I’ve shined boots that were not my own. I’ve cleaned the stalls of horses worth more money than I can ever hope to earn. I’ve swept the same aisle multiple times per day, and still suffered a disapproving stare for missing a single shaving along the way.
Have you? If so you can relate to grooming. Being one, that is. For me, being a groom for big name riders in 2007 and 2008 was just a step along the way to an end goal. It was rewarding, frustrating, fun, tiring, and nothing if not eye opening. Can’t say I have too many warm and fuzzy memories of those days, but I also wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
While it was a temporary occupation for me, for many others grooming is a career choice, and a tough one at that. European grooms generally find their job more accepted as a career choice in the big business of the horse industry overseas, but in the United States, the occupation is gaining new ground.
Recently so with the help of Liv Gude. She’s the person behind the Professional Equine Grooms facebook page, and new proequinegrooms.com website.
Liv is from San Diego and has groomed for several of the dressage greats, which gives her serious clout in grooming expertise. In addition to being a freelance marketing consultant, she’s now the property manager for the farm of an Olympian in Southern California.
Liv Gude hangs with the source of her green-stain knowledge, her horse Miguel.
As a former pro groom, On the Line has a special respect for those who groom full time, and is of the opinion that grooms rarely receive the props that they so deserve. So I was very curious to find out more about the person taking the time to begin a network for grooms. I rarely (if ever?) post Q&A interviews to this blog, but with her amusing wit and on the ball responses to my emailed questions, Liv makes it worth the exception:
On the Line: How extensive is your grooming experience, and who have you worked for?
Liv Gude: I have absolutely no grooming experience (not really.) My first job as a groom was for Guenter Seidel in 2006. I also did some freelance for Sue Blinks. It was sink or swim time when I started. Luckily, I swam. I came from the old school of riding lessons where if you could not catch your mount in the field, you had the entire lesson time to keep trying. Grooming and horsemanship were part of my lessons from age 6 to age …well, now. It was only when I moved to CA that I learned of this “Groom” who would do all the work and all you did was show up and swing a leg over.
On the Line: Can you tell me more about your riding/horse owning experience?
LG: I have two horses of my own and have done all of the Grooming, Training, and Management of their care for as long as I’ve owned them (12 years.) I never wanted to have someone else do that aspect of their lives for me.
I rode the hunters in VA from age 6 to about 19. Back when Hunters were Hunters, and actually hunted (did that, too, and quickly learned why folks drink before they get on. SCARY!!) Sprinkled in there were some jumpers that I lessoned on, and somehow managed to survive a few GP rounds on.
During the college years, I rode cutters and reining horses (I was in Texas, it was logical.) his was a great transition into dressage – believe it or not. But that happens later. After college is the swingin’ single life, and I was riding more for pleasure than anything. Lots of trails, more western, no pressure, just fun. After marriage and a move to CA, I picked up the Hunters again and bought myself a project horse (that I still have…). Then came corporate world burnout, a return to school for my MBA, and part time teaching up-down lessons. This is when I stumbled into Guenter’s barn and started grooming (by now, my project horse is quite the fancy hunter, but what the heck? SURE, Guenter!! I’ll have my first ever dressage lesson with you!! No worries!!) Now I also have a dressage horse in the family that has taught me the GP with Sue’s help. And he’s gray, so I know a lot about green and yellow stains.
On the Line: How did the Pro Equine Grooms facebook page come about?
LG: I had the idea for “something” for Grooms many years ago. I did a business plan and then set about to do the market research. Which ultimately told me to GET THE HECK OUT – this is a stupid idea and no one will care. But – I had also started the FB page as a “social experiment”. It’s free – and I could gauge the market without the expense of a website and all that stuff. So I started it. And when my market research said to abandon ship, I put the FB page down and walked away. But I never deleted it…and months later I logged in to see that it had grown. So I started posting…and here were are.
I’m surprised by the sources of the support – the farriers, vets, trainers, and press. Not so much by the grooms (although they have been SUPER supportive – which is crazy awesome, I just expected it from them.) I really thought the other Pros would see this as a “silly club” or such. NOT the case at all.
On the Line: So, you see grooming as a legitimate profession?
LG: Of course it’s a legitimate profession. Anything that places you in charge of another creature’s health and welfare is beyond legitimate. Add to that the hours, the less than stellar weather at times, and the blood, sweat, and tears, and you have yourself a bona-fide profession. The major mission of Professional Equine Grooms is to have everyone else acknowledge that also.
On the Line: What is the single most significant limiting factor that grooms face in their industry?
LG: The most significant limiting factor is a workplace that cuts the legal corners. In my humble opinion, it’s not OK to hire workers outside of the law (either non-legal residents or workers paid “under the table”, etc.) to avoid workman’s compensation insurance and/or proper record keeping and payroll. Working with horses is dangerous with a capital D. And expensive with a capital E. Please don’t skimp on protecting your grooms in case they are involved in an accident at work. You are also proliferating the image that grooms are not really worthy team members when they are not even compensated in a legal manner.
I see both sides – I understand that this industry is brutal. Lots of work, a little money. But is it worth the risk to have your reputation tarnished with a fine of $10,000 for hiring a non-legal resident, or having a trusted and loyal Groom injured with no way to help him out financially if he can’t work? I don’t have the answers to that yet, and I hope one day we won’t have to ask that question.
On the Line: What are your goals for your Facebook page and website, and what do you hope that those outlets will bring to people who make their living as grooms?
LG: My goals?? I joked once that I would love for my FB page to have more “fans” than the AQHA, which has well over 300,000. The FB page is a great way for any business to network with potential clients and a great way to spread the word about a business.
Ultimately, though, the basis for Professional Equine Grooms lies in the website, as an online resource for all things Grooming – especially jobs. I dream that one day, all trainers, across all disciplines, will use the website as a place to post job listings. And have them filled!
I also see the website as a tool to log and archive all of the things we talk about on FB. The newsfeed only stays up so long….There are so many great ideas and tips that we all have contributed.
The website will also be the “go to” place for Grooms in the News – which is amazingly sparse RIGHT NOW. In order for the mission of Professional Equine Grooms to really be accomplished – we have to gain front page new worthiness. And that’s what I’m going to do!!
At the end of the day – I ultimately want those folks who make their livings as Grooms to have a resource to go to for any question they may have (well, almost. I don’t cook, so skip asking me recipe questions!)
Power to the grooms! Be sure to go “like” Professional Equine Grooms on Facebook, and bookmark Liv’s most excellent new website.