Meet Lauren Keeton, a Groom that has spent a lot of time on planes, trains, and automobiles when it comes to horses. You may recall the recent Olympics in London? Lauren was there. Now she’s Grooming in SoCal, and she somehow managed to squeak in writing this great piece for you guys.
So here we go!
-How long have you been a Groom, and in what discipline(s) do you work? How did you get your start?
I have been a professional groom now for roughly 2-3 years. That is, I have been paid as a groom for that long – I am a firm believer that every horseperson directly involved with competing should know EXACTLY what goes into making it happen on the groom’s end. It took a really long time for it to occur to me that someone got to be a professional rider without first being a groom, but in reality, that is rarely the case. I worked my way through my equine education, riding anything I could get my hands on, garnering a few ribbons at some shows, earning more rides, starting and backing youngsters, and starting to teach lessons. Grooming at shows came with the territory of working in training barns, so I was always eager to pick up some extra money braiding and tacking up at shows. I was in the middle of my Masters program at William Woods when a particular ad caught my attention and never let go.
A few emails and phone calls later, a drained (read: pitiful) savings account, a working interview, and I answered the ad with a resounding “yes!” to be a professional groom to an Olympic hopeful. I finished my semester, postponed my wedding, and moved to Florida. The Masters has yet to finish itself (humbug) and the rest is totally history.
-Is your experience local, national, or international? Tell us about your biggest show, or the show that taught you the most.
My experience as a groom is now international, thanks to Tina Konyot. I accompanied her and her Danish stallion Calecto V to the 2012 London Olympics. That is, by far the biggest show for obvious standards. However, the Selection Trials were my biggest point of pride, being such a huge (close) factor in making the team, working the most hours I ever had, and being as worried about the results as anyone could possibly be.
Every show I attend continues to teach me more about efficiency, developing new skills, beating personal records for CDI jog turnout (always a fun game), and stealing great ideas for how to get our setup as organized and smart as possible. I look forward to more shows, some very soon to be international, so that I can learn as much as I can from as many people as I can. Being a groom for a Team horse is a truly remarkable experience, and you gain lots of friends (and potential employers!) in the process.
-What advice would you give to someone who wants to Groom?
Ask yourself if your point of pride is in riding the horse, or being on the ground and making that horse as comfortable as possible to do their job well? If the answer is the latter answer, find yourself an employer who understand exactly how crucial a good groom is to their program, appreciates you, will take care of you both monetarily and professionally, will invest in your education and even occasionally say “thank you”. In the horse industry, where the comfort of our creatures is number one priority, it is incredibly important that we love what we do. Let’s be honest, the work conditions, labor requirements, and tasks to be done in a day can be downright insanity. Why do it if you’re not at least having fun?
-What would you do over again if you could? What’s the hardest lesson you learned?
I ask myself this question all the time, and I answer “yes” in varying degrees. Did I ever think I would be doing a majority of my work in this industry as a groom? No. Has it taught me more than I ever could have paid for? Absolutely. The hardest lesson I’ve learned is that industry experience is the most valuable thing to you – for the tools, tricks, your resume, etc. But never, ever, ever, walk away from a free Masters, or any education for that matter! Even if you are so totally committed to horses you’d marry them, it is SO hard to start something like that after stopping, and as horsepeople, we deserve and should take responsibility for giving ourselves that job security if we get hurt or can no longer be in the barn environment. My classroom education had a LOT (a LOT a LOT) to do with my success and adaptability when I actually stepped foot into the equine world looking for employment – of course, it also made me that much more appealing to employers to have college education, and I was able to do it in equine science. Nifty.
-What is the highlight of your Grooming experience? A great show, a favorite horse, an amazing experience?
The Olympics were a huge deal for me, seeing as I had no idea what being a professional groom in high performance dressage was even about before I saw an ad that said I may get to go to the Olympics. Follow that by moving my wedding for the opportunity, let’s just say I was second in line behind my employer for “most excited” when we were declared team members! Working that closely with a horse will get you unbelievably attached to them, and watching their success will light you up like few other things ever will. Calecto is an incredible horse whom I dearly love, and will never forget all that I learned from him! When a horse who isn’t yours declares you “their person” and extends their trust, you feel like a million bucks.
photo courtesy of Leah Strid
-Where has your grooming experience led you? Have you moved from a Groom to assistant or some other position in the horse industry?
Literally, last year, my grooming experience took me over 10,000 miles! After moving from Texas to Florida for my first Real Gig, doing the entire Florida circuit, moving the horses North to Canada for the winter, back to New Jersey for the trials, London for the Games, back home and then a new job and relocation to California, it’s safe to say that if there’s somewhere you’d like to go, horses are a great way to get you there! I was actually riding, training, and teaching in my own business when I saw the first employment ad that led me to grooming professionally, and my goal is to get back to that, eventually. I keep learning more and more dealing with so many wonderful horses, and for right now it is a fantastic balance for me to do what I love, ride with an Olympian in my lessons, and have a lifestyle that supports my goals.
-What do you want to do in the future with all of your Grooming experience?
Use my experience to someday be The Rider and use my knowledge to do that knowledgeably, respected, and have earned it. (I can assure anyone applying later, my groom will be treated like royalty!)
-What are some of the perks that go along with being a Groom?
1. When your athlete wins, improves, or goes out there like a rockstar, you feel as if the judge just told YOU your piaffe-passage transition was flawless, too. Maybe, you even start piaffing! 2. Swag. It’s one of my favorite stories, recalling the day the USEF handed me my own coveted USA raincoat. I cried. 3. Free travel – around the state, the country, the world, all “on the job”, often all expenses paid! 4. Meeting amazing people. Between clients, new students, other employees, teammates, top riders, owners, staff, officials, volunteers, or vets, you are bound to meet some of the most generous, wonderful souls out there who make doing the job that much easier and worthwhile.
-What are the downsides to being a Groom?
Long, unforgiving hours. Insane amounts of pressure to make an equine athlete perform to their very best (which may include being telepathic). Lifelong assurance that getting a manicure is never worth it. Coming home to a significant other who may not understand why chores, vet visits, medical emergencies, neurotic amounts of organizing, or a suspicion of swelling kept you 3 hours later than normal at “the office”. Perpetual Hat Hair.
Thank you Lauren!