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July 24, 2013

The Unsung Heroes Of The Barn

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.

michelle
1 year 19 weeks ago
So what do you pay these
So what do you pay these grooms? It isn't easy to live on what grooms are paid. It is shocking that horse show people spend six figures on their kids horses but they can't pay the grooms a living... Read More
Vicki@oldeoaksf...
1 year 19 weeks ago
Groom appreciation
I agree! Grooms are the unsung heros of the horse shows!! We would not be half as successful without them! I am appalled by how they are taken for granted! At the Pin Oak Charity Horse Show we try... Read More

Comments

winterstar
1 year 21 weeks ago

grooms

Nice article, finally somebody that thinks about the grooms. I only wish you had said *his or her* in the last paragraph. Last I heard female grooms were still in the majority.
devvie
1 year 21 weeks ago

While I appreciate the

While I appreciate the praise, I will forever be stymied by the economics of this industry. You can afford a six-figure horse, etc. etc. etc. (need I go on?) but can't pay your grooms a salary that reflects how hard they work, Mexican or not, and provide a decent wage that will allow someone a family and a life outside your barn? Sure, we do it for the love, but if we are the most important part of your team, looking after valuable horses, why (oh why) do salaries not reflect that?
Equine Hero
1 year 21 weeks ago

Why not go one step further

Why not go one step further and as well as giving them thanks nominate the great groom in your life for an Equine Hero award by visiting equinehero.com - we are celebrating the amazing work done by dedicated horse people around the world. Each month an "Equine Hero" is chosen and due recognition is given to them - as well as a prize of $200 feed voucher :)
Emerson Lake
1 year 20 weeks ago

The horse industry

This post highlights why the horse industry is so messed up. Is there any other industry where poorly paid people are expected to do hard manual labor for wealthier people just because they love it? A horse owner may choose to work overtime and during holidays, but they have no right to impose this schedule on employees. If the grooms at this stable are working 16 hour days and seven days a week for months at a time, I certainly hope that they are compensated for the extra hours (generally at least one and one-half times their regular rate for any hours over 40/week). I certainly hope their employers are providing health insurance and other benefits. I hope this, but doubt it. Most people just exploit their barn workers and justify it because their “cherished, expensive animals” are just so deserving of love from the barn slaves. This statement captures the problem: “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.” Let’s replace horses with one of the many other jobs that isn’t limited to 40 hours per week. For example, “Running a hotel is 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 my hotel who do not understand this concept.” Can hotel owners expect someone to work an eight-hour shift and then force them to do an additional four or eight hours per day (seven days a week!) just because there’s lots of work to do at the hotel and guests need services? Obviously not since this would break every labor law on the books and no one would work for them. It is the hotel owner’s responsibility to hire enough labor so that no one worker is exploited. It is NOT an employee’s responsibility to work overtime whenever the boss demands. Taylor, working at your barn isn’t that special. It’s a job and no one (except maybe you) really wants to be there 24/7. Believe it or not, barn workers would love to have time to spend with their family and friends and maybe even time to relax and pursue the occasional leisure activity. They would love to be paid a higher wage, receive benefits that are standard in other industries, and be compensated for overtime. Yes, even grooms are regular humans who have these normal wishes. Too bad that most barn owners do not want to acknowledge this inconvenient reality. It’s so much less expensive to take advantage of people who don’t have many employment options or do indeed have a generosity toward horses.
belgianWBLuver
1 year 20 weeks ago

WOW ma coqotte (that's

WOW ma coqotte (that's pressure cooker in French) you should have a look at the thread in the COTH forum. You go to the Off Course and the title is: "This COTH Article (Blog?) Rubbed Me the Wrong Way.. " Maybe those comments will teach you something for the future of your writing career. Just sayin :)
Vicki@oldeoaksfarm.com
1 year 19 weeks ago

Groom appreciation

I agree! Grooms are the unsung heros of the horse shows!! We would not be half as successful without them! I am appalled by how they are taken for granted! At the Pin Oak Charity Horse Show we try to show them how much we appreciate them. We put on a party each year just for them! We have food they like, in Texas, true Mexican food, and we buy as many items as possible to give away in a raffle. From bicycles to coolers to cologne,we try to make it fun for all!! It would not be that hard for other shows to do the same. All it takes is someone to spearhead it and a few donors. If every once in a while we showed them how much we appreciate the work they do for us, think how much happier they would be!
michelle
1 year 19 weeks ago

So what do you pay these

So what do you pay these grooms? It isn't easy to live on what grooms are paid. It is shocking that horse show people spend six figures on their kids horses but they can't pay the grooms a living wage or have enough grooms so they don't have to work 12-16 hours a day. I know many trainers that bill their clients more money per day and pocket it.