COVID-19 has affected nearly every person in the world, including those in our equine industry. Some have lost their jobs. Most have taken a hard hit on income. Some couldn’t find work. Some had to find alternative work. No matter what the situation, 2020 has forced a lot of people to change or alter their plans to pay the bills.
Tim Gaskell, a groom who owns TAG Equine Services, LLC, a freelance grooming business based in Florida, felt devastated for many of the essential workers in the equine industry when the COVID-19 quarantine began. Gaskell knew that when the U.S. Equestrian Federation shut down horse shows from March to June 1, much of the equine industry would suffer financially.
“I was lucky; I only lost about one week’s worth of work at the beginning of the quarantine,” Gaskell said. “But I wanted a way to raise money in a short amount of time for all the essential workers, like grooms, braiders, jump crew, ring guys, office staff, that were taking a way larger hit than I was.”
The idea for the Clip-A-Thon came to him while he was hauling horses at the end of April. He’d seen a recent Facebook post from the Equestrian Aid Foundation about their COVID-19 relief grants. Since 1996, the EAF has been providing emergency grants to horsemen and women who have lost their income due to circumstances beyond their control, such as an illness or a debilitating injury. Now they’ve opened up their Disaster Relief Fund to specifically assist qualified applicants who need help with basic living expenses due to COVID-19 via a one-time grant of $250. In order to apply, a person must submit their email address and full name on the EAF website, and then the EAF will send the candidate an application.
“Two days after I left the EAF a message, they called me back to tell me how supportive and excited they were about my Clip-A-Thon idea,” Gaskell said with a laugh. “They were 100% on board.”
Kayla Wright, a former groom and rider, was Gaskell’s first call after he spoke to the EAF. “He said, ‘I have this crazy idea. Will you help me?’ ” Wright said. “As soon as he explained it, I was in.”
The Clip-A-Thon was born. Gaskell’s plan was to clip as many horses as he could for 24 hours straight and broadcast it live on Facebook and Zoom. He rallied several local clients and companies in Florida to donate their services or products to raffle off to the public. Each raffle ticket cost between $10 and $15, and all of the money raised went straight to the Equestrian Aid Foundation. Products included tack shop gift cards and tack donations, several paintings, equine chiropractic gift cards, $1,000 custom tall boots, a meet and greet with Liza Towell Boyd and Brunello, a lesson with her, and a picture of her and Brunello winning the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship. Equestrian businesses could also sponsor an hour of time on the live broadcast, and Gaskell would talk about and promote the business on the livestream as he clipped horses. The cost for this was $250. Gaskell and Wright made the Clip-A-Thon idea a reality in eight days, hosting the event on May 28 and 29.
“There was no Facebook page in existence at the start of this idea, and in eight days, we had over 700 likes,” Wright explained. “The support from local businesses was amazing and humbling. It surpassed our expectations.”
Gaskell clipped 15 horses and a pony, while another friend clipped two horses. Gaskell was able to raise $10,100 for the Equestrian Aid Foundation COVID-19 relief grants and wrote the large check to the EAF shortly after the event was over. Raffle ticket sales raised $7,000 of the $10,100.
“I don’t think it hit the both of us, what we had accomplished, until about 2 a.m. on the livestream,” Wright said with a laugh. “The outpouring from small businesses and equestrians was overwhelming and amazing. We had people donating items up until we announced all of the raffle winners.”
Gaskell knows several people who received checks from the EAF, and they thanked him profusely for helping to bridge the gap between horse shows after the shutdown or weeks without work. “That money helped them cover essentials for themselves, like food, car payments, gas, electric bills, etc.,” Gaskell said. “We always remember to feed our horses, but we need to remember to look out for our people, too.”
The EAF grants are available to an essential person in any equine discipline: hunters/jumper, dressage, polo, driving, eventing, reining, racing, etc. “This fund could aid in keeping everyone afloat within the equine industry so we could work toward getting back to normal,” Gaskell said. “I saw so many people struggling, and I’ve been in their shoes before. Any help is better than no help.”
Wright owns her own marketing business, Venture Marketing Ltd., which is geared toward small businesses that need help with low-budget advertising, logistics, social media management, referral marketing, branding and logo design. Gaskell is quick to say he could not have done this event on his own. “I would have been lost without Kayla’s help,” he said. “She stayed up with me the entire 24 hours I clipped, helped organize the raffle, answered questions on social media, promoted it, etc.”
Like Gaskell, Wright knows how hard her horse community has been hit this year. “Since quarantine happened, all I’ve been thinking of are the grooms and braiders whose work has just dried up,” Wright said. “I’ve been in their shoes. It’s terrifying. You feel hopeless. I know how these people feel in my soul. I wanted to help.”
Because the first Clip-A-Thon was such a huge success, Gaskell wants to do it again on Oct. 26 and 27 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on both days. He’s planning on doing the raffle at the end of the event, but he’s not clipping for 24 hours straight again. “I have more grooms who want to help and clip on the broadcast this time,” Gaskell said.
Those who want to participate can sign up with Gaskell for four-hour shifts, and they will be a part of the livestream on Facebook and Zoom.
Gaskell is more excited about the upcoming Clip-A-Thon because he’s had more time to organize. He’s working on reaching out to bigger tack shops and companies that would like to donate prizes for the raffle. “We’ve all had our struggles, and we all know how hard this industry is on a daily basis,” he said. “No matter how many issues we all have within the horse world, we all always come together as a community to help each other out.”
His goal this time is to raise at least $15,000 for the EAF COVID grants.
“I want to see how much bigger we can make the upcoming Clip-A-Thon,” Wright said with excitement. “I’d love to double all the numbers this time. We’ve got more media coverage and a lot more businesses supporting us.”
Gaskell’s eventual goal is to make the Clip-A-Thon an annual event that would help raise money for various charities in the equine industry. “Over a longer period of time, I also want it to be a vehicle to start some change within our horse world,” Gaskell told me. He hopes it will improve how grooms are supported in our industry.
“I’d love to see horse shows having Grooms’ Night pizza parties, offering more Grooms’ Awards (not just for bigger hunter and jumper classes), having a grooms’ lounge, having a medical trailer available at the horse shows, and figuring out a way to make health insurance more available,” Gaskell said.
If you are interested in purchasing a raffle ticket or donating to the Clip-A-Thon, you can go to Tim’s Facebook pages, TAG Equine Services, LLC or The Clip-A-Thon, and message him there. In addition, you can also call the Equestrian Aid Foundation directly, tell them you want to donate to the Clip-A-Thon, and they will direct you from there.
“There are a majority of professionals who treat their grooms well and support them all the time, but it needs to be more widespread in our industry,” Gaskell said. “People talk the talk, but we’re trying to walk the walk. There needs to be more incentive to draw grooms and braiders into this industry; they are essential and we need them.”
Nicole Mandracchia grew up riding in New Jersey and was a working student while in school. She graduated from Centenary University (New Jersey) and has groomed and barn managed for top show barns Top Brass Farm (New Jersey), North Run (Vermont), Findlay’s Ridge (New York) and Ashmeadow (New Jersey). Read more about her in “Groom Spotlight: Nicole Mandricchia Proves The Harder You Work, The Luckier You Get.” After more than a decade working back in the barn, she eventually hopes to establish herself as a trainer. Read all of Nicole’s COTH blogs.