutes thus freeing you up to do other jobs.
There are also cooling gels and clays. These work by drawing the heat away from the limbs and help to prevent swelling. A lot of the clays can then be bandaged over once dry to add additional support. The clays and gels then need to be washed off after a certain period of time, although this differs for each product. Whichever method you chose think about practicality and time constraints, for example if you are at shows some options aren’t always possible.
Warming up properly is vital to help reduce injuries, increase mobility and elasticity in muscles which will help minimise stress and strain on tendons and ligaments. As well as warming up properly, cooling down is just as important, allowing the horses to stretch after strenuous exercise helps prevent lactic acid build up in muscles, proper walking off will help prevent muscle stiffness and ‘tieing up’. Doing fitness work properly and slowly after a break is imperative as muscle tone, strength and fitness will be lost even if only after a short time.
Using stable bandages overnight and during the day for prolonged periods of stabling can help prevent filling/swelling. The same principles apply with stable bandages but always make sure you apply them correctly especially if being left on overnight and be sure to take them off check the legs and re apply them if they are then staying on during the day.
It can be useful to get others to double check horse’s legs to make sure you haven’t missed anything. It’s so easy to miss subtle changes especially if you see them every day so a fresh pair of eyes might pick up on something you haven’t seen.
Turn out as much as possible to keep the limbs moving and help promote blood flow to the area; obviously you don’t want them charging around though. We are lucky enough to have turnout sand pens for when the fields are to wet, these are a God send, the horses cans still be out and have controlled exercise, mooching about. Consider using boots to help support the legs during turnout but think about the style of boots as you want them to be breathable so the legs don’t sweat especially on hot days and make sure you check them regularly that they don’t rub. When we go away to shows I try and have the horses out of the stables as much as possible either hand walking or hand grazing.
If your horse does get injured be sure to act quickly and get veterinary advice as soon as possible. The sooner you spot an issue then you can get it seen before it escalates and becomes worse, it will be easier to treat and recovery quicker. Never cut corners with rehab - it may seem overkill box resting for weeks or months, spending hours cold hosing, months walking etc but if you cut corners at this stage recovery is hindered and is only prolonged.
Veterinary treatments and research has advanced so much in recent years and is developing all the time which is great news. At the end of the day horses are animals and no matter how much we talk to them and plead with them to be sensible (please tell me it’s not just me!), if they want to have a leap, buck, spin, spook, gallop around the field then we really cant stop them and I believe its important to allow them to be horses and have this ‘play’ time, they aren’t machines. Remember prevention is better than cure!
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PREPARING FOR WINTER - OCTOBER 2017
It’s getting to that time of year again! I don’t know about you guys but I’ve spent the past few weeks either freezing cold or boiling hot, I can’t seem to figure out what to wear, or get my layers right.
So with winter fast approaching I thought I’d share with you a few of my favourite products and tips that help me through the long winter months and to make sure that the yard, horse and myself are ready to take on winter.
For the yard and horses
• This is the time if you haven’t already to get your rugs sent off to be washed, repaired and reproofed. Get them bagged up or hung up and organised, make sure you know which rug belongs to who and whether stable or turnout to make your life easier when you need them.
• Get your clipper blades sent off for sharpening and clippers serviced if needed. Stock up on clipper oil and check your circuit breakers and extension leads are in good working order before you need to use them.
• If you’ve got an elderly horse or pony or one you know doesn’t winter well, start thinking about their nutrition, do you need to change/up feeds. Speak to a nutritionist if you are unsure. All of our horses are fed by a leading feed company and are in tip top shape and condition, their expertise are brilliant and they will come to your yard to discuss dietary requirements and feed options.
They come out to us regularly with the weigh bridge and discuss any feeding concerns we may have and recommend any changes for each horse. Also think about added nutrition such as salt licks to help if the horses have reduced turnout so won’t be getting the vitamins and minerals they normally would. A personal favourite of mine is the Protexin gut lix, our horses absolutely love them and they are jam packed with all the extra vitamins, minerals and nutrients they need.
• Make sure your taps are all insulated properly, to hopefully help to prevent them from freezing.
• Check all of your lights are working and no bulbs need replacing. Have torches in a convenient place in case of power cuts.
