Full Service at Shows

I read an interesting article from Jumper Nation the other day, bemoaning the overuse of grooms for younger students at shows.

I think the author made a great point about the importance of horsemanship, but I’d contest that the author is rolling two points into one, and I only really agree with one. From how I read it, I took away these major themes:

  1. Knowing your horse inside and out and spending time with them grooming, tacking, and general care is hugely important, especially for young riders
  2. People that use grooms at shows are not on the track to becoming well-rounded horse-people.

I agree completely and wholeheartedly with the first point. I don’t think I have to convince anyone here that grooming, tacking up, untacking, grazing, bathing, loving on your horse at all possible times is a GREAT thing. And that putting in the time and effort to learn about aspects of horsemanship other than purely riding is really necessary to becoming a well-rounded horsewoman/horseman.

I just don’t think that using full grooming at shows is mutually exclusive with this.

I say this as someone who rides with a barn that provides full grooming at shows: someone grooms the horse, tacks them up for the riders, bathes them when they’re done for the day, wraps them at night, and basically takes care of everything. All the riders (young and old) have to do is ride.

Does that mean the kids don’t know how to do any of those things? Hell no!

They all spend 5-6 days a week doing all of those things and more for hours and hours at home. For every time someone else has tacked up their horse, they’ve tacked him up hundreds more. For every grooming they get from our helper at a show, they’ve scrubbed their ponies waaaaay more often. These are kids that show up and work hard.

“Well Olivia, if they’re sooooo good at all these things, why don’t they do them at shows?!”

Glad you asked!

First of all, sometimes they do all of these things! Sometimes our helpers are busy, or they want to run their faces under the hose while bathing their horse, or any number of reasons. And then they tack up their own horse or bathe them or whatever. It happens regularly. No one is warding them away from their horse and telling them they can’t come near them, and they are all more than happy to join in the work when need be.

Really the main reason we do full grooming is because it lets my trainer exert a little more control on the situation. Instead of wrangling 7-10 students going in 6 different rings for 3 different disciplines and hoping everyone knows when to be ready and where to go, she has one go-to person coordinating that for her.

She can focus on the training and coaching, because she has her one point of contact getting people where they need to be, when they need to be there. She has one person to call to say, “Rosie needs to be up at Jumper 1 warmup in 15 min, and Shadow hacks in Hunter 2 in 30.” And she knows both horses will be shiny, riders in the saddle, ready to go when she gets to the ring. There’s a lot to be said for that kind of well-oiled machinery.

To be fair, I think the author is referring to the kids that NEVER tack up their own horse or take part in their care beyond riding. And for that segment of the population, I would agree entirely with everything she says. But I would contend that there are plenty of people who have similar arrangements to our barn- grooming at shows but not at home- who use this service for more reasons than simply, “I’m too lazy to brush my own horse.” A middle ground to the entitled elite and the scrappy DIYers.

So there you have it. I’m a huge believer in well-rounded horsemanship and hope to see our barn kids continue learning and growing in this area as they progress. But I’m also entirely OK with someone else tacking up their horses at shows.

From the brief conversations I’ve had with people, this seems to be a hot topic. So please jump in and share your thoughts on this- I’d love to hear different perspectives!

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14 thoughts on “Full Service at Shows

  1. Liz 07/03/2017 / 9:00 am

    This is a great counter point. Thank you for sharing!

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    • hellomylivia 07/03/2017 / 9:01 am

      Thank you! I definitely like hearing the different perspectives on things like this, everyone sees it a little differently.

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  2. emma 07/03/2017 / 10:13 am

    i read that article with interest as well. and only agree in part as well, too.

    my interpretation of the article is a little different tho – to me, it seemed to be saying that specifically the act of standing there watching your groom tack up your horse, and taking a picture of it to post on instragram, was a symptom of a greater degree of detachment (or worse, bragging) among today’s young riders. the author didn’t seem to be saying that grooming and full service is a bad thing in and of itself – and perhaps would agree that the time saved for the rider could be better spent in some other active pursuit (such as focusing on the training and the ride, vs instagramming lol). and i’d agree that standing idly by is time wasted by riders. and perhaps would agree that there’s something of the ‘status symbol’ feeling in the act of posting pictures of your grooms doing your work. but…. ya know. social media also is what social media is, and inadvisable decision making seems to be here to stay lol.

    the point that the author misses, i think, but that you touch on above – is that shows days ARE busy. and help is really truly valuable. yes it’s 100% possible to show entirely by yourself (ask me how i know), but accepting help, or even budgeting or planning ahead for it, shouldn’t reflect poorly on the rider.

    plus sometimes riders are nervous, ya know? and can transfer that nervous energy to the horse. and things can be fussy on show day too. buttons never button as quickly on show day. zippers get stuck. that second glove always goes missing, and maybe the girth too just for good measure. so ya know. yea, be a good horse person. learn how to take care of yourself and your horse. but also do what needs doing to make show day fun and successful for everyone involved!

