3 Tips for a Grand Prix Groom

Written by Rachael Wilkerson
Grooming for several top Grand Prix riders in the last few years has left me with several important tips that I would like to share. I’m sure you know how to care for the horses and will do a splendid job of keeping them at their best and you obviously have a love for them, otherwise you would be smart and get a job that not only has better hours and pay, but the tendency to make you less crazy rather than more, as the years go on.

The tips I have to offer, having worked the circuits from Ocala to WEF to Spruce Meadows, are for the duties they do not tell you about until after you have started work . You are an important part of the team in ensuing the well-being of the horses, yes, but what you won ‘t know is how much you will also be caring for your rider. They are amazingly skilled and have all the ability in the world to run their business smoothly and keep their customers’ happy but sometimes this cancels out the ability to take care of themselves. That is where my unusual but equally important knowledge may help you retain what small amount of sanity you have left from disappearing.

Tip 1: Learn to be the most organized person you can be. The rider you will be working for will not. Therefore you will become the keeper of the car keys, the holder of the cell phone (and radio a d gum and lose change and whatever else they might have in their pockets after they get on the horse), the knower of where exactly the show jacket, the boots, the whip, the spurs, and most importantly where that next horse they are riding is at all times. And when your rider has driven off without her ill-mannered, 85 pound, giant of a dog for the 3rd time this week , you must be able to track your rider down and try to reunite with them to return said dog.

Tip 2: Always be prepared when you leave the barn to go to the ring. Yes your barn has several ring bags filled with the majority of the equipment you will be needing, but it never fails that when you are in a hurry and have to bring the most difficult horse you have to handle up there, all of these coveted bags will be being used by the other groom you work with. Put your safely pin for removing the stud-fillers attached to your belt loop in the front and then your radio clipped to your belt in the back. You can fill your front pockets with the horse’s studs (right pocket for the back studs, left for the front , although you mustn’t forget which is which) . Wrench for said studs can go in a back pocket with enough room left over for your cell, and your other rear pocket can hold any other equipment ( including but not limited to hoof picks, horse treats, hind boots, rider’s spurs, and a small bible if needed).

As you get up to the ring after wrestling your aforementioned mount past the strange looking patch of wetness on the pavement, away from the cute girl on the small pony that he would like to eat, and turning to avoid the scooter mounted enemy flying by you will indeed look very much like a ring bag. Covered in dust and grime with a few stains on your clothes, your horse’s lead line wrapped banderho style around your front, pockets brimming with any possible equipment that could be needed, you will also have the satisfaction of putting your rider on their mount and taking a deep breath going in to the warm up ring to set jumps knowing you are fully prepared for whatever may come up before your rider goes into their class.
Tip 3: As you learn how to properly and legally set jumps in the schooling area, you will also need to be able to do several things, but whatever they are you must be able to them fast! First you must learn to decipher your particular rider’s way of telling you what kind of jump they want. If it’s all done with hand motions them you must keep eagle eyes on your rider at all times and be ready to move quickly out of the way. They do not talk much so you may find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to dive for cover before their horse leaves the ground. If you have a mumbler you must try to learn lip-reading. At least for the particular words your rider will be using. I’ve found that their instructions are usually said when their back is turned to you so learn how they break for a moment before jumping again. It might be coming to the trot or walk, it might be bring their horse in to a more controlled frame for a minute and then returning to the jump, but again speed is off the essence. You will not hear their call of heads-up so as you are setting your new height be sure to keep sneaking peaks at your rider to make sure you are not about to be flattened. Also don’t hesitate to ask them to repeat themselves because they want you to do it right, but you must ask right away before they are halfway across the ring. I know that you have learned how to pick their voice out of a crowd of 200 with your eyes closed but it is not the same for them. Secondly you must be aggressive! The other grooms (especially the older more experienced ones) know all the tricks in the book for innocently stealing the jump you were claiming for your rider. And you only have yourself to blame as will your rider if you let it happen.
A quick elbow jab or two as well as some well timed assertive behavior usually does the trick, but don’t be afraid to take note from protesters and hug the jump for all it’s worth refusing to get out of the way for anyone but your rider. Pretending you don’t speak English and can’t understand anyone but your rider is also a way to go.