Competition Grooms – A life on the go
A good Competition Groom/Travelling Groom is an indispensable part of a competing team, without whom most top riders would not be able to achieve what they achieve in the showring. When a good groom is secured (no need to name names here!) they are undoubtedly the glue that holds things together in the moments that really count, and the moments that aren’t often counted too yet are equally critical to top performances! For those of you considering competition grooming as a career option, or for those of you who have elements of competition grooming within your everyday grooming role, we can help you up your game to big league level, or even assist in getting you “interview ready” for this exciting career move. The earning potential that comes with such a role also has its attractions… A fully experienced elite Competition Groom can earn upwards of £500 a week! Read on…
Competition Grooms and Competition Groom Jobs
by Becky Parker
We say it time and time again but really THE most important ingredient in finding a sustainable long-term job is finding a role you will truly enjoy. The frequently heard saying, ‘Working with horses is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle’ is true, but when it comes to working as a Competition Groom this REALLY is taken to the extreme. Yet, it is a lifestyle full of suspense, excitement and busyness that many a groom will thrive on. If you get a real kick from watching your horses and others perform, following all the action and getting involved in that buzzy atmosphere, then becoming a Competition Groom could be just the career path for you.
What is a Competition Groom?
A Competition Groom, often referred to as a “Show Groom” or a “Travelling Groom”, is the member of the team whose main responsibility is accompanying the rider to horse shows. You can be a Competition Groom in any competitive equine discipline.
A Competition Groom may work exclusively preparing for and grooming at shows, either as a permanent groom at a big competition yard, or as a freelance Competition Groom.
In yards that don’t require a permanent exclusive Competition Groom, a member of the permanent team will often be a designated Competition Groom, or all the team members will take turns to groom at shows.
What do Competition Grooms do?
The specific role of the Competition Groom will, of course, vary from yard to yard and depending on the discipline but in general, you can expect to be responsible for these duties;
- Ensuring the lorry is at all times kept well stocked with its own equipment e.g. first aid kits, grooming kit, show rugs, discipline-specific competition boots and bandages, lunging kit, bit box etc.
- Travelling with the horses by aeroplane or ferry when attending overseas shows.
- Packing fresh supplies for competitions e.g. tack, hay, water etc.
- Preparing the horses for events ensuring they are clipped, bathed, pulled, trimmed and then dressed and loaded, in the correct order, ready to leave on time on the day.
- During travel, it will be your duty to ensure the horses travel safely, comfortably and are well settled on arrival. For multi-day shows, this would include setting up base and ensuring the horses are comfortable and happy in their temporary stabling.
- Ensuring your horses are presented clean and tidy for any exercise riding or lunging you/the rider may do. You are in the public eye here a good standard must be kept at all times when on show.
- Turning your horses out immaculately for the competition.
- Washing off and ensuring the horses are kept comfortable and is well checked over for injuries after the event to ensure maximum rate of recovery.
- Fetching, carrying and thinking of EVERYTHING whilst the rider is preparing and warming up.
- A calm disposition, with the ability to remain calm and quiet in manic and stressful situations, so as to maintain as calm an environment as possible for the horses, preventing unnecessary stress and disruption for them.
- Keeping track of the running order/start times, time remaining before call-time, final preparations in the minutes before the horse enters the competition arena.
Dependant on the role some Competition Grooms may also be responsible for driving the lorry and organising the travel and stabling logistics for each event.
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What skills do Competition Grooms have?
Good Competition Grooms possess a variety of skills, some of which are common to all grooms…
- First and foremost you must take pride in your job and enjoy turning out to an exceptionally high standard. Going the extra mile with quarter marks, chalking, perfect plaits, baby oil and gleaming tack will make you into a ‘Super Groom’.
- A dab hand at pulling manes and tails, with an eye for when it needs doing way before their rider needs to mention it.
- Organisational skills that could put Buckingham palace to shame.
- The initiative to think of absolutely everything. A competition supergroom will pre-empt a need and fulfill it before the need even arises.
- First aid skills and a good knowledge of each horses’ vital signs – it is primarily the Competition Groom’s responsibility to ensure happy, healthy horses throughout, and be the first to spot and deal with any injuries or health issues that may arise.
- Excellent time keeping skills to keep the day running smoothly and allow the rider to concentrate without worry.
- Feel confident mixing with new people or happy in their own company for long periods away from home.
- A happy, smiley disposition for dealing with owners and providing a professional front for their rider.
- In an ideal world, a lorry licence – their HGV Class 1 or at least HGV Class 2 licence.
- The ability to multitask, at high speed, like a ninja.
What are the Highs and Lows of working as a Competition Groom?
Ironically many of the things that make this job a good one are also what makes it’s a challenge at times. The best bet is to consider both sides carefully and decide what weighs in favour for you.
- The chance to travel extensively around the UK, Europe and often even further. The added bonus of this being the opportunity to escape the British Winter!
- Being able to create a stronger bond with just one or a few horses, giving the individual care we all wish we could bestow on them all, all the time.
- Free entry to all the big shows! Hobnobbing with names you used to idolise as a horse mad teen.
- The social life, big multi day events notoriously have great parties and grooms will often form close friendships quickly. Going to shows soon becomes a chance to catch up with all your friends.
