What are Freelance Grooms and how do I become one?
by Kelly Wallace Horne
The appeal of a working life flitting from yard to yard, meeting many, many new horses (and people of course!) is understandable but is this perception realistic? Here I will attempt to give you an overview of freelance grooming – the ins and outs and pros and cons in a nutshell…
What’s the difference between Freelance Grooms and other Grooms?
As discussed in our article The difference between employed, self-employed and Freelance Grooms, the legal difference between Freelance Grooms and other Grooms is their employment status – Freelance Grooms are self-employed, and self-employed grooms are referred to as being “freelance” – other Grooms are employed (on the payroll). Freelance Grooms work as independent service providers, in the same respect as a Farrier, and Equine Dentist or an Equine Massage Therapist. This means that Freelance Grooms don’t have employers and don’t have a job per se – they are their own boss. Instead, the person who would ordinarily be a Groom’s employer is a Freelance Groom’s customer/client.
How do Freelance Grooms Work?
Freelance Grooms can work in a variety of scenarios and quite often will have regular clients, however it is important to note that if they regularly work for the same person the relationship must be one of “client” and “freelancer” – not employer and employee. For example the freelancer should have more than one client, and therefore would tell a client that they were not available to attend on a certain day rather than ask for a day off.
Freelance Grooms advertise their services and their availability locally, and they also register with an agency like The Grooms List by Caroline Carter Recruitment to advertise their services and find work opportunities. Register as a Freelance Groom now.
Freelance Grooms can offer a range of equine services to all sorts of equestrian establishments, from private horse owners to commercial yards. To give you an idea of what this might include:
- Holiday cover for a private horse owner or yard owner.
- Replacing a groom on holiday leave or sick leave from a professional or commercial yard.
- “Extra pair of hands” cover for random busy periods that don’t require an additional member of staff full time permanently.
- Competition grooming at big shows which require an extra pair of hands or a specialist show groom.
- Emergency cover when a permanent groom injures themselves and needs down-time to recover.
- Emergency cover to assist with taking a horse to the veterinary hospital
- To cover a permanent groom’s days off.
- To clip horses or prepare horses for shows
- To train up a novice member of staff.
- Lunging, long reining, schooling, hacking/general exercising horses.
If a Freelance Groom is good and a client appreciates their demeanour, work ethic, and abilities they will, more often than not, hire that Freelance Groom again in future and recommend them to their friends and associates.
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What equipment and provisions do Freelance Grooms use?
On the whole, Freelance Grooms will use the same items as any other groom. However, Freelance Grooms have to think outside of the box when it comes to getting and maintaining work and a regular income, and freelance work comes with added responsibilities.
Things to consider:
Usually Freelance Grooms will work at a variety of yards over a week or month and, owing to the typically rural location of equestrian establishments, public transport is not a viable option. Having a car, or small van, will be essential for you to be available to a broad client base, to be able to turn up on time, and to be able to take the items you need to perform your duties (spare sets of clean, dry clothes and boots, your riding hat and spare gloves, plaiting kits etc). Using a moped or motorbike may be possible, but probably wouldn’t be ideal.
If you are presenting yourself and your services as a professional business you may wish to consider having clothing that displays your name/business name and, if you have one, your logo. These needn’t cost a lot – if you are buying a new jacket/fleece/beanie you can often buy them directly from suppliers who will embroider/apply your name/logo for a small fee. You’ll feel the bees knees when you rock up to client’s yards with your clean, colour co-ordinated outfit, clearly displaying who you are to yard members and other potential clients.
Spare sets of clothes…LOTS of spare sets of clothes!
Whether you opt to build up a wardrobe of personalise, branded clothing or not, you need to present yourself well every day. If you are popular and have a regular set of clients who call on you regularly, and especially if you offer emergency cover/services, you need to be prepared at all times. When you are booked to plait or clip a yard-full of horses after a morning mucking out session elsewhere, you don’t want to turn up looking like a scarecrow and wreaking of amonia. If you can quickly change into fresh, clean, dry clothes before travelling to your next yard you will look and feel (and smell) much better. Whilst as a Freelance Groom you may get away with wearing tracky bottoms, an old t-shirt and a pair of trainers, it doesn’t look professional, it doesn’t give the right impression and a lot of clients would find it off-putting.
As tempting as it is to wing it (“I’ve been around horses for 20 years and not killed anyone yet!“) it really is very important that you get yourself insurance – your clients will expect you to have your own insurance cover. You will need cover for:
- Loss of income if you are injured or suffer illness – you will not get sick pay as a self-employed person.
- Medical bills in case you need to seek private medical care.