• Make sure you’ve got a good supply of grit/salt should it snow or be icy. So many times I’ve fallen over on the ice and come home covered in bruises.
• Book any routine vet checks to make sure the horses are all in peak health ready for any inclement weather.
• Order your wormers ready for late autumn/ early winter.
• Make sure you’ve got plans in place for Bonfire Night and New Year’s Eve when a lot of fireworks displays will be going on. Look on local websites, newspapers, social media and check for planned displays. It’s also a good idea if you have neighbours close by to check if they are planning on letting any off. If you have horses living out do you need to bring them in? If you have a nervous horse that may get worked up easily, does he/she need any sedation or calmers?
• If I you know there’s a particularly bad patch of weather due then make sure you’ve got enough hay, feed and bedding in stock.
• If the horses are unable to be turned out or will have reduced turnout, make sure you’ve got something to keep them occupied while stabled for longer, such as licks, treat balls, vita munch, jolly ball and anything else that might entertain them.
• If horses are stabled more be sure to keep on top of skipping out throughout the day, it will make mucking out the next day much easier.
• Be organised, have containers of water filled up and if you know it’s going to freeze grit the night before you leave. If you can leave a heater on low in the tack room to prevent tack going damp and mouldy, make up any hay nets, feeds etc and do as much as possible in day light.
Once you’ve got the yard and the horses all ready and organised make sure you don’t forget about yourself!
• If you haven’t had to use them at all over the summer (if you haven’t you don’t live in England) then dig out your wellies, check for any holes or leaks and invest in a new pair if needed. Personally I hate having wet feet and sporting the plastic bag on your feet look isn’t the most stylish or practical, although I’m sure we’ve all been there at some point!
My favourite wellies are Le Chameau as they are neoprene lined and keep my feet nice and toasty. I also have some short ugg fleece lined yard/work boots which are my absolute favourites for winter. I appreciate both of these pairs of boots are not cheap but they last for years, I’ve had my currant pair of wellies for 4 years and my Ugg ones for 3 years and they are still going strong.
• Get a couple of sets of good quality thermal base layers. I suffer from chillblains on my thighs so rely on these in the winter.
• Winter breeches are a must if you do a lot of riding, as riding in waterproof over trousers can be a bit slippery and hazardous.
• Check that your coats and waterproof over trousers are all in good repair and that they are actually waterproof, if not either get them reproofed or invest in new ones.
• Some good winter gloves are a must. I have ones for riding that are less bulky, I like the winter ones for riding and then seal skinz ones for around the yard.
• A good woolly hat or ear warmers are high on my list of winter must haves. The cold weather can cause earache or chillblains on the ears so I always make sure I keep mine nice and toasty.
• Good winter socks are a must have, no one wants cold feet especially when you get off a horse onto concrete.
• Make sure you’ve got good layering clothes, rather than having a really thick jumper and coat, wear thinner layers you can add to or remove as needed.
As much as winter always seems like such a drag, I do love the crisp dry weather. We get stunning sun rises and sun sets where we are so that makes the early mornings more bearable, and who doesn’t love to build a snowman or make a snow angels!
So hopefully you’ve found some of my tips useful and please do share any handy hints you might have and together we will make it to spring in frozen!
Don’t forget if you are a BGA member you can get discounts from our wonderful supporters on many of the products Kate has mentioned. Log in to your account to get your discount codes.
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is the industry getting tougher, or are grooms getting lazier? - September 2017
So often these days you hear of employers looking for grooms, and saying there are no ‘good grooms’ anymore, or that a ‘good groom’ is hard to find, or that grooms are getting lazier.
So what makes a ‘good groom’? I believe what makes a good groom is someone who is reliable, hard working, dedicated, passionate and professional.
Over the years I have come across and worked with some very good grooms, but sadly have come across probably more that are not. They moan that the work is too hard, they constantly clock watch, spend more time on their phone than actually doing any work, and moan if they have to stay late. Unfortunately being a groom is not a Monday- Friday or 9-5 job, I suggest that if that’s the job you’re looking for then go to Tesco. I’m not saying that all younger grooms are unreliable or lazy, this is not the case at all, a lot are very very good, and I appreciate that until you really try something how do you really know if its what you want to do, so of course people will leave and move on.
