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June 11, 2014

Wear A Different Hat

Lauren Keeton has been gleaning knowledge from a variety of sources, thus building her "hat" collection. (Though we would argue the one she's wearing here is a good choice!)

Wearing many hats is the short summary of a groom’s job description. We are caretakers, personal assistants, technicians, chauffeurs, and babysitters—just to name a few. Being a multi-tasker is an appreciated skill in most every job field across the world.

Being multifaceted and wearing many hats means to have skills in different roles and the ability to multitask and gauge when you need to be which. When I recently decided that I wanted to change the direction of my career, I realized that the metaphoric hat I wanted to wear had quite a bit of dust on it—that I had catching up and growing to do to develop those skills again. So, off I went, back to the basics and back to the books.

In my hiatus, I have been challenging myself to learn new things…to go back to being a student and a teacher, sharing what knowledge I have and gathering the teachings I haven’t had yet. I’ve found wisdom, knowledge, and horsemanship in places I’d never dreamed of venturing, and gleaned so much from books I never thought I’d have the time to read.

First and foremost, I said I would no longer be pursuing a path as a professional groom, but this is the common denominator that has led me in every aspect of the industry—how can I give that up completely, when it is the basis and universal element of every discipline? I’ve vowed to myself to expand, learn, and grow, no matter how hard or uncomfortable new environments or experiences are when I try them, but I didn’t expect so much of it to hinge on my grooming experience.

While in my “back to the student” mindset, I have unintentionally branched off into the professional and world-level of different disciplines, most recently Western, and it has shown me more than I could ever have hoped to learn! Anything from new and ultra-secret grooming skills for a killer turnout, to training techniques and exposure to breeds I hadn’t ever found myself wanting to develop.

Instead of being a railbird and chastising another rider, discipline, or trainer’s “way” because it wasn’t “mine,” I’ve found it’s best to take Lauren Sprieser’s advice and quit the chirping, and instead learn. Sometimes, learning what not to do is the most valuable knowledge to have anyway! I am even gaining experience in the hybrid sport of Western dressage—which is emerging with intense popularity in this country!

Previously, at a regional show I’d witnessed a very cool scenario where a dressage rider was standing ringside at the warm up, fully dressed and looking focused. Aboard her horse was not a trainer, prepping her horse for the ride, but the woman’s father. He sat in the dressage saddle in blue jeans and cowboy boots, didn’t pick up the irons, and had the horse doing flying changes and carrying himself in a lofty, supple frame, all while the horse was on the buckle.

It’s not very common to see an older gentleman in a cowboy hat on an imported warmblood at a dressage show, but nevertheless, it happened, and I am so glad I was there to witness it. It sparked something that I believe every single person needs to experience: curiosity.

Curiosity has led me to ask for knowledge; to seek new things to learn and stuff to try out. Since taking my warmblood to a few western lessons, I can now relate to that rider trusting her horse to someone of a totally different skill set to set her up for success. 

It has been a humbling, but vastly educational endeavor to willingly go to the bottom of a learning curve and keep an open mind. I am overwhelmed with the mentors and teachers I’ve found who have happily invested in developing me in the areas I lack.

I encourage everyone to step outside their comfort zone without criticism! It has inspired me to ask questions, to engage in debates and comparisons, contrast schools of thought, and made me curious about what else is out there in other avenues. If all else fails, I know that I’ll be able to pick up some pretty cool hats along the way!

Chronicle blogger Lauren Keeton groomed for Olympian Tina Konyot and was head groom at Jan and Amy Ebeling's The Acres. She also appeared in a story "A Good Groom Is A Horse's Home Base" in the Sept. 9, 2013 Horse Care issue of the Chronicle. Read all of Lauren's blogs.