- A financial payout in the event that injury or illness prevents you from working with horses again.
- 3rd party and Indemnity – this is VERY important when you are taking responsibility for other people’s horses. Should you NOT be able to prove that an accident was not your fault you could find yourself liable for huge expenses, in vets fees, lorry/vehicle repair, someone else’s health care, compensation etc.
- It is crucial as a Freelance Groom that you have an insurance policy that covers you for Temporary Total Disablement.
When you can advertise and tell potential clients that you are fully insured it shows maturity and responsibility, which most potential clients will find reassuring.
British Grooms Association (BGA) insurance memberships (Silver and Platinum) offers affordable and bespoke personal accident insurance which covers you for your loss of earnings.
A service agreement
When you are self-employed and performing services for someone else it is highly advisable that you have a written service agreement with each of your clients. This should detail:
- Your understanding of the task/s in hand
- Your hourly rate
- If applicable, anything that is excluded from your hourly rate (e.g. you may charge a flat fee for clipping)
- Start and finish times each day
- The start of the period of service and, if applicable, the end of the period of service
- Who is covering you with insurance (you or your client) and the insurance company’s name.
Speak to the British Grooms Association about drawing up a contract template and everything it should include.
Clippers and plaiting kits etc
If you are good at clipping and/or turning out for shows you may wish to offer these in your list of services, in which case it is a good idea to equip yourself with everything you need for the task. Many clients will have their own clippers, plaiting kits, shampoos and coats glosses etc., but this isn’t a given. If you come fully equipped with good quality products that you are practised with, you will be able to work quickly, efficiently, and produce a finish to the best of your ability. Of course with this comes additional responsibility:
- Ensure your clippers are kept scrupulously clean, regularly serviced, your blades are sharp, you have spare sets of sharp blades, and that your model of clippers is up to the job. You can’t clip 4 horses in one day with clippers designed for a leisure owner of 1 or 2 horses. Do your homework before investing.
- Ensure you have bands and thread in all colours, and keep any combs and clips scrupulously clean to prevent cross-contamination between yards (you don’t want the spread of some unpleasant disease being traced back to your show turnout services!)
- Always ask horse owners before using your chosen brand of clipper oil, or applying any shampoos or coat sprays – they may not think to tell you their horse breaks out in urticaria at the mere mention of baby oil or [brandname] clipper oil, so play it safe and always make a point of telling the owner which products you will be using and gain their express agreement to it.
References and Testimonials
Freelance Grooms do need references and testimonials. If a potential client wants to hire your services for, let’s say holiday cover, it’s not unreasonable for them to want to see some evidence of your ability, suitability and reliability beforehand.
A Facebook Page
You will need to have somewhere to showcase your services, photographs and testimonials and a Facebook Page is ideal for this. It also gives a point of contact for potential clients to find you and contact you, and serves as useful advertising.
A DBS check (formally a “CRB check”)
DBS stands for “Disclosure and Barring Service” and is basically a copy of your criminal record. This is called ‘basic disclosure’, and it’s available for people living or working in England and Wales. It costs £25 to obtain and you can request one here. As with your CV, references and testimonials, this is extremely benificial to have and show prospective clients.
It may seem an unlikely one, but you never know when you might get the opportunity to travel to an overseas competition, or with a client going abroad for training with a top trainer.
Stationary and “office equipment”
Just because you don’t work in a physical office does not mean you are exempt from office duties! You will need to think of your car as your mobile office, and have a space at home to keep your important paperwork. If you are going to be working as a Freelance Groom you need to ensure you are fully aware of your legal responsibilities regarding your income tax and National Insurance contributions. This means doing paperwork!
To give you a basic idea of some of the things will need:
- Folders and pockets – for keeping your monthly client invoices, and purchase receipts for clothing, equipment, insurance, lunch receipts and even the stationary you’re using to organise your paperwork.
- You may benefit from having a home printer to print out invoices, agreements and even adverts to put in local equestrian shops and venues.
- Crisp, clean paper to write or print invoices and agreements on to give to clients.
- A notebook and pen to keep in your car/bag so you can make notes about any tasks, information, names, numbers, addresses etc.
- A phone holder that goes on your belt, so you are always contactable and have your phone at hand in case of emergency. I find the horizontal belt holders good because they don’t bounce about, especially when you’re riding.
- It might be a good idea to sort yourself out a decent hands free kit for your phone. You don’t want to fail at your freelance venture through clients giving up on you because you never answer your phone, and you also don’t want to get a reputation of always being glued to your phone!
