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.
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.
Not yet a BGA member? We’d love to have you as part of the BGA, click here to find out which membership option is right for you.
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!
BGA MEMBERSHIP OPTIONS