Ann Bellinger is a former Working Student for an Olympic Eventer! Her time spent as a working student yielded some great insights, about horses, grooming, and the value of spending time with our charges.
What brought you into the horse industry as a Groom? ?
I decided to take a year off between high school and college to pursue my riding career. I spent the year as a working student for Canadian Olympian Kelli McMullen Temple of Round Hill, VA.
What’s your best grooming tip that someone has taught you???
I learned so many great grooming tips while working for Kelli but I think my favorite one is spraying the tail with Shapley’s Magic Sheen to keep it clean and tangle-free. Tails take an extremely long time to grow out and, therefore, it is important not to pull hairs out while combing the tail. After cleaning your horse post-ride, spray the tail (even if it’s wet) with Shapley’s Magic Sheen. If you do this after every ride, you’ll hardly ever have to brush the tail and it’ll always maintain a full appearance. I use Shapley’s because you can use it every day and it doesn’t dry out the tail.
What’s your best grooming tip that you have taught someone else??
Wax thread (for braiding) works extremely well for mending blankets cheaply! We had a horse that constantly ripped the surcingles and I would just stitch them back with wax thread. The same surcingle never ripped again!
What’s your advice for finding a grooming job? ?
Choosing a grooming job is like choosing a school. You have to be happy with all of the factors—size, location, people, values, etc.—because any one factor can make or break your experience. I knew I wanted a small program on the East Coast with one trainer in charge and daily individual attention. I could not have been happier with my situation at Kelli’s.
I am a firm believer that word of mouth is the best way to do things in the equine world. Since it's such a small world and everyone seems to be connected in some way, you can find out a lot about a trainer/barn/program just by word of mouth. In addition, I would suggest doing a "trial time," both for yourself and for the trainer to make sure it's the right fit. I started by just browsing some websites and talking to some local professionals on the phone but when I started to have some issues with my mare, my trainer at the time told me I had to go to Kelli Temple. I went out for a few lessons with Kelli before committing to a 2 week trial. After my first lesson, I knew I would do anything to make it work out at Kelli's.
Photo courtesy of Lee Rouse
Where did your grooming experience take you??
Before taking my gap year to be a working student I had gotten into and deferred from Tufts University in Medford, MA so I knew I was going to go straight to school after my year off. I just finished my junior year at Tufts where I’m studying Computer Science. My year as a working student definitely proved to me that horses will always be a part of my life but it’s important to take time off to receive an education.
What’s the hardest lesson that you learned - from a horse, co worker, employer, or anyone else in the horse world?
The hardest lesson I learned was how to let go of a horse. When I first started working for Kelli I had a young Thoroughbred who was acting up a lot. She was diagnosed with severe kissing spine and arthritis in her neck and hocks. When I finally decided to move on from her, it opened so many doors for me riding wise that I wish I had moved on sooner! The mare is now happily competing at Novice and I got experience at Preliminary on a lease horse. We become very attached to horses, especially ones that we’ve put a lot of work into, but it’s very important to know when it’s the best thing for both the horse and the rider to move onto a new situation.
What would you tell someone that is “stuck” in a bad working situation - no worker’s comp, paid illegally, etc?
I’m not sure! I’ve never been in this situation but I’d probably say cut your loses and find a new working situation.
What did your favorite horse teach you? ?
My favorite horse from Kelli’s barn was named Valentine. He was a big, grey Advanced level eventer that I had to opportunity to have many dressage lessons on. He taught so much on the flat but I had to work hard for every movement. My favorite part about him was that he really new what he was doing but would only respond when I asked him confidently and correctly. I also just enjoyed spending time with him, brushing him or grazing him, because he had such a big personality and he really liked to be loved on. I think it’s important to spend lots of time on the ground with horses we expect to work hard with us.