Become a professional groom – 6 Simple Steps
Speaking with grooms day in day out I am often struck that so many start their career based on dreams but then leave on some of the realities.
I have pondered this many times over the years. We all know being a groom is hard work, it takes dedication above and beyond sometimes and that much is still to be done to get terms and conditions to where they need to be.
In my opinion, the best of grooms are the ones who really stick at it despite some of the inevitable realities (not condoning any illegal ones of course). These grooms are consistently the most employable and they all have one thing in common – for them the job and the lifestyle is a VOCATION, not unlike many of the caring professions.
I am lucky enough to have the most wonderful team around me at The Grooms List and Emily Taylor, a key team member, talks to grooms regularly about their hopes and dreams, their ambitions and disappointments and sometimes even their tragedies. She feels strongly about what it takes to become and most importantly remain a professional groom in a very turbulent equestrian world.
The floor is yours Emily…
Winning at Horses! How to become a professional groom
by Emily Taylor
At any stage in your life, deciding on or changing a career pathway is a very tall order. We have to identify a working life that is enjoyable, that we are not only capable of but are likely to be good at, and that will sustain us financially and provide for our retirement. It’s hardly surprising that so many of us passionate horse lovers opt for a career with horses! So many young horse lovers stand on the threshold of their adult life envisaging a long future of playing with ponies every day and being paid to do it. What’s not to love?! Well, quite a lot actually – living the dream can soon become very disenchanting… unless you do it right!
Just as good grooms have the pick of the best jobs, good employers have the pick of the best grooms. So the burning question is, how can you be that groom?
1. Build and preserve your CV
For many, if not the majority of equine grooms, their first paid experience of working with horses will involve taking the first or only opportunity that presents itself, then going where the tide takes them from there on in. This potluck approach to getting jobs isn’t necessarily wrong, but it isn’t likely to bring you the best the equine industry has to offer you. There are plenty of good grooms jobs out there – The Grooms List by Caroline Carter Recruitment regularly recruit for well-paid jobs with generous salary packages and they nearly always go quickly, often with very little advertising! How? Because when we know who the good grooms are and what they are looking for we can start “matchmaking” pretty much from the get-go. So to be in with a good chance, first and foremost we need to know you are looking so you need to be registered with us, and we need details of what you’ve done previously and your future requirements and desires. When we have this information we know to contact you as soon as a suitable job becomes available (and you need to answer your phone or call us back, and quickly!) This is how potluck grooms miss out, because they would need to be in the right place at the right time to even know about the best jobs – you would be extremely lucky to repeatedly stumble across good jobs by chance.
Professional grooms DON’T leap into new jobs willy-nilly. By taking the potluck route you are jeopardising your equine CV. Each job that turns out to be a wrong move for you means you will probably be moving on again within no time. Your CV will soon resemble a chequerboard of short-lived jobs, telling future prospective employers that you’re probably not going to be with them long, and you probably aren’t worth their time-investment in settling you into their yard, let alone training you up, and your aspirations of being a successful, professional groom will be pushed out of your reach.
Professional grooms DO discuss having a job trial before deciding to accept or reject a prospective job. A job trial could prove to you that you would not enjoy the job after all. You also must understand the importance of job longevity. When you take a new job you really need to remain in that job for at least 12-18 months. Anything less than that risks spoiling (and ultimately destroying) your CV. Always closely examine why you are leaving your job, when you are leaving it and what can be done to rectify or improve your situation within your current role.
2. Be honest and stay safe
You don’t need equine qualifications to build a career in the equine industry, but they certainly are a benefit. Whether you choose to gain qualifications or not, when you start working with horses and especially if you are a school leaver, please don’t be under the illusion that you will be able to walk into a top equine job based on your years in the Pony Club, or how many horses/ponies you’ve owned throughout your life. No matter how much you’ve done or what great experience you’ve got, having your own horses and ponies is in no way comparable to working for someone else. An employer is going to want to see evidence, or at least have reassurance on how well you perform within a team, how you time-manage and prioritise your daily tasks, how you apply initiative when things go off-schedule and how you perform under pressure etc. Professional grooms with an established equine CV will be able to give prospective employers references from previous equine employers as evidence of their skills and abilities that are required to do the job. When starting out you need to be mindful of this and be prepared to agree to legal compromises regarding your salary expectations and the responsibilities you will hold within your job.
Building your equine career inevitably involves stepping outside of your comfort zone at times. “Punching above your weight” may seem necessary for progression, but ensure you do this in a realistic, sensible way. When considering what appears to be a dream job move that offers real career progression, make sure your potential employer is aware of your limitations and lack of experience in certain areas. Whilst there are many job vacancies that require someone who can just get on with the job, there are plenty of employers who are quite happy to help you broaden your skills set and progress your equine career. Make sure you discuss this at your enquiry/interview stage, strongly consider arranging a job trial before committing to a career move, and ensure both you and your prospective employer are clear on both party’s expectation and requirements and that this is laid out in writing before your start date. Don’t wing it, you have too much to lose.
Professional grooms DON’T big up their experience and ability in order to get a chance at career development. By doing this you are not only gambling with your equine career but quite possibly yours, and other people and horses’ safety too, if you are not prepared for all aspects of the new job.
