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September 11, 2013

Be Olympic Every Day

"A groom is the organizer in charge of The Pursuit to Defy Murphy's Law in all endeavors regarding their horses," says Lauren Keeton.

Even as a wee tot, I prepared to become a professional groom. I shined and combed my Breyer collection and herd of stick horses (not kidding) to perfection. I was totally ready to be a Professional Pony Brusher. Since I was 7, my Christmas list may not have changed (No. 1 item... Real Horse), but my knowledge of horses and the professionals that surround them has immensely.

When I had the offer to start a “groom’s perspective” blog for the Chronicle, my first questions were centered around what to make of it. Should I discuss current issues? Helpful turnout tips? Humorous recollections of the horses I've worked with?

At some point, I am sure it will be all of these things, but for now I am excited to embrace the opportunity to put down on paper some of the things I've learned along my path through the dressage community, though my path has been a short one compared to the distance I still have to go!

Thus far, I have been able to meet some of the most inspiring, talented, compassionate people in my journey, build a network of people to glean advice from, and watch the best of the best practice, work and compete—all opportunities that accompany the “groom’s life.” Like everyone in the horse industry, I am definitely always still learning, and I often find myself trying to figure out how to make it all easier and simpler from watching and listening to those who have been at it for years (or even decades) longer than I have.

After graduating from William Woods University in Fulton, Mo., in 2011, I began my master's program (which I will go back to, when these horses stop eating my free time!). But I took a break from my studies to jump head first into the Real World.

That jump, however, was not an easy one. No longer are there professors and school horses to lead you through the questions and obstacles you discover along the way in a friendly, constructive manner. You don’t get to sit in class and take notes, have a coffee with a friend, and snuggle up on your couch to study before your test. In fact, the only real advice I was ever given regarding what you need in the industry is to invest in patience and a sense of humor—words I'm sure that were written by a poor soul who lacked both when he or she first started working with horses!

The real world is a test of preparation and experience, both of which are arduous and often painful pursuits in the world of grooming. I have found that experience will come in the form of bruised toes and egos, a temperamental pony who refuses to be caught, a complicated illness, forgetting a crucial item at home at a big show, and forgoing a social life, sleep and “normalcy” for the sake of poulticing, hand walking or hauling in the wee hours of the morning.

Preparation comes in the form of lists, lists and more lists... and at the bottom of every list is a note not to forget all the things you haven't thought of. A groom is the organizer in charge of The Pursuit to Defy Murphy's Law in all endeavors regarding their horses, from a local schooling show to a team event across the globe. Forget Pony Brushing... that’s the relaxing part!

That is not to say that the journey and the hard work of being a groom are not worth it. A groom is Home Base for a horse, their closest confidante, and often the most understanding translator of ear twitches, tail swishes and begging for treats. No one could come close to affording the love I feel when my horses recognize when I call their name, turn up their neck for the perfect scratch, or lead me outside in the afternoons for the grass they know they’re headed toward. 

Someone very wise recently told me that you must be Olympic every day when you are working in the top of the sport—a wicked combination of dedication, discipline, and preparation. While this is very clear when thinking of the role of the rider, it also applies to every team member involved with a horse, grooms especially. This means that my relationship with my horses lends itself to clear communication. I reinforce their trust every day, and my daily efforts make for a happy horse; that is being Olympic, too.

While jumping from school into the Real World meant that I accompanied Tina Konyot’s beloved Danish stallion Calecto to the Olympic Games last year, I still strive every day to Be Olympic in the care for my horses. Everyone can Be Olympic in their pursuit of experience—being open to learning new things, being concerned first for the welfare of the horse, and being genuine in their desire to help themselves and others develop and practice good horsemanship.

Regardless if you are a diehard horse show mom, a backyard hobby breeder, or a stick-horse-herding munchkin, never give up on Being Olympic; it will only benefit you and your horse, and that makes for a good groom! 

I now live and work in California as Jan Ebeling’s head groom at The Acres in Moorpark. I strive every day to Be Olympic, learn quickly from my mistakes, and enjoy the precious moments of Pony Brushing with some of the most impressive, loving horses I’ve ever met. I look forward to sharing more of my stories and adventures to come, and I am so excited to have been welcomed to the team at the Chronicle! 

The Chronicle's latest blogger, Lauren Keeton, also appears in a story "A Good Groom Is A Horse's Home Base" in the Sept. 9 Horse Care issue of the Chronicle

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