We love celebrating and learning about the #supergrooms who make this sport go around — quite literally! — so we’re on a mission to interview as many grooms as we can to learn about their journeys. Catch up on the other interviews from this series here and nominate a #supergroom of your own by emailing tips@eventingnation.com!

Sally Robertson and Vermiculus. Photo by JJ Sillman.

Sally Robertson, from Coromandel, New Zealand, has been working in the equine industry for decades. Having worked for riders like Chris Chugg, Clark Montgomery, and Lauren Nicholson, it’s safe to say Sally has learned quite a bit — and so, ahead of next month’s FEI World Championships for Eventing, where Sally will be caring for Team USA member Lauren Nicholson’s partner, Vermiculus, we wanted to pick her brain and learn a few things from this top pro. So, without further ado, here are Sally’s six pieces of advice for aspiring professional grooms!

1. Be patient and stick with it.

Sally has experienced various programs and their atmospheres, but says it may take time to find one that really fits you. “Lauren and I, we just work really well together. I probably wouldn’t want to work for anyone else; she has a great program. She not only respects her horses, but she really respects the staff. It’s taken me a long time to find a position that I feel extremely valued in.”

Being a professional groom is not an easy journey, and the tough days can be as frequent as the exciting ones. But if you stick with it, it’s worth it. “In the early years you have to be prepared that it’s going to be a lot of hard work. You might not get to where you want as quickly as you want. But if you can stick with it, and you find the right place, it’s incredibly rewarding.”

“There are a lot of sacrifices. So it’s up to the individual whether those sacrifices are worth making. Personally, I find that they are.”

Sally and Lauren Nicholson at Kentucky. Photo courtesy of Sally Robertson.

2. Take care of yourself.

It’s typical for anyone in this line of work to ignore minor injuries or pains. No pain, no gain, right? Although that mindset is shifting and becoming less common, it’s still important to be conscious of taking care of yourself, especially when the job is taxing on your body.

“If you get into the profession and you want to stay with it long term, don’t make the mistake I did. Start looking after yourself from the get-go. If you need to see a chiropractor, if you need to have a massage, if you need to take that day off and not leave the house and lay on the couch and reboot yourself, you need to take care of yourself from the get-go. And then, you’ll make your life easier in the long run.”

3. You’ll learn something from everyone that you work for – people you like and people you don’t like. Learn something from each person and keep those lessons in your toolbox.

“To be honest, I’ve learned something from everyone I’ve worked for. And whether that be right or wrong, I think each program has its ups and its downs. If you can take away what they’re trying to teach you whether you agree with it or not agree with it, then you’ll never stop learning. And you’ll find many different ways to deal with people and deal with the horses. Not one staff member is the same; not one horse is the same. The more tools you have in your box, the more versatile and better you can do your job.”

Pony hugs… the best kind. Photo courtesy of Sally Robertson.

4. When the job gets stressful or tiring, remember why you started.

“In the past, if I’ve been in that situation, I just try and take a moment, take a breath, remember why I’m doing it. At the end of the day, everything’s going to get done because it has to get done.”

Sally also said that preparing for what comes next and staying organized helps reduce those stressful moments, which leads us to her next point…

5. Stay organized and think ahead.

Typically, Sally thinks and plans as much as two months ahead of time.

“I’m actually like that on a daily basis and weekly basis. So I don’t have the surprises, but then when the surprises do pop up, I generally find it pretty easy to deal with that. I think just grounding yourself again, for a moment, and remembering to breathe, and the most important thing is making sure the horses are taken care of properly. So if that’s your number one priority, then the rest will fall into place. You might not be finishing at the time you want to but that’s horses. It’s any animal.”

That smile says it all! Photo courtesy of Sally Robertson.

6. Witch hazel is your best friend.

Sally’s go to product is witch hazel, especially because it can be useful for so many things.

“That’s a thing daily in our barn. Once we’ve done our afternoon grooming and they’re curried and brushed off and whatnot, they all get a spray with witch hazel. I just find it helps the coats a lot. I won’t ever at shows put fake stuff on them to make them shiny. I’m not big on that. I think sometimes it interferes with the tack, then you can end up with a slippery saddle pad or something. But I find that witch hazel can actually help with that, a bit of an extra shine if need be without making their coats yucky and greasy.”

Thank you Sally for passing some of your wisdom on to us!

Go Sally and Go Eventing.

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