So it begs the questions; is this because they are lazy? Are the next generation of grooms coming through miseducated or misinformed about what’s its really like to work in the industry? Do they have unrealistic expectations? Do employers have unrealistic expectations? Is the industry or job as a groom getting tougher?
Personally I don’t think that the industry is getting tougher, but neither is it getting easier. It will always be physically demanding. I believe it is however getting easier in the way of minimum wage, sick pay, proper contracts etc and with dedicated organisations such as the BGA to offer help and advice on aspects of pay, contracts, living and working conditions it is becoming a fairer industry.
A lot of the next generation of the grooms coming into the industry are coming through college and university. I think the courses offered are a good way to gain valuable knowledge and experience and qualifications, however I don’t think they perhaps give the most realistic portrayal of what the industry is actually like.
When I did my college course I was only required to complete two weeks of work experience within a yard. I worked in a busy competition yard alongside college anyway so I knew full well what it was really like to work in the industry, but I think for others who didn’t work on a yard separately this two weeks alone would not give you a proper insight into what it’s really like to be a groom.
I think doing work experience is such a good way to work on different yards and in different disciplines, that way you can hopefully get a really good idea as to which area you want to work in or if being a groom is the right job for you at all. As well as college a lot of apprenticeships and working pupil positions are available at top yards each year, these are a brilliant opportunity to gain on the job experience and qualifications, and who knows what opportunities it may lead to.
So do employers expect too much from grooms? I don’t think so, perhaps there are some that do but on the whole no. The employers, riders, owners all put so much time, money and dedication into the industry so its right that they expect a certain level of care for the horses. I myself always think how would I want my own horses to be looked after and what would I expect and then always strive to do that to the best of my abilities for the horses in my care.
I think that the job of a groom has become more recognised and rewarded in recent years. This fantastic for all grooms out there to have something to aspire toward and to get the recognition that is so deserved. Hopefully it will also help to inspire the younger generation, and encourage more people to want to make a career of being a groom.
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COPING WITH MUD AT SHOWS - AUGUST 2017
Having just returned from a rather wet and muddy Hickstead this blog seemed very appropriate. Unfortunately not every show ground has endless concrete and hard standing. So how do you cope when its mud, mud and more mud?
I always pack spares of pretty much everything, especially boots, bandages, numnahs, towels and rugs. I can guarantee the one time you don’t pack spares it will rain, be muddy and you’ll drop something and it’ll get filthy.
Pack as many towels as you have room for. There’s no point washing off a horses legs and then wading through ankle deep mud to get back to the stable, so in these situations it’s a case of carefully washing legs and feet in the stable and towel drying thoroughly, trying not to soak the bed in the process (often easier said than done).
Not all stables are on hard standing so having a separate tack stable or a portable tack locker as we have is a god send when the weather is bad. We always have tarpaulin and stable drapes in the lorry as well for those unexpected wet weather and muddy occasions.
Thankfully at Hickstead they had tractors on standby to tow lorries out and a gator to tow tack lockers out of the stables.
I always check my iPhone weather app and the met office app at least a week before a show so I can try and gauge what to pack and how much, just make sure you use the location of the show ground. However this isn’t always accurate so always be prepared for the unexpected, and think about what you need to pack for yourself as well. I made this mistake last year at Sheepgate premier league, having checked and then double and triple checked the weather it said it was meant to be dry and sunny all week so I didn’t take my wellies, well we were ankle deep in mud all week, I have now learnt my lesson and pack wellies all year round however nice the weather is suppose to be!
I also always pack extra layers such as jumpers and coats, some places are always windy and chilly despite lovely weather so again be prepared for that, and I cant stand getting wet feet, so extra socks is a must for me.
Being friends with lots of the other grooms is great because no matter how bad the weather or conditions get we all seem to keep each other’s spirits up and keep going, its also great to get tips and ideas from others on coping with different conditions and experiences.
Remember the Great British summer time isn’t always reliable, well weather in general, so always be prepared!
WHY I LOVE BEING AN INTERNATIONAL GROOM - JULY 2017
For me being an international groom is the best job, I get to travel all over England and Europe and get to see some beautiful destinations and countries, plus the weather tends to be better abroad and there are some lovely restaurants!
Going to internationals is always so much fun, as there are fewer riders from each country there is a real sense of team spirit. Everyone helps each other out and we all go and watch and support other riders where possible, it’s like being in one big, if slightly odd, family.
