Grooming for the police

  • Paul Hodgkinson, 28, has been working as a groom with the Mounted Division of the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) for three years. He has been involved with horses since he was four years old and spent three years at Bishop Burton College before working for eventer Karen Dixon and later at Paddy Muir’s yard.

    “I learnt so much at both Karen and Paddy’s, but decided to move out of working with horses because I compete two of my own and was finding it difficult to get by financially,” he says of his change in role.

    “It was one of my friend’s parents, who also works in the GMP, who found the advert for my current job and suggested I went along for the interview,” explains Paul, who was attracted to the GMP’s excellent pay and first-class conditions.

    “Working here is completely different to any other yard. For starters, the stables are indoors and everything’s centrally heated — it’s nice to be able to come into work in just a t-shirt!”

    Paul points out that the actual workload is very different to his experiences at previous yards.

    “In an event yard you would ride maybe four horses a day, whereas here we ride less and spend more time exercising them on the lunge and putting them on the horsewalker. The first lot — there are 45 in the yard — goes out at 8.30am and then you’re constantly on the go all day. These are the demands when you are fighting crime!” says Paul, who clearly enjoys his job and finds the routine fits his other commitments.

    “The atmosphere in the yard is great — there are 21 of us and we all get on very well. One good thing about shift work [the grooms’ hours are 6.30am to 3pm or 2.30pm to 11.15pm] is that I have more time to spend with my horses. The only downside is that we work a lot of weekends, which can make competing a bit difficult.”

    Rachel Jenkinson, 30, has been the stable manager and instructor for the City of London Police since July 2004. She is responsible for 10 horses &mdash and 13 police officers.

    “I’ve done almost every job a groom or instructor can, but I became a bit disillusioned with the horse world after working as an instructor at my local riding school. The yard was quite shabby and the horses weren’t always looked after properly,” she explains.

    So, after achieving her advanced national certificate in equine business management at Malton College, Rachel took two jobs abroad, first at the BHS centre in New York and then for Kerry Packer in Australia.

    “I came back to England and decided I didn’t want to go back into the industry or to college, so I opted to use my qualifications to teach and that’s when I became a KEITS assessor. But a lot of my time was spent on the ground and as I don’t have a horse of my own, I began to look for work where I could start riding again,” she explains.

    Rachel found her current position advertised in Horse & Hound.

    “What struck me during my interview was how police-oriented the whole process was. I know it sounds obvious, but it made me realise that the force is a non-horsey organisation and I was hit by the fact that the officers have few equine qualifications,” says Rachel, whose job now entails training both the officers and their horses.

    “One thing I’ve learnt here is that you can teach a horse to do anything. We work on their herd instincts and it normally takes 12-18 months for them to complete their training. I spend a lot of my time riding the horses past banging drums and over unusual obstacles — my handy pony days have stood me in good stead.”

    She is also responsible for recruiting new horses, looking mainly for good temperament, sound legs and feet.

    “Traditionally, the City of London Police prefer grey horses, but as their feet are white they can experience problems on the hard ground,” explains Rachel, who really appreciates the perks of her rewarding job.

    “The hours are very sociable [Monday to Friday 8am to 4pm], which makes a change from the equine industry. The force is extremely professional, with a proper career structure, pension and excellent working conditions. It just shows that there are lots of good jobs out there and that working with horses doesn’t have to mean a lifetime of mucking out.”

    Join Horse & Hound’s NAGS

    Membership of the National Association of Grooms and Students (NAGS) is free to all bona fide grooms and students. NAGS is sponsored by training provider KEITS, which offers Modern Apprenticeships, for those aged 16-25, as well as work-based training in equine, animal care and agricultural businesses.

    Benefits of being a NAGS member include: Horse & Hound subscription at £1 per copy, £3 discount voucher on a sack of Blue Chip Dynamic, 10% discount on Splash Equestrian equipment and clothing, no P&P charges from Equestrian Vision mail order and eligibility for NAGS-only competitions and offers.

    If you are interested in becoming a member, write to: NAGS, Room 2018, Kings Reach Tower, Stamford Street, London SE1 9LS (tel: 020 7261 6993), e-mail: nags@ipcmedia.com, or click here to download an application form in PDF format.

    And remember, the club is open to all students, not just those studying for an equine qualification.

  • This career focus was first published in Horse & Hound (13 January, ’05)

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