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!