‘Too much work and too few people’: groom tries to find answers to solve staffing crisis

  • A groom concerned by the worldwide equestrian staffing crisis is hoping to determine what needs to change for the industry to be sustainable.

    Susanna Liis Ole has worked for professional riders in various countries. She is also a fourth-year equine studies and business management student at the University of Applied Sciences Van Hall Larenstein in the Netherlands, and is conducting research on the topic for her thesis.

    She told H&H the staffing issues seen in the UK are widespread.

    “I’ve worked as a professional groom for five years, in Germany, here, Belgium – and it’s the same everywhere,” she said. “People are trying very hard to find good staff but there aren’t many.

    “I’ve had about 70 responses so far, from different countries also including the US and they’re all saying the same; it’s a general problem for the whole industry.”

    Susanna started as a freelancer, mainly working for showjumpers, and has also been employed by top riders. At all the yards, she said, recruiting and retaining staff was an issue.

    “People are always asking me if I know of anyone, or can recommend anyone,” she said. “It’s definitely a hot topic, and a serious issue, that there aren’t enough experienced people around, and it doesn’t seem there are more coming through.”

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    Susanna said her own experiences in the job have been positive but recurring themes for grooms seem to be too few staff and too much work.

    “I’ve been very lucky but I’ve seen other situations,” she said. “There’s just too much work for the number of people; 15 horses and two grooms, one goes to a show and the other’s [left at the yard] alone. It’s pretty common to work six days a week, and sometimes the hours are crazy. At the big shows, grooms are often still in the stables at 1.30am as the classes start so late, and then they often have to travel back with the horses, driving all night.

    “They’re tired, they can’t take their holidays as the other grooms will be swamped, they’re tired and angry and burnout is quick.”

    Susanna said many grooms mention low pay as a major issue, “and there are riders who don’t respect the work grooms do”.

    “I’ve been lucky but plenty of people’s bosses don’t appreciate what the grooms do for them,” she said, adding that unsatisfactory accommodation and unrealistic expectations have also been cited as issues.

    “You can’t do 10 things at once to speed things up, and even if you could, quality of work would suffer,” she said.

    “It’s the same in mainland Europe as in the UK; the same anywhere in the industry. I want to keep this survey independent so I can really hear what grooms think. They maybe we can get the change going.”

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