I spent a day as a groom last weekend. The results were…. comical. Seriously people, thank the grooms. Their job is hard and made up of long hours. What follows is my feeble attempt at being a groom during a horseshow. I can assure you, no one is beating down my door with a job offer.
I set my alarm for 6am, hit snooze for 45 minutes, finally wake up enough to realize that I committed to helping out with a horse show and I’m late. I throw my hair up and clip off a hang nail. I know if I don’t do it now, it’ll get caught on something later and be painfully ripped off. I arrive at 8:30am, easily several hours later than the other, professional grooms. I try to hide my yawns. I didn’t have time to make myself coffee. Also coffee makes me pee and I don’t have time for bathroom breaks.
I head out to the warm-up arena with one of the trainers and a client. I tell the trainer that I’m his person if he needs something. He’s riding away from me and says, “A bag and a stool.” A bag? What kind of bag? Like a doggy bag? “A GROOM bag!” he yells back. Oh yeah, dummy, the big bag they bring out to the center of the ring that holds detangler, bottled water, hoof picks, grease, gel, rubber bands, and other items of horse trainer sorcery. That bag. Rookie mistake. I run back and grab the bag and the stool.
The trainer warms up the horse. It’s time for the client to get on. I help the client up and pull her chaps down over her spurs. Letting the horse’s tail down, I cringe at my own hair in comparison to these flowing unicorn tresses. No time for self-pity. I squat down and unwind the polo wraps and wipe off the client’s boots. She’s nervous.
I tell her how pretty she looks (she does) and tell her how good her horse looks (he does). The trainer tells the client to walk out to the left and I go back to counting lights. Sometimes I watch the client and listen to the trainer, picking up seeds of wisdom. The problem is those seeds dry up and blow away when I’m in the saddle. I pull myself out of my thoughts when it’s time for the client to enter the class. I follow the trainer to the rail of the show ring. This is really where I listen to the trainer making comments. Sometimes they’re to me, like idle narration of the ride. Other times the comments are called out to the client as she goes by… Center your hand, lower your hand, bring him back to you, take your time.
The class ends. The client received first and second places. I’m happy for her. At the out-gate the trainer congratulates the client and I accept her votive/plate/extra ribbons. I scoot to the back of the horse and tie up the tail. The trainer is giving the client a compliment sandwich: “Your speed at the lope was perfect. When you’re coming down from the lope though, you need to take your time. Don’t slam down on him. You looked really good out there. Great job.” I’m walking behind wondering what my compliment sandwich would be. Good job being a warm body and trying hard. You need to bring that groom bag and stool to the warm-up arena every time. Nice job on that tail knot. Way to keep it from getting stepped on or dirty. I pat myself on the back.
I bring the horse back to the stalls and daydream about eating a snack. I’ve only been here for two hours and already my back hurts and I’m hungry. I don’t complain though because 1. Everyone’s back and feet hurt and 2. It’s not time to eat. It’s time to work.
That horse is put away and they start prepping the next set of horses to show. I’m less help in this area because I don’t know which tack goes with which horse and I can’t braid worth a lick. Grooms who can braid to the specifications of the trainer are somewhat exalted. I’m not exalted. I decide to go back to the warm up arena, as that is where I’m the most useful.
Trainer rides horse. Client gets on horse. Horse is prepped for the class and client is given encouraging words. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. This scenario plays itself out several times an hour. The day before I hear they showed 14 horses in the afternoon session. Everyone shudders and cusses and says thank god it’s cooler today and that they aren’t repeating that madness.
This is why trainers (the good ones anyway) are always thanking their grooms. The grooms are indispensable, they know the clients, the tack, and the horses. They can be the trainer’s extra brain, extra set of hands, extra set of encouraging words. Their names aren’t splashed across the show curtains, but the grooms are vital to the success of the barn and the clients. I finish my day and slink off. I have other commitments. I feel bad for leaving and vow to thank every last person who helps at a show the next time I’m showing. I encourage you to do the same.
PS: You may have noticed that my blog references western pleasure while all my photos are of a Park Horse class. When I came back with my camera, Park Horse is what was running, so that’s what I got. Felt I had to explain!
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