The Problem with the Horse Industry and Grooming Jobs.
I want to take a HUGE, ENORMOUS, COLOSSAL wooden spoon and stir the equally CRAZY LARGE and GIANT pot.
Anyone want to join me??
Here’s what’s going on. I am really not OK with the state of Grooms and Health Insurance. And being paid “off the books”. And working as an “independent contractor” when technically, we are most likely employees and deserve the same legal rights as employees. And before everyone gets all spazzy, let me be clear. I am NOT, in any way, shape or form, harassing Employers here. I am only bringing to light for all involved the dilemma that we all have in the horse industry. Believe me, Employers have their own set of worries, concerns, and super thin margins to contend with. Let's all get on the same page and help each other out here.
Of course, as someone who started a website with resources for Grooms and horse owners, one might assume that I only see one side of things: “GROOMS ONLY!”. On some things, sure! Grooms only when it comes to awards that we deserve. And Grooms only to special Grooms classes at shows. And Grooms only when we need a place to go and learn and share and educate and joke and lament and freak out and find a job.
But not “Grooms only” when it comes to workplace benefits and classifications and conditions. We are but one cog in the big machine that is the Horse Industry. Employers and Trainers and Owners all work with tiny margins, and it’s insanely expensive to provide benefits to their employees. This industry is dangerous. Horses are dangerous. Business tends to be feast or famine. Horses are peaking or they are not. Employers have insanely large insurance premiums of their own just to drive onto the property, before they ever swing a leg over!!
I don’t have the answers - yet. And I know that it may take a while. I think the first step is to open a dialogue about this. We need to educate employers and employees alike about the legal guidelines about hiring Grooms. What are the differences between “employee” and “independent contractor”. What are the consequences of paying a Groom under the table? What are the consequence of not providing workman’s compensation for their employees? What risks are Grooms taking when they work around horses without insurance? What are the consequences when Grooms are injured on (and off) the job and can’t work?
Take it from someone who not only worked as a Groom, but was injured off the job. TWICE. And couldn’t work. (And before you let the klutz jokes fly, well, let ‘em fly. I am a klutz. ) I understand both sides of things. Now we just need to come together and figure this out.
I am willing to stand up and yell from the rooftops about how tricky and difficult this situation is. I am willing to explore each and every suggestion that you have. I am willing to devote countless hours to research any and all solutions. I am fully committed to making the world better for Grooms, and also for employers.
I also need to hear from you to make sure I am on target with this stuff. (I think I am!)
So that was the original post from years ago - and now that 2015 is winding down I have few more thoughts.
I believe these issues still exist in the horse industry. I have been at shows where the Grooms sleep on cots in the tack rooms. I have heard dozens of grooming horror stories. I have also heard dozens of grooming wonder stories. I also know there are kazillions of horse businesses that are doing thing legally and wonderfully.
One real way to cause change in the horse industry is to change where your dollars go. This applies to everyone. Don't like the footing at a show? Don't go. Don't like the way your trainer feeds/rides/cares for your horse? Get a new trainer. Don't like the way your employer pays you? Get a new job. Don't like that your saddle company/feed company/shampoo company sponsors a rider suspended because of abuse? Get a new saddle/feed/shampoo. Don't like the way your Groom handles your horse? Get a new Groom. THE MORE WE ACCEPT WHAT IS "WRONG" WITH THE INDUSTRY, THE MORE IT CONTINUES.
ALL businesses - all of them - must sink or swim. If the horse industry was a brick and mortar shop on main street and the rent was late month after month, the business would be bust and out of a building. Yet in the horse industry, corners are cut all over the place in some businesses. And it's not just calling employees by the name of independent contractor, it's using calming supplements, it's soring horses, it's breeding too many, it's collecting money and neglecting your charges.
Another way to change the horse industry is to learn more about horses, horse care, and how your horse lives. I understand that many of us have families, jobs, hobbies, responsibilities that take them away from the barn. We trust trainers and Grooms to care for our horses. But you should still know the basics about your horses - what they eat, how much they drink, pee, poop. How much turnout they get. What supplements they are on and why. Vet and Farrier appointments should be attended. The more you know, the easier it is to see red flags.
NOTICE THE BLUE RIBBON AND CHECK FROM THE GROOM'S CLASS!!
There's also an amazing shift that I have seen over the past few years. I don't know if my eyes are more open, social media has become more powerful, or the industry is starting to recognize Grooms more. EVERY SINGLE DAY I see a post, article, award, accolade, or mention of Grooms in a positive light. More shows are hosting Groom's classes. More shows are offering awards to the Best Turned Out Horse in a class. More riders are sharing their winnings, cars, and spotlight with their Grooms. More attention is being paid to Grooms on social media.
This proves to me that the work we do here, in celebrating Grooms and sharing our knowledge about grooming, is working. So in 2016, I will carry on. Mostly while keeping calm, but you never know.