Next in my series of a wonderful horse job: thoroughbred groom.
BACKGROUND: WHERE I WAS AND WHAT I WAS DOING
In the mid 1980s, I moved to Kamloops, British Columbia. Inland, about 200 miles from the coast. Ranch country. I struggled to find meaningful work there. Working in an egg grading station doesn’t require intellect. It was also where I met the hillbilly I dated for a few months.
It was time to get away from both!
APPLYING FOR A HORSE JOB
I started looking for work back down on the coast again. Back then there was no Internet to do job searches. People applied for jobs by walking in to a company and filling out a job application or dropping off a resume. We also scoured the newspaper’s classified ads for job openings. That usually meant sending off a resume and cover letter to a mailbox the newspaper rented to the person who placed the ad.
I spotted what look like a dream job for me: live in help on a horse farm! Sounds perfect if you’re a horse loving woman who is looking for work and a place to live.
MORE DETAILS ON THE HORSE JOB
I got a call from Alice (not her real name) who told me more about the position. She lived on a small acreage in Langley with her husband and about a dozen Thoroughbred horses.
Alice had a few things going on with the horses. She had a trainer’s license for Thoroughbred racehorses and owned two horses who had raced the previous season and were in training to race again in the spring when Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver opened for the season.
Three horses were two-year-olds and in training to start racing that year.
Two horses were dressage horses, though they’d formerly been racehorses. Alice had an instructor who came out and taught dressage in the arena on her property.
Two more horses were broodmares, both in foal, and ready to deliver in the spring.
The horse job involved the usual barn chores like cleaning stalls, feeding, turning in and out of the paddocks. Brushing horses, tacking them up for Alice to ride, and sometimes riding with her. I would also be accompanying her to the racetrack for training, qualifying, and races. There was also some gardening work and painting involved, but the job was mostly horse care.
AUDITIONING FOR A HORSE JOB
Alice invited me to work with her for a day that I’d be paid for whether or not I got a job offer. It was mostly to see how I handled horses and how we got along because we’d be working closely together.
I mucked out stalls, brushed horses, saddled horses, watched Alice work her younger horses (always good to have a spotter with youngsters!), and then we took the two racehorses out for a ride.
Alice told me she’d had over 200 applicants for the job! And that’s amazing when you think this was back in the days where you sent in an application by mail. Good old slap a stamp on an envelope. She said she rejected half the applicants because they were men.
This is the tricky thing. She can’t discriminate in a job ad for male or female preference. However, due to the job being partly companion, an employer can specify preference.
Anyway, Alice told me she had one more applicant she was trying out for the day, just like with me, and she’d make a decision by the end of the week.
And yay me – I got the call!
Remember where the ad said this would be a live-in job?
Alice had recently built a four stall horse barn, the kind where the horses can poke their heads over the doors and look around outside.
At the backside of this barn was a covered round pen. At the end of the stalls was the suite.
I first mentioned this loft apartment in my post Cooking in a Small Kitchen aka Kitchenette.
It was brand new and I was the first person to live in this suite. Open the door and walk straight into a small living room with a couch and an end table. There was a full bathroom on the left side. At the end of the room was a kitchenette with a full sized fridge, a sink, and a toaster oven. I think there was a hot plate, too. A ladder led to a loft bedroom on top of the bathroom and kitchenette, overlooking the living room.
I had negotiated to bring my horse, Mark, with me, and his stall was next to my front door. Yes, that Standardbred stuck out on a farm of Thoroughbred horses!
WORKING AS A THOROUGHBRED HORSE GROOM
The day’s routine was pretty much the same. Feed the horses breakfast, muck out stalls and paddocks, feed lunch, and later on feed dinner.
Alice worked with the youngsters or galloped the older Thoroughbreds around a third of a mile training track she had created in one of the pastures. Sometimes I would join her on a ride down the road.
As we got closer to the racetrack opening for the summer meet, we would trailer the horses in to Hastings Park and a jockey or exercise rider would take them around the track to get qualifying times.
It was definitely an education in racetrack life, and I had it lucky. I lived 45 minutes away on a nice farm. My day started at 7am and I had a nice place to live right where I worked.
Being in Vancouver, Hastings Racecourse attracts a lot of transients. Some of them not so nice. People with alcohol and drug addictions are all over the back stretch of the racetrack.
Women working at the racetrack are probably there because they love horses. Men are working there because they can’t get a job anywhere else, probably due to their addiction issues.
HOW TO GET A HORSE JOB AS A THOROUGHBRED GROOM
When it comes to finding work as a Thoroughbred groom, I think we can safely rule out the way it happened for me – responding to a classified ad in the newspaper!
In fact these days in the Greater Vancouver Area, it’s very hard to find horse properties with a training track. All the available farmland is being gobbled up by developers turning them into condos and industrial parks.
It’s possible you might find a job on Indeed or Craigslist. In the search bar, type in horse, groom, Thoroughbred singularly or in a combination. If you’re looking for a live in job, type that in too.
Your best chance of getting a horse job as a Thoroughbred groom is going to the racetrack and walking around the barn area and talking to people. Eventually someone will know who is hiring. If the racetrack has security guards watching the gate, you can ask the guard. I’ve often heard security announce over the P.A. system that a groom looking for work is at the gate. Come and claim a groom!
Sometimes security will let you go over the administrative office or restaurant where there’s a cork board so you can post an ad that you’re looking for work.
There’s a website called Yard and Groom that bills itself as the world’s #1 horse jobs site.
When all else fails, just try a good old Google search. You never know where your dream horse job is hiding!