- Following your horses progress and being part of their journey as they ride up the ranks.
- The opportunity to win grooms’ awards and best turned out awards at shows.
- The incredible high of being part of the winning team.
- Spending most of your life living out of a suitcase far away from your family, partner and home friends.
- Often copping the bad end of your rider’s temper when their day goes badly or they are simply stressed/nervous and on edge – thick skin needed!
- The disappointment you feel yourself when the horse and rider don’t perform to their full potential.
- Spending long hours bored sat on motorways, particularly if you are the driver.
- The days are often long and tiring. It’s nothing to be bedding down and settling horses in, or packing everything up to leave in the early hours of the morning.
- Days off can become irregular or even distant memories if you are away for long stretches at International events.
- It can be a high pressured job having sole responsibility for often very valuable horses at high profile events – there really is no room for error. Being in the right place, at the right time, with the right kit suddenly becomes of extreme importance when your horse is lined up to win Badminton!
Getting an insight
“I find being a Competition Groom so rewarding! It’s awesome seeing the horses at their best and I feel so proud watching them do their thing. I’ve just spent 4 weeks in Spain at the Sunshine Tour and what an experience it was, surrounded by amazing horses, riders and grooms. What a way to travel the world!”
by Samantha Ritchie, Eventing Groom currently on the Sunshine Tour in Spain
“The benefits of being a Competition Groom are many but I particularly enjoy being able to see the finished product – the horse in the ring, doing the job you prepared him for. Plus it’s always nice to have a day out with the horses away from home and catch up with friends on the circuit.”
by Tom Gawler, Dressage Groom
Multi-discipline Competition Groom Lizzy Newsome shared some specific highlights, talking about how the pride comes not only from watching the horse do well but the rider too when you have developed a good relationship with the whole of the partnership…
“My highlights would be watching Darcy do his music test in Holland with Susanna knowing all the hours that had gone into preparing for that moment, the memory still brings a tear to my eye. Watching a young rider I worked for bossing the first two phases in Portugal to win a sliver medal for the team. At London 2012 watching Anthony Dawson and Marion Milne of the SA team I was the groom for trot down the centre line, being there when Rio and Sophie Christiansen (Grade 1a Para Dressage rider who we shared a UK base with) won triple Gold for GB.”
Finally some ever helpful words of advice from former Eventing Groom Beth Kearn…
“Always invest in some jeans that have back pockets…. you can never have enough pockets. Also SMILE, even if it’s raining!”
For an additional insight, watch an exclusive interview with Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Shanghai champion show jumper Harrie Smolders’ Competition Groom Alex Tyler-Morris, before Harrie’s emphatic win in China. By Global Champions Tour.
How much do Competition Grooms Earn?
There is no set rule on this as of course it will always depend on the experience and salary package required of each individual applicant. For an experienced groom you can confidently expect a wage of at least £350-£400 per week inc accommodation. A fully experienced elite Competition Groom can earn upwards of £500 a week.
In more recent years we have seen a rise in popularity of Freelance Show Grooms, particularly in Showjumping where a rider and groom can be on the road for weeks or even months at a time. For a very experienced show groom with a good name and references behind them this can certainly be a fun and lucrative lifestyle.
In some instances, competition groom jobs may provide a daily allowance for buying snacks and refreshments when away at shows. This isn’t to be expected and must be treated as a bonus.
So, is this the job for you?
The lives of full time Competition Grooms are varied and exciting. If you love getting out and about on the road, bonding closely with a few horses, busy days and the hustle and bustle of big shows then this really is the job for you. Nobody can deny this can be a life of immense lows when the horses and riders you inevitably form an emotional attachment too have bad days but these are always more than made up for by the immense highs of success when they come out on top! We have all seen the footage from the Olympics and the likes, of the tearful groom with the Cheshire cat grin watching from the sidelines as her pride and joy completes their lap of honour. Moments like that, no matter how big or small the competition will always make the job worthwhile.
How can I become a Competition Groom?
Apprenticeships are an excellent way to get your foot in the door and learn on the job. For those perhaps already a little further up the ladder in many competition yards there will be the chance to accompany a more experienced Competition Groom to one day shows when multiple horses are entered. Always show yourself to be keen and ask to be involved, and never be afraid to ask questions. Use any opportunity at events or whilst at home to practice the skills you may need to work on e.g. plaiting, clipping, bandaging, packing. Helpfulness and an eagerness to learn never goes unnoticed.
If you would like the opportunity to become a Competition Groom, you really do need to make sure you understand what is involved and can demonstrate from your existing role , all the skills and competencies we describe. Your references will need to reflect that too, and don’t be afraid to demonstrate some of them at an interview/trial or just take pictures with you of horses you have prepared for competitions/clipped etc. that is sure to impress! Or you could even add them to your CV/covering letter.
If you are currently a competition Groom and looking to change but worry that the competition world is so small. You really don’t want to end up in hot water so don’t be afraid to join the many that contact us at The Grooms List by Caroline Carter Recruitment direct for equine careers advice. We often have unadvertised competition groom jobs and rooms who can only be accessed via Caroline Carter herself and these are not in the public domain. Another reason for choosing a recruitment Agency with a wealth of experience and Career Recruiters at the front end of things! Check out The Grooms List or contact Caroline 0203 0065730/07747 686118 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.