The Ethics of Grooming - and where you can land....
Grooms have lots of responsibilities to the horse, trainer, and client. Sometimes, those paths and intentions and directions collide.
Many of us may be faced with some pretty difficult decisions in our jobs. We may see a client or a trainer lose their temper with a horse, client or perhaps even a barn dog. We may see someone lose their temper with a co-worker even. We may be victims of workplace harassment, and we may sometimes be asked to break the law, whether we know it or not. (This also means that sometimes the person asking us to do something may not be aware it’s against the rules - no assumption of guilt or blame being placed here.) These instances can be so minor - someone snapped at someone else, or these instances can be downright illegal, like animal abuse. Either way, Grooms can be placed into that “rock and hard place” intersection.
This is compounded by the USEF's new rule about horse drugging at shows - Rule GR 404. Groom, juniors, and associated persons can now be held accountable if a horse tests positive for a prohibited substance. Are you willing to be held accountable on any level? The USEF has stated that most Grooms do not have USEF memberships, so they would likely be prohibited on the show grounds. Can you risk a show's worth of pay and tips? For more on Rule 404 you can read this.
I have no concrete answers for any of you that are in a tricky situation, except to do what’s best for you. It’s unbelievably difficult to stand up for yourself and what you think is right, especially if you think your job and/or reputation may be on the line. No one wants to be “that Groom”. But - we all need to draw the line somewhere, or have it be drawn for us.
Such is the case for two stablehands named Jeff and Joseph. They work for a man that many of us may have read about - Jackie McConnell. Mr. McConnell was recently convicted of horse abuse in the Tennessee Walking Horse case that has been all over the horse news waves! All three have faced charges and the stable hands have been sentenced to probation. The stablehands could be considered lucky - they originally faced jail time and fines up to $250,000. (Seriously - on a Groom’s pay? That’s a whole lotta big pickle to be in.) Click here for the complete story.
There is also the recent case of an Austrian rider who is now suspended from showing after her Grooms brought forth evidence that she was abusing her horses, including using electro shocks. The Grooms were sued! When I posted this information on the Pro Equine Grooms facebook page, there was an overwhelming response that most of us would also risk our jobs by reporting such animal abuse. You can read details about this case here.
My question then becomes would you do the same for YOU? Would you report illegal hiring practices, omission of overtime pay, or being mis-classified as an independent contractor to the proper authorities? What about an unsafe workplace?
The only way to effect change in the current horse industry is to stand up for what you know is right, and shoulder all of the risks around it. This is a collective effort, undertaken by all of us, one case at a time. Regardless how you feel about the case against these three people, the take home message is that sometimes, you need to cut your losses and get out, report what you know to the authorities, and move on.
You can find some job related resources here if you find yourself in a dreaded place with your job.
How would you handle (or how have you handled) a difficult situation at work? (I understand that you may not want to share your story if it’s attached to your name, so please feel free to email me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can share your story anonymously if you like.)