You asked, so we asked a few top-level grooms who have worked with top riders in the U.S. and Europe. Keep reading to see their suggestions for vetting potential groom jobs, choosing a discipline, nurturing relationships, and gaining experience.
Cat Hill 🇺🇸 www.worldclassgrooming.com
I think this is such an important question because here in the United States, there isn’t a clear path to becoming a horse groom from the ground up. Many of us fell into it due to our passion for horse care. The older generation of grooms in the equine industry is working hard to try to change that, so the next group can have a more reliable path to success. First, let’s discuss what “no experience” means.
No Experience At All
If you have no grooming skill or horse experience at all but something about them draws you to them, that’s great! I highly encourage you to find stables near you where you can volunteer your work hours, or pay for horsemanship lessons so you can get an introduction to horse care and make sure that you are comfortable around them.
With Horse Experience
If you have horse experience and know you love animals but also know that a riding career is not your chosen path, then there are a few ways to get into the industry. There are a few schools and courses being offered here in the States now to give you a leg up. The Equine Management Training Center in Virginia is set up to help give students real-world grooming tools and experience. There are a few college programs that offer stable management majors, and they can give you a base to jump off from too, although the real-world grooming skills at many of these schools is lacking because they are geared towards boarding and lesson barn, not high-performance stables.
The “Bottom Rung”
If paying for school is not an option for you, the other avenue is to try to get a job in the “bottom rung” of the grooming ladder. To do this, be very, very honest with your experience level. If you know which sport you are really attracted to, try to find someone advertising for a junior or assistant groom in that discipline. Yardandgroom.com is a good job site to start looking at. Many stables do not mind hiring someone with little experience as long as they are humble. Go into the stables with the attitude of “I know nothing, but I will work hard, and I will put the horses’ needs before my own”. Expect the pay at this point to be very low; you may need to have a second job in the evenings or be creative with gig work to get through the first year.
Remember as you move towards a career as a horse groom, knowledge is worth more than labor. That means that at the first couple jobs, you may be expected to do more of the less-skilled jobs that can feel like they aren’t connected to the horses as much. Clean a stall, sweep, clean tack, and scrub horse trailers. While you are doing those jobs, have your ears and eyes open. Ask questions. Watch what the senior staff do. How do they handle the horses? How do they leave the equipment? How do they organize and manage the tasks they need to do throughout the day?
Pay Attention to Senior Staff
Much of being a groom is paying attention to the tiniest details, because horses cannot speak, so we read them through minute clues. That means that we want a very structured, tidy environment around the horses because it gives us the opportunity to focus on changes in the horses’ behavior. Paying attention to the staff is good practice for it. It also creates a learning experience that sticks with you in a more permanent way than being told everything. It’s also important because as you move through the horse world, every single stable has slightly different ways of doing things. As you become more skilled, being able to adapt and fit into multiple stables makes you more valuable than if you get set into a certain way and are inflexible to changing it. While it is important to work in stables where the horses’ care and health is the highest priority, there are multiple ways to do almost anything in a safe and appropriate way, so be open to learning and watching how the stables you are doing things!
A couple of other notes about getting into the industry. You MUST be your own advocate. That starts with finding good facilities to work for and learn from. Make sure you do some online sleuthing before you take a job. Look at their online presence. Do they credit the grooms on social media? While some riders can “fake it” with online credit while not doing right by their staff, you can get a feel for how long the staff has been there and the relationship between the grooms and the horses can often be seen in pictures and videos. Does it look like they retain staff for a while or is there always a new face? There is more frequent turnover in grooming than in some other professions, but without senior staff to learn from that know a program well, it’s hard to progress in your learning. Do some google searches and see what is written about them, especially on online forums you can often find out if a rider is really toxic or disliked within the groom community.
Watch the Horses
When you visit the barn, watch the horses. Look for horses that are not only dirt free and well cared for, but also horses that seem to look for and like the humans around them, because that is the biggest reward of being a groom. Having your charges love you is a huge part of our profession, so look for a facility that has that, so you can learn how to connect and care for the horses in your future.
Lastly, as you can see by what I’ve written, you have to be a little brave. If you want to be a groom, you may have to go outside your comfort zone. There is no one to call and say “Hey, I want to be a groom, can you get me there?” Even if you are able to go to school, you are still going to have to be ready to find that introductory job. You are going to have to put your head down, work hard, and listen. It is a hard job, but the rewards are huge, and the relationship with the horses is always worth the effort, so stick with it and good luck!
Courtney Carson 🇺🇸 www.internationalgrooms.org
Offer to help out at the barn. Even if there aren’t paid jobs there it can be as simple as helping muck a stall or clean tack to get some experience. If you want to go and spend a summer being a working student, that is a great pathway to becoming a groom. I would say don’t go work for the big-name rider alone. Research their groom because that is who you would be working directly under. If their staff has a high turnover rate, it isn’t a barn you want to learn from.
There are a million ways to do some tasks in the horse world and you have to be able to adapt to what works for you and for your employer. Watch the grooms at the big horse shows. They all have small things that they do in the warm up, as they send their horse into the ring, and when the horse comes off course that you can learn from. Never be afraid to send an email or a message across social media to ask if someone is hiring.
Remember that you may not always be able to take a horse into a grooming situation with you. While some groom jobs have riding included in the job, a lot of grooms are masters of the ground work and overall polish of a program. If your dream in life is to be a rider as well then do research of which programs allow their grooms to ride. Be honest with yourself when searching for a job though.
Enjoy every minute of the process! Being able to work with horses every day is incredibly rewarding and allows you the freedom of not being stuck in an office chair every day. They will love you unconditionally and become a part of your family. Be willing to put 100% in and you will get that back and more.
Gina Hilgersom 🇳🇱
Editor’s Note: Gina Hilgersom from the Netherlands has been an international showjumping groom for over 25 years. She started her career in Belgium at Zangersheide, working with Piet Raijmakers and Arnold Boerekamps. At Haras de Laubry, she worked for Rik Hemeryck, and in the Netherlands, she spent the longest time as the professional groom of Ben Schöder, one of the Schröder brothers (Ben, Wim, and Gerco). She went to many big European horse shows and groomed at Nations Cups and European Championships. We are excited she wants to share her experience on our platform.
Weekend Stable Hand
The grooming world consists of many word-of-mouth relationships, recommendations by other grooms, etc. As a novice groom, I recommend trying to get in somewhere as a weekend stablehand first, as a side job. That way, you can get a taste of what the job really entails while learning and gaining experience at the same time.
Choose a Discipline
Choose the discipline of your preference, like dressage, jumping, western, polo, etc. Work in the stable, but also try to join your rider for a whole day or weekend of competition. There is always someone you know who can mediate in this. This way, you can already discover whether you really like it.
Make a Positive Impression
If you make a positive impression at a horse show, the ball automatically starts rolling to a professional job. By recommendation from your colleagues and your ‘weekend boss’, you might end up in a full-time professional groom job.
In Europe, all stables – whether professional, semi-professional, or amateur – are very happy with these stable hands. This is how many European grooms get into the equestrian industry.
Equine College and Internships
Another way to start groom training in Europe is by attending an equine college where internships are compulsory. Many people often get their first job through these internships. That can be at the stable where the student did the training or at another stable through a recommendation from someone from the network they built up at college and during the internship.
It’s a Small World
Be aware that the horse world is a small world and that building up a good reputation by doing a good job and being responsible is important. The best advertisement for yourself is the impression you leave behind.
Want to read more expert guidance from seasoned grooms about getting started, advancing your career, or honing your craft? Ask us any grooming questions in the comments below or on social media!
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