For example, if you’ve previously worked at a Riding School or Livery Yard where you have plaited a horse up for a local show, you can’t big this up in order to get a job as a competition groom for a professional, international competition rider. You will most likely be a huge hindrance to the team on show days and you could come unstuck when handling big, fit, powerful, excitable competition horses. Your lack of skill and experience will be painfully obvious AFTER you’ve moved to your new job and you risk finding yourself back job hunting in no time and in turn you risk your CV becoming the chequerboard described in point 1, with all the associated consequences. Rather than your bold job move furthering your equine career, your aspiration of being a successful professional groom will be pushed further from your grasp.
Professional grooms DO discuss honestly their limitations, strengths and weaknesses, the skills they need to improve and the elements of the job they enjoy and excel at. When considering a new job do discuss having a job trial before deciding to accept or reject a prospective job. A job trial could prove to you that you would not enjoy the job after all, or prove to your potential new employer that you are a good fit for their yard, and they will be more accepting of any shortfallings as you take your step up the career ladder with them.
3. Be sensible in your life choices
Professional grooms DON’T bite off more than they can chew and are realistic in fitting their job around everything else in their life. This goes back to the potluck approach outlined earlier in this article. If you take on more than you can realistically manage on a daily basis you risk over-stretching yourself, you will not achieve a sensible work:life balance, and you will probably not get the best the equine industry has to offer. Full-time jobs in the equine industry are notorious for being long hours and hard work, so taking on more than you can fit in and manage it is not going to work.
Professional grooms DO consider the potential consequences of everything they do. Here are a few key examples:
- Generally speaking, the further afield you’re prepared to go to take the perfect equine job for you, the more perfect equine jobs you will have to choose from. The more you limit the geographical radius for your job hunt the more you limit your possibilities and job opportunities.
- Having horses/dogs/pets of your own has both positive and negative effects on the job opportunities open to you. Ensure you take these consequences on board BEFORE jumping in and taking on another fur-friend. You can read more about taking a horse and pets to a new job here.
- Never jump ship when you could, by discussing issues with your employer, make things work where you are. Whatever you do today will affect lots of tomorrows when it comes to getting the best jobs in the equine industry. Getting the best jobs in the equine industry is not simply a matter of a good job hunt, it’s about everything you’ve done in each and every job you’ve had leading up to your current situation.
4. Know there are no shortcuts to becoming a knowledgeable and experienced groom
Professional grooms DON’T cram as many different types of jobs in various disciplines in as short a space of time as possible. This doesn’t convince future potential employers that you’re a very experienced, diverse groom, but it probably will convince them that you will not stick around long (check back at point 1: preserve your CV!)
Professional grooms DO choose a realistic career pathway. For example, if you’ve quite enjoyed working as a dressage groom don’t simply jump to being a polo groom for 6 months because the opportunity has arisen and you fancy a change. Stick at your job for at least 12-18 months THEN consider your next career move, not whether you fancy a change or not. If you wish to dip your toe in the water of other sectors of the equine industry consider short-term/temporary/seasonal positions as a legitimate way to build up more diverse experience without damaging you CV by job-hopping. You may have more diverse career options available to you than you think, so it is always worth having a chat with one of our knowledgeable and approachable recruitment consultants. Do contact us for a friendly, no-obligation chat.
5. Nudge things along where necessary and appropriate
Professional grooms DON’T let things drift. For instance, don’t be afraid to remind your employer that it is your 18th/21st/25th birthday next month and, if you are paid the National Minimum Wage, you require a pay rise to meet legal requirements.
Professional grooms DO keep up with adjustments to the National Minimum and Living Wage rates and the accommodation offset rate, any agreements made between themselves and their employer (this works both ways), and how progression within their existing job can benefit both them and their employer. If you feel something is lacking or wrong in your current job role or the flow within your team, or that there is room for you to develop within your existing place of employment, don’t be afraid to broach the subject with your employer. Don’t wait for your employer to notice, or offer you new opportunities. Showing keen and expressing a desire for success is rarely, if ever, a bad thing!
6. Understand that no one “owes” anyone anything
OK, I heard you just say “No professional groom works for nothing!” and you are correct. What I mean is, no one owes you anything and you don’t owe your employer anything beyond your terms of employment and honourable and decent behaviour. Neither an offer to work, or of employment is a favour, it is a business-like transaction between employer and employee.
Professional grooms DON’T agree to work for someone cash in hand/for less than the National Minimum or Living Wage/in return for accommodation, training, or favours.
Professional grooms DO bear in mind that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been working for someone, how pally you may have become with them and/or their team or family, it doesn’t matter how much out on a limb you may have gone, or what your friends think, in simple terms your association with your employer is a lawful contractual arrangement.
Ensure you have EVERYTHING laid out in a Written Statement of Employment BEFORE your start working for anyone, even if you consider them to be a friend. You wouldn’t buy or rent a car without knowing what you’re getting and the price of it, so why should employers and employees? Again, this cuts both ways. Taking on a new groom is as much an investment to the employer as the groom. You are stepping into their corner of the world and they are welcoming you into it. A potential employer will be assessing the pros and cons of hiring you as a groom, just as much as you are assessing the pros and cons of taking their job.
OK, so whatever stage you’re at in your equine career, you’ve made it as far as an equine recruitment website, which is great. This actually is a very good place to start and/or revisit throughout your career, no matter what age you are when you start out working with horses.
Although it may not appear so at first look, these 6 steps really are simple. You don’t need lots of qualifications, tons of experience or any special skills to become a professional groom, you just need to ensure being a groom is the right profession for you and your circumstances, build a good employment history and keep your eye on the ball as you go.