Working with horses is a lifestyle choice and this is particularly prevalent in a groom’s career. Career opportunities are diverse, from working for professional riders or becoming a groom in a stud yard, to riding schools or managing an extensive equestrian business. Each groom will find a niche which suits them.
A groom is a broad term usually used when describing someone who rides and cares for horses professionally. Grooms must demonstrate knowledge and practical ability in many areas including; the management and handling of horses, horse health, conformation, anatomy and physiology, feeding, fittening, saddlery, shoeing, grassland management, and the highest levels of horse turnout. Although riding is normally required, there are opportunities for those who only wish to undertake the horse care aspects.
- Individuals passionate about a career in equine care, welfare and management
- Career opportunities which do not involve riding
- Careers in management of a wider equestrian business
A commercial groom will care for horses and ponies in a commercial environment such as a riding school/centre and livery yard (that offers full or part livery). This will likely to involve looking after a group of stabled or grass kept horses and general yard duties will be part of a typical day. You may also be required to groom and tack up the horses (particularly if you are at a riding centre) and may even help with riding lessons (leading horses, setting out equipment and jumps). You will also have responsibility for the vet, farrier and other appointments and records. If you are on a large yard or centre you will likely to be part of a team of grooms and this type of establishment will have opportunities for assistant grooms and head grooms or yard managers; depending on the level of experience and qualifications held.
This type of groom usually works for one rider or owner who competes at a high level in a particular discipline – namely eventing, dressage, show jumping, showing, hunting, racing and polo. Often a competition groom can be responsible for horses worth many thousands of pounds and their owners are, naturally, unwilling to entrust them to unskilled or untrained staff.
You are likely to need competition experience in the discipline yourself so you have an awareness of the member body rules and requirements (for instance, the tack and equipment allowed in the discipline). This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have competed yourself, but just have an interest and familiarity with the rules and regulations. A passion for the sport is also a must – as a show jumping groom you will watch a lot of show jumping rounds!
You will have a great eye for detail and be able to produce extremely high levels of turnout – plaiting and clipping skills are essential! You must also be able to work well under pressure in stressful situations and think on your feet. The types of horses you will care for will be of a very different nature to your usual riding school horses, very fit, possibly youngsters and stallions, so you need to be confident and have experience of dealing with these types of horses.
One of the main advantages of being a competition groom, particularly those that compete at a high level, are the international travelling opportunities this career can bring. You will have a varied role which often attracts extremely long working hours – particularly at a competition or when travelling overseas – however this often is outweighed by the experiences you will gain!
There will be little, if any, riding required for this type of groom and a sound level of horse care, handling and husbandry skills will be required. You should be knowledgeable in horse behaviour and have experience with handling a variety of horses as you may be dealing with horses that are in pain, on box rest, or healthy stallions - being able to read their behaviour and predict their actions will be paramount to your success in this career.
You should also be prepared for shift work, including nights, as horses at these types of yard may need twenty-four hour care. You may also find yourself in distressing or upsetting situations so a professional manner and good communication skills are an essential with both customers and colleagues. This type of work may not be for the squeamish as you will be assisting with foaling, wound management and possibly be present during surgery if at an equine hospital.
A detailed knowledge of anatomy and physiology, breeding, nutrition, fittening programmes and conformation will also be required for this role as you may need to consult with vets or other professionals about the horses under your care. All of these areas are covered as part of the BHS Groom Pathway.
This covers a range of careers which fall under yard management but generally include; Head Groom, Senior Groom, Equine Yard Manager, Riding Centre Manager and Livery Yard Manager. There are many types of yard or centre that would fall under the general equine yard umbrella including a stud, rehabilitation, veterinary, college, university, private (think a professional rider or owner), racing, polo, showing or general competition yard. There are numerous possibilities to suit any interest!
You would have responsibility and accountability for the general day-to-day running of the yard. This role would involve the supervision and management of other staff, implementing yard protocols and best practice health and safety standards, biosecurity measures, corresponding with clients and owners and the training and development of junior staff. You would also be expected to manage the health care records for horses under your responsibility (including worming, vaccinations, physio, saddle fitter, farrier, and dentist). If the yard is a competition yard you may also be involved with the organisation of shows and events, hiring of schools, facilities, equipment and so on. You would also be responsible for the maintenance of the facilities and equipment of the yard ensuring they comply with competition guidelines (if applicable) and implementing a grassland management plan for the upkeep of pasture. There may also be an element of invoicing, book keeping , accounting and business development depending on the yard.
Your next steps
A professional in this career will require broad equestrian knowledge and practical ability, including the management and handling of horses, equine health, anatomy, physiology, feeding, fittening, saddlery, shoeing, stable design, grassland management and the highest level of turnout.
The BHS Equine Excellence Groom Pathway is the one for you!
