When you watch an international-level horse competing, you may only see the horse and rider working together as they strive for the blue ribbon. You also see the immaculate turn-out of the horse, from his glossy coat to his perfect braids. While you can appreciate the handiwork of the horse groom, chances are you might not think about them as a part of the horse's performance.
Liv Gude, creator of Professional Equine Grooms, wants to change that. Her new organization and website seek to inform and educate the horse world about professional equine grooms while providing ample resources for the grooms themselves. Read on to find out what the job of a horse groom is all about and to learn more about the mission of Professional Equine Grooms.
EquiSearch: Can you describe a typical day in the life of a professional horse groom?
Liv Gude: A typical day starts before most folks are out of bed. We're feeding, giving grain, changing water buckets, mucking stalls, sweeping and other typical barn-chore types of things. Then, the horses are ready to go, either for a ride, a handwalk/treadmill/exerciser or turnout. Either way, a professional groom will make sure of the following things--that the horse drank appropriately, ate well, and that their manure and urine is normal in volume and consistency.? The professional groom will also make sure all hooves are cleaned, all shoes are secure, the legs are normal and without heat, swelling, or anything abnormal, and the horse's temperature is normal. This is all before you even pick up a brush. Each horse is groomed as if it's going to the Olympics, except for maybe braids. There are no shortcuts. Horses are tacked up or booted for their activity in the morning. Care is taken during the grooming process to notice how they are feeling and acting. Is anything weird?
By now you should realize that a groom spends about 1% of the day actually grooming.
After the first round of getting all of the horses out, it's usually time for lunch, which of course involves all of the same attention to detail as the morning. Chores are repeated (Think shampoo bottle directions:? lather, rinse, repeat, only muck, feed, repeat!).
Now it's time for all of the horses to get out again, either for riding or turnout/walking. And don't forget the evening chores and feedings! Don't worry about timing of the chores--there's always a horse in the barn that will let you know when dinner is.
Now--in between all of this--there are always "extra" things to do on the farm such as fixing fence, clipping ears and legs, laundry, making grain, arena dragging, raking leaves, scooping manure from paddocks, pathways and arena, tractor repair, loading/unloading hay, helping with the vet or farrier?the list is quite extensive. I've always liked the "extra" list since it breaks up the day and changes the pace a bit.
Some barns also have a "night check" that is done later in the evening to check on everyone and maybe even to do one more feeding of hay.
The bottom line is that a professional groom spends the vast majority of the day making sure the barn runs well and on time, and of course the horses are taken care of.? The top priority of a professional groom is the health and welfare of the horses and knowing each and every one of them like the back of your hand. This includes their personalities and every inch of their bodies. Any change in behavior, eating, digestion, or how their bodies feel is noted and reported. You may even catch yourself saying, "Oh my goodness! This tiny, tiny little bump was not there yesterday!"
EquiSearch: What are the most challenging parts of the job?
Liv Gude: The challenging parts of the job are usually the physical aspects. You will spend many, many hours on your feet. You will unload hay.? (If you are so unlucky as to unload 3-string bales, it's really heavy.)? You will walk until you feel like you can't walk anymore. You will sweep and muck and lift and bend over repeatedly. Eventually, you will not care who you bend over in front of.? You will also get really fit--really strong--and you will find yourself flexing your arms in the mirror, because they will be spectacular.? All of your friends will envy your bikini body at the same time they are making fun of your farmer tan (oh well!).
EquiSearch: What are the most rewarding parts of the job?
Liv Gude: Hands down, it's watching your horse in the start box or going down centerline or heading down the homestretch knowing that YOU helped make that happen.? And don't they look fantastic doing it!
EquiSearch: What does it take to be a successful equine groom?
Liv Gude: You must be dedicated. You must want it. You must go above and beyond, and you must never ever think you know it all. You must also want to learn more, want to ask questions, want to read everything about horses, want to gain knowledge. And you must be able to juggle many, many things in the air. Most importantly, you must never think that this job, or any part of it, is beneath you. I have mucked stalls next to sponsors. I have taken shifts with Olympians to get up and check on horses. If it's not beneath them, it's not beneath you.
EquiSearch: What is Professional Equine Grooms?
Liv Gude: Professional Equine Grooms is the resource for all things grooming. It's in the infant stage now, but I have so many visions for where it will go. It will be the site for all things grooming, grooms in the news, jobs for grooms, and resources for grooms. I'm here to support the profession and those that work in it and with it.
EquiSearch: What is the mission of Professional Equine Grooms?
Liv Gude: The mission is to acknowledge professional equine grooms as skilled individuals in their respective discipline, to create a community for professional equine grooms that supports their short- and long-term career needs, to assist professional equine grooms in creating a well-respected and skilled professional profile and to take professional equine grooms from the background and put them in the spotlight.
And, in the process, Professional Equine Grooms strives to help the everyday horse owner become a little bit more educated about horse care, to help the trainer or vet or farrier or barn owner find an employee and to create a place of grooming knowledge--for everyone.
EquiSearch: What motivated you to create Professional Equine Grooms?
Liv Gude: I knew I wanted to do "something." I knew I wanted to be my own boss and have my own gig, so to speak. I also knew I wanted to make my mark on the horse world somehow. A dear friend of mine told me that I would "change the world" with this idea. That was several years ago, when I was still kicking it around. Now I know she was right.? (Good thing I didn't bet her any money!)
