The groom, whom we have chosen not to name, suffered serious internal injuries in the incident last year while leading a horse but was put under pressure by her employers to keep working. Five days later, unable to eat and vomiting blood, she went to hospital — after the yard was finished that day — to be told her injuries were what would be expected had she been hit by a car.
“I’m a bit broken,” the groom told H&H. “But I’ve never been more grateful for an injury in my life.”
The groom explained she had been in the job at yard-manager level since she left school, working at “fantastic” yards and gathering “excellent” references from respected professionals.
She took on her most recent job, managing a yard that was aiming to grow, but the owners of which “had no idea what they were doing”. The groom says her pay and conditions once business was established were agreed — but that things did not go well.
“I ended up working about 100-hour weeks,” she said. “They wouldn’t employ enough staff, or the right staff, and I wasn’t paid.”
The groom said she eventually was put on the books and moved into on-site accommodation.
“That was my biggest mistake,” she said. “I was trapped. They gave me a contract but went back on what they’d said so I was charged for my horses’ keep, the accommodation and bills — I was paying them more than they paid me.”
The groom said she would go months without a single day off; working from dawn until late at night.
“I felt tied as if I did have time off, standards dropped dramatically,” she said. “The horses were important to me; I worked with horses because I love them so I felt duty-bound. Then the bullying and abuse started.”
The groom spoke of verbal bullying and abuse, her own horses’ routines being changed to their detriment, being “screamed at” and ostracised.
“I’ve never felt so trapped; I had no money to get out,” she said. “So many horrible things happened, and my horses were used as a weapon.”
After she left hospital and was signed off work, the groom left the job, and says she will never return to the industry.
“It’s so sad because the one thing I know I’m really good at is running a yard, and I never want to do it again,” she said. “I’m stuck now and have no idea what to do but sharing my story might help anyone else avoid being in a similar situation. I’d always misjudged people a bit when they said they were trapped in similar situations to mine, thinking there had to be a way out but there really isn’t. It cost me £3,000 to get out, at a time when I didn’t have £5 to eat.”
The groom was diagnosed with PTSD and has flashbacks; she could not have her phone near her for “ages” as she was so terrified her old bosses would call her.
“I thought being homeless with two horses I couldn’t afford would be awful but it was significantly better than being there,” she said. “I still have nightmares but I don’t wake up shaking and crying any more, or feel sick when my phone rings. I’m ok; I got out. I’d take the injury 10 times over because it got me out.”
The groom said she has seen posts on social media saying employers cannot find staff, and although of course there are plenty of good bosses, she says she is not surprised by the direction the industry is going in.
“I’m really good at my job but I’ve been so badly treated, I want nothing to do with it, ever again. If the industry carries on as it is, it’s going to collapse. I’m sure there are wonderful employers, but the problem isn’t that people don’t want to work, and I hope people keep telling their stories so maybe others will realise.
“I’m exceptionally proud to have got to the level I have done, and to now think of myself as on a par with the great horse people I looked up to when I first joined the industry; those incredible trainers and managers I had who inspired me and made me want to learn more and do better and keep pushing.
“I was looking forward to helping provide the next generation of grooms with the same opportunities those people afforded me. But where will those horse-mad children go now?
“Who will teach them the best way to keep a dressing on a hock, how to help a maiden mare with a difficult foaling, how to inject, how to build a bed so beautiful that liveries, vets, and visiting professionals photograph them to show people?
“The industry is going to collapse, and there’s a whole generation of future equestrian greats who will never have the opportunity to be great if something doesn’t change fast.
“I’m sad for me, because I miss looking after horses and running a yard full of happy liveries and shining horses with bright eyes, who whinny when they see me. But I’m more sad for all those little girls who dream of running their own yard one day, and maybe have set up a pretend yard in their garden as I did — with one disgruntled pony doing all the lessons, and an old fax machine for taking bookings! — who will never get there, because there is nobody left to show them how.”
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