Grooming at the A/AA & FEI International level has a certain allure to equestrians everywhere. Being able to soak up all that knowledge while working with some of the top riders and horses in the world is no small feat.
After a twitter response went viral for professional groom Ally Bradley; we decided to sit down and share her knowledge of the industry in hopes that it helps some of you looking to get in to grooming as a full time career.
I fell into grooming by PURE accident. I had absolutely no idea what it was, I held very little experience in professional grooming and I had almost no real experience at the level I threw myself into. I walked in very confident, knowing nothing more than my little junior horse and frankly - had my butt handed to me on a platter. I hated it. I felt so forsaken by the system. I had been a working student at a small farm in Texas for what felt like AGES. We had always grown up on work hard = opportunity. To move to Wellington and see that hard work = a possible pat on the back was really difficult. I wanted to run back home and hide in my local circuit again. It took a lot to put my ego aside and realize I really didn’t know that much.
I started up with a big barn. They took me under their wing and began to teach me the A/AA Circuit, and eventually even the international FEI circuit. I couldn’t believe the things they did to horses. Icing after jumping, wraps, laser therapy, the spa, theraplates, ear plugs; I must have learned about 6 different ways of lunging as well. The vet and the farrier were constantly involved in my day to day to maintain these top jumpers. I could go on and on. It felt very foreign and it really was. I did my best to learn (which God bless my manager and many trainers because by nature I am quite stubborn..) BUT it did pay off.
When I came home for a visit I rode like a entirely different person. My flat work improved 100%, I could finally get to the base of a fence and I had a whole new understanding of the sport. I realized that my time on the floor learning to care and manage the horses was going to make me the rider and horseman I wanted to be.
Since then I have gone on to work with some big names both nationally (USA) and internationally. I have had the opportunity to ride many AMAZING top of the line horses. Things that would normally be out of my financial grasp are now at my finger tips, but only if I am willing to put the work in. Grooming has opened my eyes to a new world and has given me chances to do things like riding, managing, and even a small smidge of showing.
Currently, I am a baby international show groom who is constantly starving for more. Every day I fall more in love with the sport. May that be that I am scrubbing buckets and hand walking someones Olympic prospect, riding 14 horses, or taking one of my favourite horses to the ring. I am so happy that it’s maybe a little gross. Currently my goals include doing more on the international circuit and learning about creating longevity in both people & animals in the sport.
So you want to try grooming; what are the first steps you should take ?
Networking is the best way to go! Spend time at some horse shows, talk to other grooms. We are all constantly talking to each other about positions opening up, who is good to work for, etc.
How do you weed out the good from the bad opportunity wise ?
For me, there is no such thing as a bad opportunity. Sometimes when I end up somewhere I don’t particularly enjoy I do my best to keep my head up and take notes of the things I don’t enjoy. Using it as an opportunity to say ‘I don’t want this for my horses in the future, but it was good to see it.” There is a lot of good opportunity throughout the industry for people who are passionate and want to work hard.
What is a typical day?
I have learned there is no such thing as a typical day! In a show barn things are always changing and moving fast. The only guarantees I have in a day is that barn chores will get done & horses will be exercised at some point.
How do you best maximize your networking ?
Spending time at the horse show, making sure to talk to people! “Well I saw so-and-so but I was too shy..” does not work. Be brave, talk to people! We are all just horse people. Luckily for this generation we are also connected by social media. There are grooms groups all over Facebook, instagram, you name it.
Do you have to give up riding yourself?
Yes and no. It depends a lot on what your employers want. In my current position I do some riding. I have had jobs where I do a LOT of riding, it almost became too much riding. Some places there is strictly no riding.
What differs from grooming in North America versus Europe?
The spirit of the horses in Europe is really different. The shows are generally bigger, the crowds are larger, its a more popular public sport. Where as opposed to here in North America, the shows may be big, but it is still kind of seen as an ‘elitist’ sport and won’t get the same attention as say a soccer game. In Europe when you walk into clothing stores you will see popular riders modelling the clothes on banners with their horses or in the barn. It’s very different. Here, in North America the average person will ask me if I am a jockey; and then I have to give an attempted nicely worded watered down response about the sport!
Best advice you could give / have received
Treat every second you have at the show as if you were auditing a clinic.
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xoxo - Natalie