Doom on Grooms
What to know if you want to be a professional groom
The life of a groom is never an easy one, but for some of us, it's a good option when you want to work in a stable, see some competitions, and maybe have some riding lessons. You work a hard schedule with overwhelming workloads, little money, and enough stress to make you want to die. Here are some helpful things you need to know about working as a groom before you decide to work as a groom in Germany. Although I’m sure these are things that can apply to working as a groom in any country, my experience has primarily been in Germany and bit in America.
Schedule: You will get little to no free time and the days you work will be long, hard, and many. You will typically start at 7 or 7:30 and this will normally come with a time when you can make a pause for breakfast. This break will be about 30 minutes and for some stables they will provide breakfast, or you must bring something yourself. You start the work again until lunch which is typically around 12:30 or 1. For more traditional stables the lunch break can last up to one and half hrs, and for most you are allowed to eat as a group and the meal will be provided. However, I have worked for some who prefer to keep working (this means we finish earlier) and so you bring something which can be eaten quickly while you work. Those with the longer break will start again at about 2 and you are there until 7 or 8 in the evening. If you are lucky maybe you get to stop at 6 so you can have some evening time, but this is not normal.
- As for free time you can say goodbye to weekends! You will more than likely have to work, and while the work for weekends is simple work, it is still work. Typically Saturday and Sunday will be half days, but if there is a competition you will be there the usual full day. When there is enough help it’s possible to rotate weekends, then maybe you can get every second weekend free, or you choose each week one person on Saturday and another on Sunday, but don’t expect a lot of control over your work schedule when you are a groom.
Holidays: When it comes to vacation time you will have a small number of vacation days (14-18) allowed in the year. As for national holidays it’s not normal to get this time free. You will more than likely have to work, even if it’s just a half day. Don’t expect extra pay (or thanks) for working on holiday’s.
Grooming: When it comes to the actual grooming part, you will be expected to bring the horse to the stable to prepare it. This includes cleaning, putting boots or bandages on, saddle, and bridle. For some riders it can be different, but they will either come to the stable to pick the horse up, or want you to bring the horse to them at the riding place. Once they have started with the next horse, you bring the horse finished with it’s workout back to the stable and remove all tack and protective gear. In the summer you can wash it, in the winter it’s possible to lightly sponge around the head and girth area if needed. Always put a cooler blanket with girth on the horse before putting away when it’s warm in the winter. Also, always clean the feet and apply hoof oil/cream.
Lunging: You are expected to be able to lung horses and there might be entire days when that’s all you do. However, every stable has a slightly different style of the same idea when it comes to lunging, so it’s important to pay attention to how they lung their horses. The equipment for lunging can also change from place to place. Some like for you to use a saddle, a surcingle, double lunge, it really depends and you should always ask. The typical lunging session can last anytime from 15 to 45 minutes.
Turnout: As the groom you are typically expected to bring horses to paddocks or fields when possibly. There are not generally a lot of stables with 24 hr turnout available in Germany, so for many you have a schedule to organize with the other people in the stable. You will also have time limits so for some, they can only have horses out for no more than 2 hrs a day. This means it’s your job to know when they were first out and to bring them in once the time limit is up. Also of importance is to make sure the horses have whatever protective wear is necessary, and if they should lose a shoe, or bell boot, you have to look for it.
Competitions: Every groom should know how to braid! However, each rider will have a slightly different technique, but it is typically a requirement when working as a groom. You will normally be leaving very early in the morning, or returning very late (most times both). Horses must be very clean, tack shining, and all equipment ready to go in the transporter. It’s also nice if you have a licence for driving to help with this, but it’s not required. Once we arrive at the competition you don’t always have a lot of time between classes, especially when you are with multiple horses, so it’s important to keep yourself organized, and motivated, throughout the day. If you're good at taking videos it’s also nice for competitions. Competitions can also be a fun way to see other riders, particularly if it’s an upper level competition, and you can sometimes make connections at competitions.
Riding: As a groom the last thing you can expect is the opportunity to ride. When you say at an interview that you want to ride and learn, and they really need a groom, they will agree to give you lessons and let you ride. They very rarely fulfill this promise, so unless you can get it in writing (which is nearly impossible) they won’t give you the riding and lessons that were agreed upon. It is sad, and has been the main reason for my unhappiness when working as a groom.
Contract: Employers in the horse business will avoid making contracts and written agreements with their employees when at all possible. This is because most of them are dishonest, want to be able to use you however they want/need, and don’t want to be bothered with getting out of a contract once they’ve decided you aren’t what they want. The best way for them to get away with taking advantage of people, and to have the freedom to treat people how they want, is to make you work without a contract. Under no circumstances agree to work for anyone at any stable without a contract! If a contract is promised, do not start your work until it has been typed up, agreed upon, and signed. It’s for your own protection, and don’t be afraid to suggest changes to the first copy they give you if you don’t like it.
Living Accommodation: It is common at stables to provide living quarters for their riders and grooms which are there full time. Although you can choose to stay separate from the stable, don’t expect to get more money just for not living at the home base. This makes it a nice incentive to stay in whatever small apartment they hand you, and be grateful, because it’s not easy to find a decent living place away from the stable on the payment which you will get as a groom.
Payment: Don’t expect a lot in terms of a salary when you decide to work as a groom. You will get a fixed monthly rate, no raise, bonus, or overtime. It’s typical to get less than $1,500 a month. This is a touchy subject for a lot of people, so I am not giving exact rates because it really does depend, but for the amount of work you put in each day, week, and month you can expect to feel that you are never paid enough. However, you can see the section about accommodation to see how it’s possible to live with this salary. Meals can be included and while it’s nice, they use things like food and an apartment to justify the small salary.
Extra: Although no one will tell you when you interview for a job as a groom, here are some other expectations or requests that are not what you think you will be doing. Dog Sitting/babysitting, coffee runs, bringing your boss their lunch, taking them to pick up their car from the shop, covering for them while they are “sick”. Also when a rider calls and says they won’t be at the stable because they are sick, it very rarely means they are sick… My point is to be prepared to also be used as a sort of personal assistant and to fulfill a variety of needs that are not limited to the stable. Will it make you feel like the star of the Devil Wears Prada? Probably. Will this help you to earn more recognition and gratitude? Probably not.
Ok, well those are just the basics, and most important, things to know about working as a groom. Yes, it sounds pretty awful doesn’t it? Do hundreds of people still decide to work as grooms? Absolutely. I don’t want this information to stop anyone from being a groom. This information is here only so you can know what you are getting yourself into if you decide to be a groom because it’s oftentimes so much more than just grooming.