A First Aid Kit
Although the majority of yards/horse owners will have their own medical kit there is never any guarantee of it being well stocked. If you are independently looking after other people’s horses you may want to consider carrying some first aid provisions of your own, so you know that you are prepared should you find yourself tackling an illness or injury. It is advisable that you ensure you are knowledgeable about the basics at least. If you are offering your services as a Freelance Groom you need to be confident and competent at recognising common symptoms of an unwell horse and understand the correct course of action to take and when. Our article Understanding a Horse’s Vital Signs will help you understand the very basics.
A First Aid Certificate
This is one thing that will not only look good on your CV and adverts, it could help keep you and others around you safe – to the extent that you could save someone’s career, or even life. Find out more and save yourself 10% on a first aid qualification by clicking here.
An HGV Licence
An HGV licence really gives your employment and salary prospects an uplift – a real uplift! You may even have your own horse lorry, BUT you need to ENSURE you are genned up on insurance and any additional licences you might need to legally transport other people’s horses in the owner’s or your own horsebox or trailer. We recommend you speak to Specialised HGV Training to learn the ins and outs of HGV horsebox licensing and driving. While you’re speaking to them, mention The Grooms List by Caroline Carter Recruitment and get 20% off any HGV or trailer driving training.
What are Freelance Groom Jobs?
Technically there is no such thing as Freelance Groom jobs because Freelance Grooms aren’t employed and don’t have employers. However, sometimes horse owners and yard owners will advertise that they need emergency, holiday or sickness cover so it’s a good idea to set up a Job Alert so you receive an email each time such an opportunity opens your area and is added to The Grooms List.
What are the highs and lows of working as a Freelance Groom?
As with all equine jobs, working as a Freelance Groom has its share of highs and lows and you need to be mindful of these when making this choice of career pathway:
- You can have a varied working life, doing lots of different things, gaining new experience and meeting new people.
- You are your own agent. You are free to accept or reject work with no one to answer to but yourself.
- You can focus your attention on a specific industry sector, or specialist area (e.g. clipping and competition grooming, riding, or dressage yards).
- You will earn a higher hourly rate as a Freelance Groom.
- You may earn a higher hourly rate as a Freelance Groom, but you need to source and secure every one of those working hours, every day/week/month.
- You may earn a higher hourly rate as a Freelance Groom, but you need to account for Income Tax and National Insurance, plus other expenditures that don’t necessarily come with employed groom’s work, so your take-home wage is not all yours to spend!
- You have no guarantee of work or income. Your income will fluctuate throughout the seasons.
- You have a big responsibilty regarding bookkeeping, tax and other associated paperwork.
- You are likely to be more disposable as a Freelance Groom than an employed Groom, so you need to be vigilant with keeping up high standards and presenting a professional image.
- As you are not an “employee” you are not protected by employment laws and you cannot escalate unresolved issues to an employment tribunal. Instead, your unresolved issues are a “civil matter” and you must take legal action against your client via a solicitor.
How much do Freelance Grooms earn?
As a self-employed Freelance Groom the National Minimum Wage laws that apply to employed staff do not apply to you, so the law does not dictate that you must be paid any minimum amount per hour. Your hourly rate is your responsibility alone. However, you need to be very realistic when working out an hourly rate, and the National Minimum Wage for your age is a good place to calculate from. You need to factor in Income Tax, National Insurance contributions, insurance, fuel for travelling to various yards, any expenses associated with additional services you offer (plaiting bands, shampoos and lotions, clipper servicing etc), and not least of all the fact that you are not earning a guaranteed regular income. It is not uncommon for Freelance Grooms to charge between £10 and £20 an hour, depending on their age, experience and the type of equine services they offer.
Who can become a Freelance Groom?
Anyone who is over 18 years old and is competent and capable of caring for horses can be a Freelance Groom. And by competent and capable we mean you must have had plenty of experience caring for horses. Freelance grooming is often a favoured route for established grooms who wish to settle in one area, have their own home and work on a live out basis. These Freelance Grooms are often the most successful and sought after, as their previous experience working as a groom means they are well prepared for working in unfamiliar yards and dealing with unfamiliar horses with no introduction to their characters and foibles.
It is not a viable work option for someone who has simply been for riding lessons as a child, or had loan-a-pony days when they were young, and anyone fitting this description will be better to look for a trainee role in an equestrian establishment and start a career with horses via that route.
When you start accepting contracts from horse/yard owners you must register for income tax with HMRC. You can find yourself in very hot water if you neglect to do this!
If you would like assistance and/or advice regarding finding freelance grooms or freelance grooms work opportunities in the equine industry please don’t hesitate to contact us.