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    • hellomylivia 07/03/2017 / 10:26 am

      That’s a really great point, I’m glad you pointed that out! Agreed, there is absolutely a difference between accepting help to make things run smoothly, and using that as a sort of status symbol. That detachment, as you so accurately word it, I think is the true problem that I personally have seen. I guess “engaged assistance” is the phrase I’d use for a balance.
      And another great point about the nervous energy- at the end of the day, showing is too expensive for it to not be fun. I know it definitely eases some of my worries knowing that someone is helping keep me on time and has double checked how tight my girth is.

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  3. Stacie Seidman 07/03/2017 / 10:26 am

    I read that, and had the exact same reaction. I wasn’t fortunate to have full care available when I was showing as a junior, but in recent years I have, and it’s fantastic. I think there’s nothing wrong with having help at a horse show. But I do agree that kids should know how to do all the things. And when they’re not showing, they should be DOING all the things.
    I read a lot of articles basically all saying the same thing, and I think a lot of the authors are a little judgey because it’s something they never had available to them. I also think there are still plenty of successful junior kids out there who do take care of their horses. They just aren’t as prominent on social media.
    To take that further… Many of the “famous” social media juniors are showing multiple horses so they NEED the help. The problem then arises that the kids looking up to them and wanting to be “famous” in their own right (even if it’s just by social media followers) think it’s cool to be a waited on and have someone else take care of their every need. I don’t think it’s all kids, I just think it’s the one that’s getting seen more. The kids actually doing the work are too busy to post all the time. I like to believe they still outnumber the louder ones.

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    • hellomylivia 07/03/2017 / 10:30 am

      That is such a good point- the ones that are visible are usually the ones that genuinely need helpers to go from horse to horse and ring to ring, but because they are SO visible it becomes a sort of normal. I’m with you in the hope that the hard workers are still out there doing their thing- I’m lucky enough to ride with quite a few of them.

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  4. Karen M 07/03/2017 / 1:16 pm

    That article irritated me quite a bit. While I agree with the author that everyone riding and showing should also learn about all the other aspects of horsemanship from mucking a stall to dressing a wound, I think he example of a rider having a minute to post to social media at a show while someone else is putting a saddle on the horse was very shallow and disingenuous to me. Just because you witness that, don’t assume that rider doesn’t touch her horse but to show it. She could have got there at 5:30 am to feed, throw hay, muck stalls, etc., and someone else got her horse ready while she changed into show clothes. I get what the author is getting at, but she picked on the wrong bone. Who knows, maybe the caption of that photo reads, “best groom ever, thank you for all the help” and somehow that’s not appropriate?

    I appreciate your defense of full service at a horse show–thank you for illustrating the other side of this so beautifully.

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    • hellomylivia 07/05/2017 / 2:29 pm

      That’s another fantastic point that I think a lot of people in the blogging world understand more than most- a picture is just an instant in time, and doesn’t give any of the context of reality.

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  5. Holly 07/03/2017 / 2:19 pm

    100% agree. I obviously haven’t been in a show ring in a few years, but we were full service at shows too. Often for the same reasons you pointed out, with a few additions. Trusting (often) nervous amateurs and juniors to get themselves there and not forget something (numbers, grooming tote, hoof polish, whatever) just wasn’t the wisest move – so having someone else who didn’t have that pressure to make sure we were put together, had lipstick on, etc. was well worth it to save the stress of “OMG someone go get xyz!” before a class. Secondly (and the reason I was the kid standing there not touching my horse), was to STAY CLEAN. A little different in western vs hunt seat where things can actually be washed, but a lot of my show jackets were spot clean only from the crystals and embellishments. I also was an annoying kid who had a lot of white on my outfits. Having someone else tack up my horse saved my poor mother a lot of stress of trying to keep me clean.

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    • hellomylivia 07/05/2017 / 2:30 pm

      White breeches on classic day. I feel ya. Staying clean is a serious struggle, I have a hard enough time with it even when I have help!

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  6. Abby F 07/05/2017 / 11:37 am

    I think that having clients on full-service care at horse shows probably makes things run much more smoothly. I also think that it’s awesome that your barn has its kids do their own work at home. It is so important to learn to take care of the horse that you are riding. With the exception of WEF ( where full care is the only option), I take care of my own horses at the shows. I also do all of my own shipping. Since I manage my own farm and was a professional groom, I feel most comfortable taking care of mine. It also keeps me busy, which helps my nerves at shows. Plus, it saves lots of $$ since I show two horses all year round. However, I know that many amateurs have careers and/or kids to juggle and taking care of their own horses simply isn’t an option. I have the upmost respect for people that are able to show horses AND have busy careers. I think it is completely unfair to judge people for having grooms take care of their horses. As long as the horses are well cared for and happy, who cares??

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    • hellomylivia 07/05/2017 / 2:33 pm

      Agreed completely- at the end of the day, the goal is to have happy, healthy horses. And I don’t think there is one single correct path to take to give your horse a good experience

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  7. Tracy - Fly On Over 07/11/2017 / 8:49 am

    I agree with your perspective — I don’t think full service grooming at shows makes you a bad horseman or horsewoman. I would agree with the article more if it didn’t focus on “at horse show” because there are barns where what you described the full service at shows is what you get at home too. And THAT I think, does hurt riders and make them less accomplished equestrians.

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    • hellomylivia 07/11/2017 / 9:14 am

      I absolutely agree- developing those skills and practicing often is so necessary

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