It’s never a surprise that in the middle of any big challenge, at some point you ask, “Why am I doing this again?” or the not-so-casual, completely-exasperated, end-of-your-wits exclamation: “People do this for fun?!”
While I most recently went through the gamut of questions like these when I completed my first half-marathon (a goal I’ve had since I was working for Calecto in 2012), I have not been a stranger to these feelings as a groom.
So, what keeps us going? For me during my race, it was probably that guy with a sign that said “Run Now, Wine Later”… and I believed him, hah! Perhaps it was imagery of Calecto in front of me with a tow line off his back. Or, at the root of it, it was most likely my fear of failure. Regardless, I still found myself asking Where’s The Wine?! So, I’m sure that my audience will be nodding along when I ask if you’ve encountered a few of those same moments!
In the horse industry, it’s usually seeking the next light bulb moment that drowns out the agony of crushed toes, pulled shoes, and unexpected vet bills. Those momentum-sucking moments can be brutal to your ego and psyche. Sometimes, those crucial moments can make you lose hope completely, but I’d place a solid wager that most avid equestrians who never outgrew the “I want a pony” stage have proved that these moments have to pack a big punch to actually take us down. However, the Where’s The Wine moments don’t always have to take a lot to teach us how to move in a new direction.
Horse decides he doesn’t like water? Career change! Prancing in a sandbox too boring? Time to jump! Prefer the pen? Grab your cowboy hat!
Developing versatility is a failsafe. Not only do you become more educated in more aspects of an industry, but your skills and experience become your insurance plan if things ever go wrong.
So what happened during my Where’s The Wine moment, you’re probably asking?
I realized I was working hard, in the industry I love, around the creatures that filled my dreams as a wee tot, but wasn’t quite heading in the right direction. I loved going to shows, but just felt a bit deflated at the end. I was tacking up horses every day, but wasn’t in the irons. I was hanging up ribbons that weren’t mine.
In the New Year, I have made a big change. It took gumption. It took a lot of repeating popular slogans splashed across inspirational photos on Instagram. It took me a moment to stop and ask myself if I was working hard or if I was working smart toward what I want to accomplish? It took a lot of wine. Some nights the wine turned into whine—refer to my article on my fabulous Horse Husband, Jonathan.
It is not to say that that I am aspiring to more; to do so is an insult to every groom, inferring that the career and work of a groom is not a high or quality level of work. Absolutely false. The work of grooms is some of the most demanding and requires a vast education (of which, I am still acquiring). However, I am aspiring to goals different than the work of a groom, and it is time to get back on track. With a huge year ahead and plans for next year’s teams, including some fairly extensive time away for European travel, it was with a mixture of fear and relief that I decided I should step away from the grooming full time.
This year, I’ll be returning to grad school in the fall, and returning to the work and education that gives me the most happiness: young horses. I’ll be back in the show ring, back to starting and riding babies, back to teaching, back to the breeders who have expressed their support for my education, and most importantly, back to focusing on the goals I established years ago.
Being a groom has taught me more than I could fathom, and I plan on taking all of that knowledge with me as I return to the saddle. Just like the common belief that everyone should have a wait-staff job (which I also support), I would challenge every rider to be a groom for a week as a New Year’s resolution. I am so grateful for the people and horses who truly opened my eyes to the industry in a new perspective. In truth, I needed all of that education as a groom in order to make me a better rider. I was able to put horse management front and center, evaluate the subtle nuances of soundness and fluidity on dozens of horses a day, and watch firsthand how my care transferred into success and willingness under saddle. I was able to network like crazy, meet the best clients, farriers, vets, and sponsors, attend shows and be ringside without a ticket, and have a backstage pass to the world’s best trainers and horses at work and play.
I am so excited for all the Where’s The Wine moments that 2014 has in store for me. I will be sure to bring stories of my trials and tribulations to the COTH for some good laughs. I have resolved to not be afraid of failure. I am looking forward to the criticism being in front of the camera instead of on the sidelines holding it, and I can’t wait to use my knowledge towards a better foundation and management plan for my horses.
Bring on the challenge, education, and wine!
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.