Each show is different and they are all special in different ways, Biarritz has the most amazing fish restaurant on the beach, and Deauville is about a three minute walk to a lovely little village with a bakery and restaurant that does the best salads, I actually wanted to eat salad! It’s always nice when a venue is near the beach too. You can tell I love food, I remember places by where we eat.
Although internationals are always so much fun they are also hard work, it’s not always as glamorous as it sounds! Some of the destinations can take a couple of days to drive to, so it’s very early mornings and very late finishes sometimes.
It can be quite nerve wracking travelling the horse’s long distances and on ferries, so it’s important to make sure everything is very well organised and you know exactly where everything is.
The logistics of going to some of these shows takes weeks of organisation, and then the packing of the lorry itself can take days and can be a real jigsaw puzzle trying to fit everything in.
As I sit here writing this we have already started planning for our next international in a couple of weeks’ time, plus it will give me a chance to even up my four different tan lines from the rather sporadic weather here in England!
MY TOP TIPS FOR NEW GROOMS - JUNE 2017
Below are some tips I wanted to share for anyone new to the industry or thinking of becoming a part of it, and who knows maybe some of you who are already grooms or don’t even work with horses will take something from it. These are just some of the things that I have learned along the way and think are quite important aspects in the role as a groom.
Punctuality – Always be on time or better be early. If you start work at 7am be ready to actually start working at 7am. Obviously sometimes there are circumstances beyond our control which make us run late, just don’t make a habit of it.
Be indispensable – Be that person that your boss can’t live without. Go above and beyond. There are so many people in the industry who are very replaceable, don’t be just another groom, aim to be the best!
Listen – Become a sponge and absorb any information you hear. Even if it’s not particularly relevant to you at the time, you never know when it will be.
Ask – Ask questions, it doesn’t matter if you think it’s a silly question or irrelevant, there is no such thing as a silly question. Just don’t ask the same one 50 times over! Ask how employers like things to be done, every yard does things slightly differently so better to ask than assume.
There is always something to do – Even if you think you have done everything, I can guarantee there is always more to do. If you have a spare 12 hour or hour pick up a broom and de cobweb, go poo picking, or ask another member of staff what there is to do if you are unsure.
Common sense – If you see a poo in the middle of the yard, pick it up. Or if the temperature changes throughout the day and the horse’s rugs haven’t been changed check it isn’t too hot or cold.
Attention to detail – If you notice something Is broken then tell someone. When you groom a horse check it from head to tail and notice if anything is unusual, lumps, bumps etc. get to know the horses in your care and know what are normal habits for them. When you tack up a horse take pride in its appearance, don’t present to a rider with mud on it and shavings in its mane and tail.
Take advantage – Take advantage of every opportunity you are given, ride every horse you are offered. The best riders in the world haven’t become the riders they are today by just riding easy and readymade horses. Sit on the naughty and sharp horses, trust me it will make you more determined to become a better rider and earn the privilege to ride nice horses. If you get the opportunity to watch training and different people teach then do, you will learn so much by just watching and listening.
Be grateful – It’s all well and good taking advantage of the opportunities, but make sure you appreciate them, say thank you! The top riders and trainers haven’t got to where they are without having to do the hard graft as well. So don’t think that you are better than anyone else or deserve more, everyone has to start somewhere.
Be organised– Pick things up and tidy as you go, put things away in the right places. I’m a big fan of a list, I have them for pretty much everything. If you’ve got it written down, then hopefully you won’t forget.
Communicate – Good communication is key to helping a yard run smoothly. Make sure everyone knows the plan, if something changes for instance feeds, supplements, rugs or if you notice something is wrong then make sure everyone knows. That way no one can turn around and say no one told me or get it wrong.
Team work – This is an important part of any yard. There is no I in team! Become part of the team and include yourself.
Appearance – It is important to take pride in your appearance, it also looks more professional if you dress smartly rather than looking like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards, trust me I know this is sometimes easier said than done with horses.
Be professional – Smile, be calm and helpful even if you’re having a bad day and just want to scream.
Stay calm – There are always situations where things don’t go to plan, but the most important thing is to stay calm, if you panic or get worked up the horses will sense this and then themselves get worked up or panic. Keep calm and carry on!
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