Rites of Passage: My first time grooming at an AA show

Well, that was probably one of the top ten most stressful weeks of my life.

I apologise for how long it took for me to get this post up; in my defense, I am still trying to catch up on sleep! 😉 Originally, I was just going to write your sort of standard day-by-day show recap, but as it turns out, I have a lot more to say than that.

I knew working the show was going to be difficult, but there’s very little that can prepare you physically, and even mentally, for the type of environment you get at a big AA show. I’ve groomed at local shows before, but that’s always for people I know – the AA circuit is an entirely different culture. And that’s one of the big roadblocks to working in the equestrian industry: there is no book you can read or class you can take to learn how to do it all. All of your training is on-the-job. You don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing, or not doing, until someone comes up to you and says “Just what do you think you’re doing right now!?” And believe me when I say – that happens a lot!

There’s a lot of things that are pretty much universal rites of passage when it comes to grooming on the AA circuit. Getting yelled at, or at least heavily berated, is one of them. (It’s not personal – shows are just too fast paced to pull someone aside and explain things calmly.) You will cry – this in non-negotiable. Some people will bawl their eyes out and some people will only let loose a single tear, but everyone cries their first time. My bosses were waiting all week for me to finally start crying, and they were quite amused by my insistence that “I’m too busy to be upset!”. You will learn that there are a thousand things you have been doing wrong for your entire life, generally things you thought were simple enough they couldn’t possibly be messed up – things like putting on bridles, removing blankets, bathing horses, and mucking stalls. You will forget what tack goes on which horse. You will lose your phone. (Okay, maybe that isn’t a universal rite. But I did lose my phone, and despite having quickly replaced it, I’m still a bit salty!)

But here’s the thing – despite the stress that makes you break out in hives, and the struggle to hold in the tears, and the way you will literally not be able to move from the bed on Monday morning, there is, at least for me, nothing quite like it. And I mean that in the best possible way. There’s nothing like the peace that comes with mucking stalls at five in the morning, listening to the horses eating quietly and the faint sound of the radio playing from a few barns down. There’s nothing like the feeling when one of your horses comes back from his class with ribbons, like you were a part of something – like even though you didn’t sit on the horse for a moment, you made that win happen.

I was trying to explain this set of emotions to my mother – who is not, in any way, horse-y – and I came up with this: when I was a senior in high school, I decided that I didn’t feel like graduating. I had to be dragged through my final semester kicking and screaming – and my mother was primarily responsible for that. I said her, “Do you remember that? Do you remember how you would scream and cry at me to get me to do my schoolwork? Do you remember the way you felt when I walked across that stage in my cap and gown and finally got my diploma? Do you remember how you opened that bottle of champagne that night – and how even though you had had an awful time getting us both to that point, it still felt like one of the greatest successes of your life? That’s how I feel about the horse shows.” And that, I think, made her understand – the parts that suck don’t really matter, in the end, and it will always get easier with time.

So was I walking around like a zombie by Sunday night? Well, yes. To be honest, my week was… kind of horrible. But am I still going to be doing this again?

You bet your ass I am.


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