Equine Careers: What are Dressage Grooms and Dressage Groom Jobs?
With career experience comes increased job options. Who doesn’t want to:
- Have more jobs to choose from
- Maximise earning potential
A breadth of experience, especially when you combine this with a logical “career story”, longevity in your roles and good references from each of your jobs is fab for your shop window which is your CV or your advertising if you are a freelance Groom.
When you work “inside” the equestrian industry there is jargon (terms, job titles and job content etc) which we inherently understand and therefore take for granted that others will know what it all means too. If you are starting out, or you are considering a different discipline within the industry as one of your career options, sometimes it is good to have a more in-depth insight to help with your choices and to demystify some of this jargon.
This week Emily explains the role of Dressage Grooms.
What are Dressage Grooms and what does the job entail?
by Emily Taylor
For most of us, certain horse sports are of particular interest whether we have competed ourselves or merely enjoy following the sport at shows and on TV, but for career grooms it often provides a career pathway in which the groom can become specialised. As we light-heartedly discuss in our article Which Equine Disciplines Reflect Your Character?, working in equestrian sport (as opposed to a riding school or livery yard) is very much dependant on personal choice – “horses for courses”, you might say. In order to become a successful, professional groom you must genuinely appreciate, if not love the discipline you are devoting your working life to. If you don’t, it inevitably shows sooner rather than later and really guys, isn’t life too short to do something you don’t truly enjoy, at least some of the time?
Those of us lucky enough to have had the opportunity to partake in our favourite equine disciplines will have a fairly good idea of what the role of dressage grooms might entail, if only the basics and not at top level, but for others less fortunate who are confined to the porthole view provided by TV, magazines and the internet, in this article we take a look at the role of the dressage groom…
What do Dressage Grooms do?
Dressage grooms know and cater for the specific needs of horses and riders who train and compete at pure dressage (not as part of 1 or 3 day eventing). The physical and mental requirements of sport horses training and competing at various disciplines do differ, so dressage grooms must know and understand those specific to the dressage horse. In addition to the usual daily yard duties dressage grooms will:
- understand the mental pressures and needs of dressage horses and riders/owners (most of us have heard it referred to as “stressage”!) and be capable of handling high powered performance horses
- more often than not be able to exercise dressage horses from the ground, for example, lunging, long-reining and/or free schooling
- understand feeding regimes
- have reasonable-good knowledge of the horse’s anatomy and know basic first aid, especially in relation to injuries common to dressage horses
- know how to warm up and cool off dressage horses to maintain their health and fitness before and after performing physically challenging gymnastic movements
- know the daily routine and understand the reasons behind the management of dressage horses
- understand the purpose of equipment commonly used by dressage horses and riders, for example, “dressage legal” bits, reins, popular training aids etc
- perform regular maintenance of tack and equipment commonly used by dressage horses and riders
- be able to turn horses out for shows to an exceptionally high standard
- be fastidiously tidy!
- in some yards you may be required to drive a trailer, a 3.5t horsebox or HGV horse lorry
- if doing a spot of competition grooming, know the routine of a trip out to a dressage competition and the assistance and support your horse/s and rider/s require at the show
- sometimes stay away for several nights or longer, and even travel abroad for training and competitions
Who do dressage grooms work with?
Dressage grooms work with the same equine professionals as most other disciplines, which will include but is not limited to:
- Head Groom/Manager
- The horses’ riders
- The horses’ owners
- Resident and visiting trainers
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Who can become a Dressage Groom?
As with all equine jobs, dressage groom jobs will differ depending on the size and performance level of the individual dressage yard. In most cases, anyone with experience of general grooming can join an established team as on a dressage yard, and you may find job openings for trainees and apprentice dressage grooms. Set up Job Alerts on The Grooms List and receive notification when dressage groom jobs are available in your chosen location.
What equipment do Dressage Grooms use?
Dressage grooms use much of the equipment used within other equestrian disciplines:
- horse walkers
- massage pads (e.g. Equissage equipment)
- training aids
- wash boxes
- equipment for show turnout, e.g plaiting kits, chalk, quarter markers etc.
Depending on the size and type of dressage yard, dressage grooms may also use machinery and less common equipment as part of their daily/weekly job. These might include:
- quad bikes
- tractors and trailers
- dumper trucks
- harrows and rollers
- paddock vacuum cleaners or sweepers (poo-picking machines)
- leaf blowers/vacuums
- equine spa
- equine treadmill
What are the highs and lows of working as a dressage groom?
As with all equine jobs, dressage groom jobs have their share of highs and lows and you need to be mindful of these when making this choice of career pathway:
- You could find yourself working sole charge or within a close-knit team
- Dressage yards are typically very neat and tidy, and form a nice environment to work within
- Dressage horses are usually very well trained and mannered in their demeanour these days.
- If you are lucky you may get the chance to ride some really super, highly trained horses that you wouldn’t ordinarily have the chance to experience
- Although the opportunity to ride can never be taken as a given, quite often you will get training on well-schooled dressage horses, as it is in the rider’s/owner’s best interest to have you exercising and riding their horses as close as possible to their high standards
- Seeing the horses you care for perform and compete with such power and grace is something that simply never gets old!
- Dressage yards are typically very neat and tidy, so at first you may find it a lot of pressure to maintain the high standards of the more experienced dressage grooms
- Due to the highly tuned training of top dressage competition horses you may find that you DON’T get the chance to ride much, if at all.
- In some dressage yards, but by no means all, the horses can be kept in quite a contained environment, with limited turnout and a lot of confinement in order to preserve the soundness of the performance horses. The dressage industry is seeing an increasing number of yards allowing their performance horses to live out, hack out and play with some jumps in the school, but you do need to take each dressage yard as it comes. It’s a very good idea to arrange a job trial before comitting to a long term job, as you will not enjoy working for someone whose methods do not align with your own. If you start and promptly leave permanent jobs you will not be able to maintain job longevity and you risk harming your equine CV.
- As is the case when working in any high performance yard, things can get a little heated at times and you may find yourself feeling that you’re in the firing line, particularly at shows. Unfortunately, this is,to a certain extent part and parcel of working in such environments, but no one needs to feel abused. If you do, there is a way to professionally tackle this and we are happy to advise so do contact us but of course, that’s a whole other subject!
- As with any competition horse (or any horse for that matter), accidents and injuries do happen, and you may find yourself looking after fractious, frustrated performance horses who are “out of action” at various times throughout your career.
How much do Dressage Grooms earn?
When starting out it isn’t unreasonable to expect the National Minimum Wage, with or without accommodation, but experienced dressage grooms can earn up to £24k-£26k pa or more, plus accommodation. Of course having your HGV license will seriously increase your earning potential.
Getting an insight
At the Rio Olympic Games in 2016 EquestrianTeamGBR chatted to Claire Hinton, groom to dressage rider Spencer Wilton, about her role as an Olympic level dressage groom…
You don’t need qualifications to work as a dressage groom, but when starting out in your first dressage job it is a very good idea to ensure you receive structured training and are not left to simply learn from your mistakes over the first few weeks and months. If you would rather gain formal qualifications you can do so via an appropriate local college, or even become an apprentice dressage groom so you can learn and gain qualifications “on the job”. You can complete the Sporting Excellence Study Programme through British Dressage (BD) and complete an equine apprenticeship course specialising in dressage performance horses. As you can imagine, the course focusses on grooms becoming specialised in top-level dressage competition. You can read more about equine apprenticeships here and you can read more about a career as a competition groom here.
If you would like assistance and/or advice regarding finding staff or work in the equine stud industry please don’t hesitate to contact us. We are specialists in equine careers and equine recruitment.