This is not an idea that came to be and then "ta-dah." It was picked up and put down several times. I hemmed and hawed. I wrote a business plan. That took months. I did market research. My results of the research said "abandon ship." Statistically relevant data said "get out, don't waste time." So I put the idea on hold, and the fledgling Facebook page was ignored for months and months. Then I logged on to the Facebook page to shut it down. But it had grown, and grown a lot. So I decided to use that as a testing vehicle, which now needs a speeding ticket--so along came the website and now here we are.?
EquiSearch: Tell us your favorite groom ?blooper!'
Liv Gude: It's short and sweet and horrible all at the same time. I split my pants in front of an Olympic dressage rider AND his sponsors as I was picking their medal-winning horse's feet. (Awesome. I was kindly handed some duct tape from a fellow stablemate.)
EquiSearch asked our Facebook fans for some more questions to ask Liv. Read on for the great grooming tips Liv provides for our Facebook fans! To join the EquiSearch community on Facebook, go to our Facebook page.
Facebook Question: Do you apply hoof dressings on a regular basis and if so, how often?
Liv Gude: I use hoof dressing before a ride. It helps the footing "slide" off and presents a polished horse. I also apply hoof dressing before getting the horse wet. It prevents water from getting in the nail holes and causing an expansion/contraction effect around the nails and loosening them. Some trainers have their own guidelines about hoof dressings, so be sure to follow what your trainer/employer likes. For me personally, I like to use a paste dressing versus one that drips--for that very reason, the drips. The need for hoof dressing will also vary according to climate.? Check with your farrier to see what he suggests for your corner of horse heaven.
Facebook Question: Do you regularly clean udders and sheaths or do you have the vets do it? Is this done on a regular schedule or as needed?
Liv Gude: For my own horses, this is something that I do on the "as-needed" basis. It's very easy, and one of my horses actually will fall asleep if I do this. Many moons ago, I had my vet supervise me and teach me how to do it so that I knew what to do and what to look for. It's important for sensitive treatments like this to be taught by an expert hands-on, especially when dealing with "beans" around the urethra.
For horses in my care, I will do this also on an "as-needed" basis.? For horses that would rather kick your head off than allow you to do this, I wait for the vet to be doing another treatment with sedation and then tackle it. This is also a good time to get the beans. Some horses are great with the sheath but really need sedation to get those beans.
Facebook Question: How do you keep white leg markings looking stain-free?
Liv Gude: This is a multi-step process that will need some experimentation for every different horse.? Think of it as a marathon, not a sprint. Keep your horse's bedding clean. This is not only sanitary and better for overall health, it also helps keep the stains away.
I also would suggest clipping the leg hair below knee and hock. This will remove any existing stains, and new ones that pop up are easily sprayed off.
Keep the coat on your horse oily with natural oils, if you can. I have a gray horse with white stockings who likes to use "poop as a pillow." He's a groom's bad dream. He gets touched with shampoo about every 4 weeks. Since I let the oils build up, the stains slide off with a curry, followed by a damp washcloth. The downside to this is that he's not blinding white.
I know that many horses out there can't go 4 weeks between shampoos and that's OK too. Spend the time and elbow grease with a curry comb and find a product that you like to use to make the hair slick. This will help.
Blueing shampoos will work also. There are a lot of super ones out there. Overuse will dry and irritate your horse's skin, so be alert to this. I prefer to use them only for shows.
Facebook Question: Do you spend time in the saddle? How much?
Liv Gude: I am lucky enough to spend time in the saddle. I have two horses of my own, so riding them is my hobby and down time and recharge and what really makes all of my working pay off. I have also, in the past, done some catch riding. Of course, sometimes you get to ride the really famous horse you groom. When that happens, you make darn sure someone has a camera.
Facebook Question: What does it mean to be a professional groom?
Liv Gude: For me, it means being OK with being behind the scenes. It also means the unbelievable opportunity to work around folks that can give you amazing knowledge. I have learned more from vets, farriers, saddle fitters, massage therapists and trainers than you could possibly imagine. (OK, OK?.You got me. You can also get the chance to rub elbows with some pretty awesome folks.)
Facebook Question: Does it pay well?
Liv Gude: That depends on your definition of "well." This speaks to one of the inconsistent things about the horse industry as a whole. It's darn impossible to find out what the industry average is for a groom as we can be put into so many categories as far as the Bureau of Labor and Statistics is concerned. (Trust me: ?I have spent countless hours on this very subject with nothing concrete to speak of.) Add to that the large number of grooms paid under the table, and you have squat. If you want to talk just plain dollars, it's not a lot.
What you do have are perks, and sometimes some really great perks, like lessons, or an apartment, or bills paid. You get an equine education like none other, travel (sometimes international travel) and great parties at horse shows (and by great I really mean GREAT). You can't put a price on that.?
Facebook Question: Is it a highly sought-after skill?
Liv Gude: Today, I would answer this question with "let's hope so." In a year, I want to answer this question with "Darn straight!"
Facebook Question: Are there schools for it or does one learn by apprenticeship?
Liv Gude: Super question. I have only come across two schools for grooming. One is a non-profit that travels to racetracks across the country giving hands on training and certification. The other is an online campus.
I learned through years of lessons, which included grooming and horsemanship, having my own horses, and on-the-job training. I'll never forget my first day officially as a groom. The other guys I was working with asked me if I had ever groomed as a job.? I said "no, but don't worry, I can run with the big dogs." To this day if I see one of them, this story comes up.
Liv Gude began grooming professionally in 2006 and has groomed for Olympic riders Guenter Seidel and Sue Blinks. She is now the property manager for the farm of an Olympic rider. She has ridden in a variety of disciplines, including hunters, jumpers, cutting, reining and dressage. Liv is now based in San Diego, California, and owns two horses.