How to get started as a Groom!
I have a few common questions that love to come up when people talk to me! How to keep white and gray horses sparkling, how to do some fancy braids, and how to get started as a Groom.
Unlike some more traditional desk jobs, becoming a Groom has no formula, no scholarly plan, no one best way. Often, it’s a combination of skills, a smidge of luck, and knowing the right people. Sometimes there’s no luck involved but instead the ability to swallow all of your nerves and cold call that famous rider that lives across the country and ask if they have a job. Sometimes it’s blindly getting on a plane to Europe to explore and you end up mucking stalls at a barn for pocket money.
All of the ways that can get you working as a Groom, or really any position in a horse barn, have a few things in common:
-Basic working knowledge of horses that includes putting safety first.
-Horse handling skills. And also some people handling skills, too.
-A good attitude. Scratch that. A GREAT attitude.
-Willingness to learn, ask questions, and never thinking that you have seen it all and know everything.
-Gumption to go out and find your dream job, not just wait for one to come across your path. Yes, you may have to pack up and move.
Starting at the beginning - how do you get a basic working knowledge of horses? You need to experience this first hand. There is no video game, book, or class that you can take that substitutes the feel of working with horses. Take lessons, preferably at a barn that includes horsemanship and grooming as part of your lesson. Know that lesson horses are infinitely more predictable and not nearly as hot as top performance horses. You will likely need to gain experience with hot horses, so find a barn that can help you learn.
You could also volunteer at a therapeutic riding center, which is not only good for your own heart and soul, it gives you an idea of how much work it takes to keep horses. A great way to be indoctrinated into the life of a Groom.
The more you can handle and work around horses of all disciplines and temperaments, the better. You must also be able to do it safely. This requires knowledge of how horses think, their behaviors, herd mentality and the like. There is a wealth of knowledge about this available in books also. Study up and then go practice.
You could (and should) also read every book you can get your hands on about care of horses, especially medical and health issues. There is more about Grooming that relates to horse health than looking shiny and pretty. Same goes for barn management - organization skills are key here!
So basically that’s the easy part. Now it’s time to find a job with horses. Lots of websites out there with job listings. Word of mouth is a great way to find a job with horses - so brush off your people skills and start to network. Start swallowing your nervousness and start to cold call. Live in Kansas but want to work for an international show jumper? Chances are there will be no international shows in your area, but you can always email or call!
I have heard lots of stories about how Grooms have found their dream job! My first job Grooming was for an Olympian - it was part cold call, part lucky fluke to see a flyer at a feed store, part experience with my own spicy horse. My next Olympic employer was someone that I met at the same barn!
I have known a Groom whose Mom was the rider's accountant. I know of a Groom who got his start grooming his girlfriend’s horse at shows. I know Grooms that have left the US to fly to Europe to work for trainers. I know Grooms who heard from a friend of a friend that their facebook friend is looking for a job. Word of mouth can be huge in the horse world. So ask around, your barn mates, your Farrier, your Veterinarian.
The dream horse jobs won’t magically appear, there will be some leg work involved! Make sure your resume is top notch. Make sure your list of references is current and that everyone on your list actually likes you. (HAHAHA!!)
How did you get your grooming job? What tips do you have for someone else?