Are you ready to be a Sole Charge Groom?
by Becky Parker
Sole charge groom positions can be sole charge for just some of the time when other team members are away, or the job can be fully sole charge 100% of the time, but both scenarios require specific skills and qualities to perform to expectation and the satisfaction of all involved. This can be a hugely rewarding, career-enhancing experience, but it can also be somewhat challenging on occasions. Becky looks at some of the pros and cons to consider.
One aspect we often see and must remark on, is that not uncommonly, the intensity of a sole charge position by definition, can cause employers and grooms alike to cross professional and personal lines. This can come back and bite you both in the proverbial, so care does needs to be taken and all parties should consider this and avoid crossing that line. Start as you mean to go on in this regard!
Also, when the time comes to move on from a particular sole charge position, it can be a truly heart-wrenching, emotional experience for grooms and employers (and their fur and non-fur families) alike. We have to handle this scenario regularly with extreme tact and diplomacy as often there is an understandable, heightened level of sensitivity at this time.
It’s important when applying for such a position that you are suitably equipped in all respects to fulfil the obligations that go with the territory which are sometimes apparent but, in our experience, often are not.
Is being a Sole Charge Groom right for me?
Being a sole charge groom is probably the closest thing many of us experience to having your own yard. As a professional, experienced groom you organise your own day and take care of the yard and horses as though they are your own. Sounds idyllic, and one of the reasons sole charge positions are so often described as “a job for life”.
However, with this job comes a considerable weight of responsibility. As a sole charge groom it is up to YOU to ensure everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – is kept in top-notch condition at all times. You need to be on the ball with all ordering and appointments, and when things go wrong you need to be knowledgeable, competent and capable of dealing with it in an appropriate and timely manner. You simply cannot get any of this wrong, as there will often be no one else for you to fall back on for help.
All equine grooms have a big responsibility in their daily job, but the scale of responsibility on a sole charge groom’s shoulders is undoubtedly heavier on many occasions. It will be YOU alone the boss comes to looking for answers – no team members to liaise with, fall back on or hide behind! If you are not ready for such a position a DREAM job can quickly become a NIGHTMARE when you find yourself in way over your head with such responsibility, so even if you can, you never should blag your way into a position for which you are not suitably qualified or experienced.
If you’re not already put off taking a job as a sole charge groom, before you start applying away for what might seem like the perfect job, take a moment to have a read through our whistle-stop tour of the sole charge groom’s job, to see if you have the knowledge and experience to deal with all this job might throw at you…
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Sole Charge Grooms Check List:
1. Will you care for the animals in your charge like they are your own?
Many sole charge groom roles involve looking after more than just horses – at times you may be asked to feed and tend to any other type of animal the employer keeps, from the yard cats to a small flock of sheep or llamas (true story), and you need to treat all animals with the same level of care you would give your own beloved pets. While this may mean you sometimes get attached to the animals in your care and shed a tear or two when one is sold on or heads over the rainbow bridge, it means the standard of care you provide for them can be second to none. When your boss goes away they will get great reassurance from this and understandably like to believe know that their animals will be in the best hands possible, and you need to prove that those hands are yours.
It is worth mentioning at this point that you do really need to establish early on what your exact responsibilities will be when taking on such a role. I say that not to encourage you to be “jobsworth” about it, but because to meet expectations, you have to know and understand expectations. It is always better to avoid any potential conflict than wait for misunderstanding to present themselves with the resultant drama than occasionally ensues. It is very important to have your roles and responsibilities clearly stated in your Written Statement of Employment so do bear that in mind at your interview and the subsequent offer stages of the recruitment process. Our unambiguous advice, ALWAYS GET THIS SORTED UP FRONT!
2. Can you set up and manage a feeding regime?
A sole charge groom will probably have between 2 and 5 stabled horses to look after each day, and they are highly unlikely to thrive on a “one size fits all” feeding regime. You need to be able to take the feeding regime that each horse is on when you start the job and adjust it as and when appropriate. You need to be able to assess accurately when each horse’s weight fluctuates, their exercise levels change, the seasons change and more. No more simply following the yard’s feed board – this time it’s YOUR feed board! You can read more about the link between feeding and body heat in our Basic Guide to Rugging Horses. It has to be said, these areas seem to be the topics that can be real bones of contention when things go wrong between a yard owner and a sole charge groom. Feeding and rugging can be both an art and a science and most experienced equestrians will have strong views on this, so do always bear that in mind when “treating the place as your own” and consult with the actual owner on a regular basis to keep things amicable between you.
3. Do you understand the basic principles of pasture management?
This is often something that team grooms do not have to worry about, or at least they simply follow the instructions issued by the powers that be. However, for a sole charge groom, pasture management is more often than not on their list of responsibilities, not only do, but know when to do it!
Pasture management includes but is not limited to:
- poo picking
- a good system for paddock rotation
- harrowing, and rolling
- fertilising and weed-killing
- recognising, clearing and appropriately disposing of ragwort and other persistent, toxic weeds
- basic fence, gate and water trough maintenance, including getting professional help in
This is something you ideally need to have some knowledge and previous experience of, as it isn’t something that you can manage effectively by ‘winging it’. You may also have to use tractors and/or farm machinery in order to continue the existing programme, so if you have not already had experience of using such machinery you need to be prepared to learn there are some great books and on line videos you can watch on the subject – the long winter evenings will simply fly past! 🤣
4. Can you diagnose simple common equine injuries and illnesses?
Over years of experience working in the industry most horse keepers develop a keen eye and feel for a variety of health conditions, swelling/heat and lameness. Without having anyone to discuss it with, you must be able to recognise and act appropriately when a horse needs medical intervention, including but not limited to:
- pus in the foot
- cuts, grazes, and other physical injuries
- conjunctivitis and other eye problems
A useful reference point for all grooms, but especially sole charge grooms bearing so much responsibility alone, is a horses vital signs – making a note of these for each horse in your care will be something you’ll be glad you did when you’re next trying to decide if and what is wrong with one of your horses.
