The Unsung Heroes Of The Barn

Jul 24, 2013 - 4:50 PM
Good grooms are an invaluable asset to any barn. Photo by Molly Sorge

Ever since I was little my mom has told me, “There is no ‘I’ in team.” I always love to respond using a quote from Dr. House of the television show: “There may not be an ‘I’ in team, but there is a ‘ME’ if you jumble it around.” 

She just shakes her head and ignores me. She’s knows I’m really just joking. In all seriousness, I know that I could not be who or what I am today without having a team around me for support. It is important to surround yourself with people who know more than you, so they help build you along the way. That does not mean you always have to do everything their way, but it is nice to have someone you can count on to have a valuable, knowledgeable opinion.

I wake up every morning and am in the barn by 5 a.m. to do the morning feed and chores before beginning riding for the day. I love to take care of my horses, and you will still often find me as the odd one out caring for my own horse at the biggest horse shows, like [the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.)]. I choose to be my own groom whenever possible.

I know that this will have to change as I have more and more horses going to each show, but I do know that I will always still be right there looking after my horses as much as I can. I am also a bit—or a lot—of a control freak and like to make sure that things are done right. It can be hard to find grooms who care about and love the horses as much as I do. 

Our horse is the most important partner we have and as such, we need to find people whom we can trust with their care. It’s a rare thing to find someone to care for your horse whom you can not only trust and rely on, but who also understands what it means to be a groom. Being a groom is not your typical job, and it is not one you undertake to get rich.

Horses are not a typical 40-hour work week job with paid holidays and set hours. It amazes me how many people I have had work for AliBoo Farm over the years who do not understand this concept.

We have a girl who works for us during the summer. She is going to Colorado State University for an equine science degree, and when she approached me about interning with us, she had virtually no experience working with horses as an actual job. She had to learn that horses have to eat every day and can get sick at midnight, requiring someone to stay up with them. A long show day can last up to 16 hours, and an injured horse has to be hand-walked seven days a week, not five. I am not sure that Taylor (my intern) actually understood this when she first started working for us; a year later I think she has firmly grasped this concept and decided that she still wants to do something with horses, so I applaud her.

Not only is the work difficult, but also the reward is sometimes lacking. Grooms can often be taken for granted, but they are so important. They are the ones at the barn at 4:30 a.m. on show days preparing the horses to be the best they can be, and the last ones to leave at 8 p.m. after night check. We trust them with our cherished, expensive animals and frequently forget to let them know how grateful and appreciative we are of everything they do for us.

They are the behind-the-scenes people who help keep the show running. They will work seven days a week for three months straight during show season. Christmas, what is Christmas?

For the people taking care of horses, Christmas is often just another day at a horse show these days, or at the very least a day when the horses still need to be fed and cared for. 

It is not easy to find the special grooms whom you can trust, count on, and know will be there when there is a problem. Many people today just do not understand what it means to work with horses; whether it’s one horse in a trail barn or 20 top show horses, the commitment is the same. It’s not unusual that they have to sacrifice their holiday and family time to make sure the horses are cared for properly.       

Many years ago we had a groom named Franco; everyone knew him. He finally retired at the age of 75. He truly loved the horses; he was the first to know if they were sick and the first and last one to the barn every day. No matter what happened you could always count on him to be at the barn in the morning. His favorite horse, Milos, was the most important thing to him, and he always made sure Milos was given lots of attention and love. 

You do not see or find many grooms like this anymore. So many just think of the horses as a job, not a passion. But the horses have to be a passion because they will consume your life and time, usually without monetary benefits. The best grooms understand that the most important reward is watching their horse win a big class or simply getting to be around them. As I have said before we do this for the love of the animal!     

So, if you know of a groom who cherishes the horses under his care, takes pride in his work, and goes above and beyond to make sure his horses are happy and healthy, show him how much you appreciate him.                       

Chronicle blogger Taylor Flury rides out of her family’s AliBoo Farm in Minooka, Ill., and competes primarily in the jumpers. Flury’s top mount is the U.S.-bred Role Model (Roc USA—Darling Devil), who claimed U.S. Equestrian Federation Horse of the Year titles in 2011 and 2012 in the 5- and 6-Year-Old Jumper divisions Their story includes brain surgeries and broken shoulders along with the blue ribbons. 

Want to know more about Taylor and Role Model? Read the article that appeared in the March 19, 2012 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.

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