A former groom who was lucky to survive a direct kick to the face from a colicking horse, was ordered back to work days later and sacked soon afterwards says she is concerned for friends still working in the industry.
The groom, who we have chosen not to name, was badly injured while working for a showjumping yard on the Continent. Weeks later, she was told she was not wanted any more. She has not worked with horses since, and has no intention of returning to the industry.
The groom went into the job straight after school and worked for riders in the UK. Having decided she wanted to “do it a bit more seriously and professionally”, she spent four years with a top rider in Europe where she went to championships and World Cup finals, was employed within all the relevant laws, and was very happy.
“I think in the UK you can be taken advantage of, especially when you’re young; I remember getting a pay rise to £200 per week when I got my HGV licence, and you’re working all the hours god sends,” she said.
“Then I went to Europe in 2016 and was being paid about £550 a week; I had a wonderful time there and it felt I’d landed on my feet.”
But as that yard was in the Netherlands, which made it hard to get home, she moved to another rider on the Continent.
She had been there nearly a year and a half when one of the horses colicked, last July.
“He went down and there were about five of us trying to keep him down so they could tube him,” she said. “I was by his front legs and got kicked by a back foot, and sent flying.”
The groom was taken to hospital with a broken nose and her forehead split to the bone, so she had to have numerous stitches.
“The first thing one doctor said to me was that he didn’t know how I’d survived it,” she said. “But I was given three days off, then was told to go back to work, including driving the lorry. My boss was like: ‘We need you working, we haven’t got time for this’.”
The groom was asked to drive to a show, about 2,000km away, while her head was still bandaged.
“When I got back, as I got out of the truck, I was told to pack my bags because they didn’t want me any more,” she said. “They refused to pay me the nearly €5,000 they owed me for working, the medical bills they’d said they were responsible for or things like the tolls on the motorway from that last show.
“I emailed her with the medical invoices and she replied to say they take no responsibility for the accident, and wouldn’t pay any outstanding bills.”
Having had numerous scans and hospital visits, the groom is almost fully recovered, but she has no intention of going back to the industry.
“People have approached me about jobs, but then you find out they won’t give you a contract, or health insurance or they won’t cover costs; here and in Europe, and I’m not putting myself in that position again,” she said.
“I’ve lost all faith in the horse world. I’ll never stop loving the horses or the sport but I feel I can never go back to the industry because the people don’t support their staff.”
The groom said she is concerned for the wellbeing of friends still in the industry, as she questioned how many riders “have their staff’s backs”.
“Someone said to me the other day, it’s like grooms are extinct; the good ones are dying out,” she said. “The love I had for the job is fading out because of bad employers, and that upsets me. And I can’t recommend anyone for a job now because I don’t know how they’d be treated. It’s really sad.”
The groom now has a “normal” job; shocked to be told she has two days off every week and work expenses paid. She believes it is sad that a job that teaches so much and is born out of a love of horses and the sport is not sustainable for many people.
She spoke of the pressure some grooms feel under, as “if a horse is injured or a truck breaks down, it’s your fault”, adding that she has seen grooms “panicking” over a lame horse as they fear they will be blamed. She said she and others were given timescales to get horses from one place to another, when a journey was not possible in that time, and told to “make it work”.
“It’s like abuse as you prepare yourself for being blamed,” she said. “If you ever take a holiday, you get so much grief for it, it’s not worth it, and if you ever wrote a truck off, you’d never get another job. It’s emotional abuse and you give and give and give, and in the end it’s only you who breaks. Covid gave travelling grooms a break but then it all started again and a lot are saying they can’t do it any more.”
The groom added that after her accident, no one at the yard even asked how she was.
“The worst thing was when my mum came to visit and my boss said: ‘We were so worried, we nearly lost a groom’. My mum was staggered, and said: ‘That’s not a groom, that’s my daughter’.”
Other issues the groom experienced included illegal vehicle registration in Europe, to allow more hours and higher speeds of driving — “I think grooms hope if they got stopped, the rider would step in or pay the fine but would they? It’s amazing there aren’t more accidents as grooms run themselves into the ground to get their horses from A to B because they’re their world.
“How do we stop this? I think the only way is to keep reporting it and making people aware, and I hope sharing my story will help other people.
“Of course we love the job, that’s why we do it. But pure love can only take you so far, and it leads to heartbreak in the end.”
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