The BHS Groom Pathway supports and celebrates those wishing to pursue a career as a groom, from a foundation groom through to a stable manager. You will learn a variety of skills and a wealth of knowledge to support your chosen career, including: handling a variety of horses, tacking up for various disciplines, lungeing, anatomy, physiology and conformation, horse health, behaviour, nutrition and fitness, clipping, trimming and plaiting, the responsibilities of working as a groom and yard management. Our qualifications have been developed by industry experts and those currently working in the field ensuring that our qualifications are relevant and will be what your employers are looking for.
The minimum acceptable level of qualification for entry into employment as an assistant groom is the BHS Stage 2 Foundation Groom. Those who hold this qualification will be able to safely and competently apply skills and knowledge relating to the care of the horse whilst under limited supervision. If you hold this qualification you will be able to enter employment at a centre or yard and once employed you can work towards the BHS Stage 3 Groom to develop your skills and knowledge.
Head grooms or freelance grooms are often left unsupervised and so must be able to work independently. They will have a higher level of responsibility than a foundation groom and may even be in a supervisory position as a yard manager. At this level you will be required to hold the BHS Stage 3 Groom as a minimum. This will enable you to manage your work safely and efficiently, applying skills and knowledge relating to the care and management of horses.
We would encourage you to continue to develop your skills and increase your knowledge by continuing along the Groom Pathway to the BHS Stage 4 Senior Groom and Stage 5 Stable Manager. These qualifications are for those who have sole responsibility for the care and management of horses, think more of a senior groom position, or you are looking to move into a management position in the equestrian industry.
Competition experience will also be an advantage if you wish to become a groom for a competition rider in a specific discipline. Volunteering at events is a great way to add experience in this field, you can contact your local British Riding Club to help out as a dressage writer or fence judge. Getting some ‘behind the scenes’ experience at club level will give you a valuable insight into what judges look for, the structure of a show day and the atmosphere of an event.
The ability to tow or drive a horsebox is a definite advantage as most grooms will be required to do so. A HGV licence and/or B+E category licence may be required for this if you will be towing/driving over 3.5t. Visit the gov.uk website for further details.
Many grooms will be expected to be able to ride to exercise and train the horses under your care. You may wish to look at the BHS Professional Rider Pathway to support this element of your career.
The ability to tow or drive a horsebox is a definite advantage as most senior grooms or yard managers will be required to do so. A HGV licence and/or B+E category licence may be required for this if you will be towing/driving over 3.5t. Visit the gov.uk website for further details.
If you aspire to manage a large yard or centre you should aim to achieve the Stage 5 Stable Manger. Hands on experience will be essential so we would advise to enter employment with a Stage 2 or 3 qualification and work towards the Stage 4 and Stage 5 qualifications to support your career progression. This career certificate demonstrates your ability to independently manage an equestrian business, working alone and unsupervised. You will cover topics such as assessing confirmation and health, including static and dynamic confirmation, muscle groups and gait, developing and evaluating suitable diets for different horses and work levels, differentiate between fittening programs for horses in work or recovering from injury, how to manage an equestrian business or yard and the facilities, land and pasture, horse physiology, breeding and performance, veterinary drugs, ageing horses and training junior staff.
If you want to work for a commercial centre, you may be required to escort riders on hacks or treks as well as the usual day to yard and grooming tasks. You may wish to look at the BHS Equine Tourism Pathway to support this element of your career.
A groom must show themselves as competent, confident, level-headed and have a common sense approach to their work; a groom can often find themselves in stressful situations (horses can be unpredictable at the best of times!) so a groom is typically composed and assertive. Early starts and late finishes including weekend and Bank Holiday work is expected, so dedication and a passion for horses is essential. As the tasks asked of a groom are generally manual tasks, a good level of physical fitness is required in order to work efficiently without undue stress and strain.
- Grooms can often live on-site, with accommodation being provided at a discounted rate, or as a package with the salary. You would need to check with potential employers however often pets or your own horses are allowed.
- Freelance Groom – become self employed and have greater flexibility with working hours to suit your lifestyle. You may also be able to offer supplementary services such as clipping, house sitting, dog sitting, or childcare if you have the right experience and qualifications.
I was formerly an event groom for Mary and Emily King and currently working with international professional riders. I have studied up to BHS Stage 4 Senior Groom which has given me a sound base of knowledge which I draw from, sometimes subconsciously, on a daily basis.
I do believe my BHS qualifications and training gave me a real-life practical skill set and instilled in me a correct horsemanship understanding from a young age, which absolutely played a huge part in preparing me for the excellence demanded from working for a top rider. Having my BHS qualifications prepared me with all the crucial elements; work ethic, knowledge and understanding required to be a competent and trustworthy groom.
Within the industry you make many friends and contacts, in the future I could travel to many more events abroad, tick some events I haven’t done yet off my list. The dream would be to groom at an Olympic Games, I got close once but not close enough!
My advice to any aspiring event grooms would be to be prepared to work your socks off! Be ambitious! Don’t underestimate the sheer hard work and long hours you will have to put in to reap the rewards, but trust me the good days will make everything worth it, the memories and friends you make along the way will be there for life.