There are many good reasons to invest in expanding your groom’s skill set. For a start, he is the one spending the most time with your horse, some 10 (or more) hours a day. This intensive care can add to marginal gains in competition horses, adding a few percent to your marks or leaving more poles up, or can quite literally mean the difference between life and death in an emergency situation that relies on knowledge, experience and quick thinking. It’s too easy to complain about grooms, and quite another thing to take the responsibility of both educating and motivating them on, but we assure you, it will reap the rewards!
This month, HQ explores the education of grooms to become riders. Teach your groom to ride today and enjoy the benefits for years to come! We look at the pros, cons and realities of getting your groom off the ground and in the saddle.
To ride, or not to ride … not even a question
Many a horse owner has answered, “Hey, can I ride your horse?” with a sarcastic, “Sure, can I crash your car?” and many are reluctant to let their coach climb on board, let alone teach their groom to ride! So what are the pros and cons of embarking on this journey?
Ultimately, our grooms have a hard job. Riding – for those who want to – can be a huge added incentive to be committed and enthusiastic about their work, putting in the extra hours with heart and being personally invested in the horse’s success and wellbeing. Not only that, but it can lighten the workload if your groom can hack with you or even school your horse when you can’t make it.
The path to this level of expertise may be a long and difficult one, not to mention quite time-consuming. It may seem like just too much effort, but ultimately the benefits are there for everyone’s taking – mostly your horse’s. Not only will you and your groom grow a better relationship founded on a shared passion, but your horse can get more consistent exercise, taking pressure off you when work deadlines loom. Not to mention that your horse’s level of care is bound to improve with your groom’s increased knowledge and personal interest in ‘his’ horse!
Obviously the safety aspect must be prioritised. Riding is, and may we never forget it, a potentially dangerous sport. Even though grooms should be covered by workmen’s compensation and government hospitals are available, you need to think about your personal liability should something go wrong. Throw all the odds in your favour by starting the process as carefully as possible, but also consider putting your groom on a medical aid, such as offered through Arco360.
Teaching one groom to ride can also upset the hierarchy of perceived power within your staff structure, as it may be seen as favouritism or allowing one groom to do ‘fun’ stuff while others are working. You may want to conduct initial lessons in the groom’s free time, as he is building up a skill set, and once he is accomplished enough to ride to assist you, then he can do it within work hours. Either way, be sure to create a clear boundary between work and pleasure for the sake of your professional relationships within the yard.
Ready, set, go … and hang on!
Firstly, make sure your groom does actually want to ride. There is nothing worse than forcing someone to ride unwillingly, and accidents are more likely to happen. Secondly, you need the appropriate equipment. Second-hand shops are full of pre-loved helmets and boots, and maybe even a pair of breeches to prevent chafing, and if you own one you should lend your groom your body protector or air jacket as well, just to be safe.
The next most essential piece of equipment is undoubtedly a safe and sound schoolmaster to begin his riding career on. These horses are worth their weight in gold, and admittedly not always easy to find, so if you don’t have a suitable mount rather procure the services of a reliable riding school.
Those first few lessons are imperative for building confidence, finding one’s balance and gaining a basic skill set, which is well worth the money it will cost you. With this solid foundation in place progress is often exponential, so it is not an indefinite commitment.
Text: Georgina Roberts
Photography supplied via public submissions