This requires a measured response – you don’t want to be calling the Vet out for anything and everything but equally, you cannot let your ego prevent you from calling on the experts when needed. It can be a fine balance between wasting the horse owner’s money on unnecessary Vet bills and saving the horse’s health and well being. You must be 100% confident in your ability to know what, when, where, who and how when it comes to dealing with these things, and not think you’ll cross that bridge if you come to it. You know what horses are like – you WILL encounter these situations time and time again! You must be able to listen closely, follow instructions and work with the vet and the horse’s owner towards the horse’s recovery, and try to keep panicked nighttime calls to your boss and the vet to a minimum where possible!
5. Can you turn out for Competition/Hunting?
There is a strong possibility that you will be required to clip, plait and turn out for shows in your sole charge groom role, and possibly competition grooming now and then. A good number of sole charge groom jobs are for employers who enjoy competing or hunting in their leisure time and need your assistance with the preparations for trips out to shows. You may even be lucky enough to be competing one of the horses yourself, and whilst you may look after the horses as though they are your own, when you take them off-site you are showing someone else’s horses, and you need to try to present them to the highest standard.
From the children’s ponies to the father’s hunter to the mother’s advanced dressage horse they are all likely to be kept regularly clipped, bathed, groomed and with their manes and tails pulled/trimmed smartly. As a professional sole charge groom, being able to plait after a fashion is not be adequate for most employers and shouldn’t be adequate for you either- there’ll be no getting your team-mate to do the forelock or the tail, it’s all down to you! You will need to enjoy seeing the horses in your care showing themselves off regardless of who will be riding them, and like to look on proudly at what all your hard work has produced.
6. Can you ride a variety of horses unsupervised confidently and safely?
You need not be the next William Fox-Pitt but more than likely you will need to be happy to jump on most horses and hack out alone. You may need to deal with the odd bit of spooky silliness, carry out canter work with some semblance of control on a fit hunter/eventer, ride and lead without getting in a complete tangle, and lunge a horse for exercise and/or improvement. You can’t palm any of the larey horses off on your sticky-bummed team-mate!
You may need to know at least the basic principles of how to get a horse fit for purpose or brought back into work from injury, and be able to set and adjust an exercise regime for a variety of goals. Walking work might be a bit low octane but box rest is much more painful for horse and carer!
7. Can you keep your cool and problem solve when it all goes spectacularly wrong?
It helps all grooms to understand the horses crafty way of testing the patience, sanity and bravery of even the best of us, but as a sole charge groom this is a particularly important attribute. Many’s a sole charge groom has faced a selection of near disastrous situations alone and kept their calm to find solutions when under pressure. For example:
- When one lone ranger gallops through all 5 neighbouring electric fences so all 12 horses are now galloping down the drive together…
- When the new heavyweight cob fresh over from Ireland and a life living on the hill decides stable life isn’t for him and goes THROUGH the stable door to inform you he would prefer to live out…
- When the fox kills all the chickens but takes only one and the kids are due on the yard in 5 minutes…
- When the yard diva decides she will NOT be caught…
- When you’re unceremoniously dumped whilst out riding and leading, and both horses disappear across the common…
No team-mates to call on, delegate to, or fall back on – yup, it’s ALL on YOU!
8. Would you be happy living and working on your own?
Before considering your first sole charge groom position have a think out the reality of that – SOLE charge. How much do you like your own company? Things to consider:
Long days/periods of time on the yard with no one to talk to other than the four-footers.
- If you take a sole charge groom role outside of your home region you will have no friends or family in the area, and you’re unlikely to be making new friends in your job if you are truly sole charge!
- If your employer is away all week or for long periods at a time you will need to find your own way around a new area, so it’s very important to consider this if you don’t have your own car.
9. Are you prepared for the random and varied ‘Person Friday’ duties?
As a sole charge groom, especially in a family yard situation, it’s handy if you welcome the variation that supporting the family wherever possible brings to the job. It helps if you’re not just a horse lover, but a general animal lover so will enjoy dog sitting/walking, feeding chickens, pigs, rabbits, cats, goats and even the odd alpaca!
If the family have children you need to know the involvement you’ll be expected to have with them – it’s no good taking a job where you are going to be teaching and assisting the family children if you dislike or are uncomfortable around children.
Person Friday duties are often part and parcel of the role and, provided the expectations are within reason, you must be happy to get stuck in within the parameters of the expectations outlined in your contract as previously mentioned.
It’s fair to say that the small private yards can have their fair share, of the whacky eccentric horse characters. It is also true that in these roles you do end up having to work more closely with them than might be good for your sanity. Do make the most of your job interview, not only sell yourself to the employer, but to assess for yourself the suitability of the job for you. It’s a very good idea to attend a job trial before committing to a long term sole charge groom job. When this goes to plan we have seen many a groom stay for 10 plus years watching the children, puppies, foals all grow up to have careers, children of their own and become an incredibly valued part of this close knit unit along the way. More than one groom I have spoken to has even been gifted a much loved horse or dog when they come to move on.
So if you have answered ‘Yes that’s me – I have so got this – Obviously’ to all the above you are probably ready to start applying for sole charge groom jobs.
If you would like assistance and/or advice regarding finding sole charge job vacancies or ascertaining if you are in fact, ready for this please don’t hesitate to contact us.