QUALIFICATIONS FOR HORSE JOB: THOROUGHBRED GROOM
Do you need to know how to ride a horse to get a job as a Thoroughbred groom?
Depending on the employer, especially if you work at the racetrack, riding experience might not be necessary. At the racetrack, the only people riding horses around the track are jockeys, exercise riders, outriders, and some trainers. All of which require experience and getting licensed by the track to do that work.
As I outlined above, a groom’s job is primarily horse care: cleaning stalls, brushing and washing horses, feeding, saddling, and walking horses to cool them down after they’ve been ridden around the track. And that’s only if you work for a small stable. Trainers with large stables hire hot walkers whose primary job is to walk the horses when they come in off the track.
You need to be physically capable of handling a shovel, pitchfork, and wheelbarrow. In all weather conditions. Some places in North America see frigid winters and hot summers. You need to be strong enough to hand walk a horse. I’ve seen a few Thoroughbred horses rear up and break away from their handler. Then everyone in the barn is yelling: “Loose horse!”
You don’t want to be that person whose horse got away from them!
You need to get by on little sleep. The racetrack in Vancouver opens at 5:30am and closes at 9am, or at least it did back in the days when I was there. Most racetracks around the country probably have similar hours. There’s only a small time frame when horses are allowed on the track for exercise.
That means getting up very early in the morning.
If the trainer you work for has a horse racing that night, and you’re scheduled, you have to come back to the track later on. Assuming you went home after you finished the morning horse chores. If the horse is in the last race, you might be working till past midnight.
WHAT ABOUT RIDING?
Unless you work for a small stable like I did, chances are unlikely that you will be riding Thoroughbred racehorses as part of your job duties.
Thoroughbreds are bred for one reason only: to run fast.
It is very difficult to ride a horse at a full out gallop for any length of time. And stay on the horse!
It takes a lot of training and learning under an experienced trainer to properly ride a Thoroughbred racehorse.
When I rode Alice’s Thoroughbred racehorses it was only at a walk and a trot. Sometimes at a canter, and always in company with her. She had somewhat of a different training program than other Thoroughbred trainers. She gave the horses all kinds of experience on the road and equestrian trails, something different to do every day. They spent most of their time outside in paddocks.
Thoroughbred racehorses stabled at the track are inside their stall all day except for thirty minutes or so when they come out to exercise a couple of times around the track, and then are walked around the barn by their groom until they’ve cooled down.
Unless you’re a qualified and licensed exercise rider, it’s unlikely you’ll be riding a Thoroughbred racehorse. It’s possible to find work with a trainer who’s willing to show you the ropes and teach you how to be an exercise rider.
But it’s rare.
Especially if you’re a woman.
The racing industry is still very much a good old boy’s club. It’s very difficult for a woman to get ahead.
WHAT’S THE PAY FOR A HORSE JOB: THOROUGHBRED GROOM?
So this is the big question. Show me the money! How much does a Thoroughbred groom make?
Let’s start with me. And remember this was 35 years ago! I think I made around $600/month plus I got a free place to live.
Back then minimum wage was around $4/hour. Let’s fast forward a few decades and it appears grooms are still barely eking out a living at around minimum wage. A free place to live is not usually included!
According to The Balance Careers, grooms make between $10 and $15 and hour.
Zippia says the average groom earns $27,000/year, or roughly $13.30/hour. The lower end of the spectrum is $19,000/year, while top grooms can earn $39,000/year. States that pay the highest groom salaries are Hawaii, New York, California, Alaska, and Rhode Island. The last two states surprised me!
A groom can also earn a little extra money in the form of tips from the horse owner or trainer if the horse runs well in the race. Keeping in mind, only one horse will win the race.
If you haven’t already figured it out, let me sum it up. Working as a Thoroughbred groom means long hours at little pay.
WHAT HAPPENED TO MY THOROUGHBRED GROOM JOB?
One would think my job working with horses as a Thoroughbred groom was a dream come true and a job for life.
And for the most part, I did enjoy the work, and I recognized that I had it a lot better than Thoroughbred grooms who work at the racetrack.
A few months after I started working for Alice, she and her husband bought a much larger property about half an hour away to turn into their dream equestrian estate.
Once again, they built a barn and living accommodations for a groom.
I would have moved with them, but all of a sudden my horse, Mark, was not allowed to move to the new property.
Like what the hell?
That was one of the things we agreed upon when I took the job, that Mark could live there, too. I paid all Mark’s expenses and did all the work. And Mark was a quiet horse who never caused any problems. I was supposed to board him somewhere else at great expense on a meager groom salary?
That was really petty. Everyone I talked to agreed with me.
Especially, as you might have guessed, I was working for wealthy people.
After working for a year I quit, and Alice hired a new groom.
She quit two months later.
Being a Thoroughbred groom isn’t a job everyone can do, no matter how much you love horses.
HAVE YOU WORKED AS A THOROUGHBRED GROOM?
Many people who find work as a Thoroughbred groom probably already had horse experience. Trainers will work with experienced horse people who might not necessarily have horse racing experience.
Believe it or not, there are schools and programs out there who teach students how to be racehorse grooms.
Olds College in Alberta runs a professional racetrack groom course. It costs $1,000 (yes that’s Canadian dollars!) and runs 4 months, with the last 6 weeks in a practicum with real racehorse trainers. It sounds like there’s a good chance of immediately finding paid employment with this course.
You can do an Internet search for racehorse groom classes. Expect to travel to Kentucky or California to find schools for racehorse grooms.
Have you ever worked as a Thoroughbred groom?
Are you planning to look for a job as a Thoroughbred groom? Let us know how it goes!
Published by Cheryl @ The Lifestyle Digs on June 14, 2021.