After talking to Grand Prix dressage grooms Heather Carberry and Rachael Roisman (p. 14), I emerged from the conversation enlightened, refreshed and a little wistful. Enlightened because they are each intelligent young women who displayed sensitivity, insight and plain horse sense as they talked about Rocher and Nikolaus, the two horses they care for.
It was a refreshing conversation because the love and concern that these two women had for their charges was abundant and selfless. It is very clear that both women want their respective horses to be happy and that they spare no effort in ensuring that reality for their horses. And that’s where the wistfulness came in.
Roisman said she didn’t harbor the desire to ride, that she was content to bond with her horses on the ground. To have a partnership with a horse that doesn’t involve riding is a unique one in today’s highly competitive world. To simply love a horse, not because he can run fast or jump high or piaffe perfectly, but because he is a horse, is almost enviable in its purity.
I used to groom one of America’s top steeplechasers, Rowdy Irishman, a special horse who shall forever have my heart. I remember what it is to love somebody (I can’t call him “something”) more than yourself, to willingly accept that his needs supercede yours. Now that I have a more traditional desk job, I can assure you I indulge in a little wistful daydreaming at times. I stopped grooming steeplechasers because I felt the need “to make something” of myself, to utilize a university education and live up to expectations’I just haven’t quite figured out whose expectations they are yet.
While I don’t regret moving on to my job here’after all I now have health insurance, a 401K plan and paid vacation’the wistfulness won’t leave me entirely. It’s a privilege to take care of an equine athlete, and I miss those quiet afternoons at the barn, where my only job was to keep “Rowdy” and the other horses happy and healthy.
Grooming a top equine athlete is no cakewalk. One has to be competent, organized, intelligent and sensitive enough to “hear” what a non-talking animal has to say. Unfortunately, many grooms are paid a pittance in comparison to their responsibilities, a fact that seems to be an industry norm. That’s a shame because grooms are an integral part in enabling horses to be competitive and to be happy while being competitive. It’s counter-productive not to amply reward deserving barn staff. Of course, not all grooms are badly paid. Top competitors know that good grooms are worth their weight in gold and are willing to pay handsomely for the peace of mind they bring.
An added disenfranchisement with being a groom is being invisible. Because they’re not the owner, or the rider, or the trainer, grooms are always in the background