No one who knows Senobio Cruz was surprised when he was awarded the David Peterson Perpetual Trophy at the 2021 Capital Challenge Horse Show (Maryland). The trophy is awarded by the WCHR Committee each year to a person who “exemplifies dedication and commitment to the care and well-being of horses,” and Cruz does exactly that.
A show groom the past two decades for top hunter/jumper barn Far West Farms in Calabasas, California, Cruz is known for his love of the horses and attention to detail.
“The pride that he takes in his job… it’s not a job, it’s a passion,” said trainer Kost Karazissis. “He’ll look at a horse and study the horse when he first meets them, and then he’ll notice every nuance that changes on the horse.”
Cruz, 49, is from Fresnillo, Mexico, where his family owns horses. He first rode at the age of 3 and grew up riding and caring for horses. But he immigrated to the United States in 1989 and worked on a tomato farm for 10 years before finding his way back to horses and Far West Farms.
“He’ll call me and say a horse looks a little puffy in his ankle, or an eye is weeping more, or a horse is dunking his hay in water more often,” Karazissis said. “I go home knowing that my horses are cared for better than if I was standing in the stall with them. Senobio doesn’t go home until he has got them all comfortable.”
A successful groom must know the horses inside and out, Cruz said: “When a horse comes to the barn for the first time, you have to look at everything: the hoof, the lips, the eyes, ears, everything. When you put on the bridle, touch their teeth and see if they need anything or it’s OK.”
While most would agree that following a trainer’s directions is an important part of being a groom, Cruz said it’s equally vital to know when to advocate on behalf of the horse, even if it means questioning a trainer or owner’s instruction.
“The boss might say the horse needs ice and wraps, but then they go home,” he said. “They don’t see maybe the horse is kicking his back legs because he does not like the wraps. Same with ice, a lot of horses do not like ice. Other guys might say, ‘My boss says the horse needs wraps, so I have to,’ but the boss is only there for a couple hours with the horses, and the groom is there for 10 or 12 hours sometimes.”
The love of the horse comes first for Cruz, and that means every single horse in his care.
“For me, I love every horse. I don’t put more attention on the one champion horse. If there are 10 horses, I love all 10 the same. You have to care about the horses individually, and the more you love them, the more they love you back.”
Cruz shared tips for riders as well as aspiring grooms:
Don’t put pressure on a new horse. Remember that in a new home, “everything is new for the horse.” Because you don’t know what has been done with the horse before, it’s important to make sure they are comfortable first before you pressure them with touching their ears, clipping, or anything else they may react to. He delays such tasks until they’re comfortable at the new barn.
Limit treats in the crosstie/grooming area. Cruz said that when you constantly feed horses treats while the grooms are working with them, they stop paying attention to the groom and only want to look for more treats. He believes it’s better to let the horses focus on getting cleaned and groomed properly and give them treats when they are back in their stalls.
Maximize brushing and minimize water in cleaning a horse. Cruz bathes horses only when absolutely necessary because “when you wash a horse every day, the coat won’t shine, and it’s also a problem for the hooves.”