Jackie Potts, head groom for the Fox-Pitt Eventing team, has had years of dedication rewarded with the 2006 Kuster BEF Groom Award. She believes that with a higher level of planning and professionalism, grooms can relinquish the traditional role of ‘unsung hero’ and get what they want out of the horse industry.
“I’ve been with William for 14 years, and we’ve had the most amazing highs and lows in that time. You can’t come into a job like this and expect otherwise, horses just don’t work like that. They are such great levellers. Anyway, you learn as much from the lows as the highs, which can take a while to understand especially if you come into a yard with a high-profile rider and think it’s going to be glamorous. There are moments of glamour, when you finally see the hard work paying off, but these moments are not what make up a groom’s daily life. Most of it is hard work behind the scenes.
Luckily, that’s exactly what I want to do. Whenever I watched Badminton on television, I dreamed of being the groom taking care of the sweaty horse as it came through the finish gate, not the victorious rider on top! I’m very competitive and love winning, but I know my skills don’t lie in the riding. I can play a more useful role elsewhere as part of the support team, and also I know this is really valued by my employers. When we’re interviewing potential new staff, I think it’s vital to consider personality and character over age or qualifications. However talented an individual, it’s more important that a groom fits in with the rest of the yard and recognises that they are part of a team. It makes for a happy atmosphere and happy horses, which brings the best out in everybody.
I think youngsters planning a career in the horse industry would benefit from viewing it as that – a career, not just a short-term job they are doing because they love horses. A successful career in any sphere needs planning and structure, and hard work to gain the relevant experience and qualifications to move up. People need to be clear about what they want to get out of the industry, work towards specific goals and accept that it can take years to get there. I think that’s where the new British Grooms Association is really going to help people. Yes, it seeks to tackle issues such as working conditions, but it also aims to educate both grooms and their employers to develop a proper career structure and recognised professional standards.
All the same, anyone who wants success in this industry must recognise that there is an element of giving yourself to the job. You can’t do it otherwise. Looking after a competition horse’s welfare is a 24-hour thing. You just have to do what needs to be done, and those of us who are doing it for the right reasons don’t really question that aspect of the job. For me it’s all part of the experience of working with animals, but I suppose it’s one of the major downsides for some people – it’s certainly quite hard to have a varied social life and keep some balance outside work. On the other hand, there is great camaraderie and friendship among the grooms, and it’s a really rewarding way of life.
I think it helps that I became a professional groom relatively late in life, at the age of 25, and having those extra years in the outside world have helped me to keep things in perspective. I made a conscious decision to give up a ‘regular’ office job to do this, so I know I’m doing it because I love it rather than because I have to. Yes it’s very hard work and nobody comes into it to get rich, but the pay isn’t that bad, and if you are prepared for the level of dedication required then you get loads of job satisfaction in return. I wake up every day looking forward to work. I feel like I’m being paid to do my hobby, and how many people can say that?”