For every awesome groom and barn worker, there are plenty of awful ones and I seem to have met them all when I trained grooms for a racing barn. Here are some of my horror stories.
I should write about the hilarious, true, and ridiculous moments I’ve had in my life, while trying to explain how to care for horses to the morons and idiots who have drifted though the barn thinking they could hit it rich at the racetrack if they only had inside knowledge in order to bet and win it big.
Like the time I had to train (while paying a hefty salary) green grooms for the racehorse stable. You would come in the barn in the morning, and the horses are stomping and banging — the feed has not been fed — yet the groom is sitting on the floor, with a pile of clean bandages around her, and she’s rolling them all up. She did the laundry, which could have waited until AFTER the day’s horses were worked, and proceeded to roll bandages, which can be done at any time — spent over an hour on this — meanwhile the horses weren’t fed, no water buckets done or stalls started! We were only two hours late getting started that morning.
Or the time when I came in the barn aisle after being on the track on a horse all morning, to find it looked like a tornado hit — trunks open, equipment everywhere, overfilled wheelbarrows, pitchforks leaning against stalls, blankets and bandages flopped on the dirty aisle. Where is everybody? In the office, smoking and watching television, having “lunch”. For two hours (!!!!). The feed delivery man is honking his horn outside the barn door, and they can’t hear it because they have the TV up loud and are arguing. He leaves thinking no one is there to unload the feed, and goes back to the store — so I have to call up and arrange another delivery later that day, so the horses have enough feed for morning; we have horses racing that afternoon, so have to arrange to have someone there to unload it.
The emergency person at the last minute can’t be there as their kid is home sick from school, so I am walking through the paddock BEGGING someone, anyone with a license, with a $100 bill, to take my horse in the 2nd race for me so I can drive 40 miles back to the barn and unload 2 tons of sacked feed myself into the barn, then return to race the horse in the 8th race. Yes, and the feed truck thought he was doing me a favor by driving onto the track in front of the barn to shorten the distance I had to walk and carry the feed — and made four deep ruts in the track that froze overnight. The next morning, the first horse onto the track tripped over the ruts and went down and broke the best and most comfortable jog cart we had — thus I had to jog 10 more horses that day in the old cart which was murder on my back. Yes, I fired two of the four grooms watching that television! And banned smoking in the tack room and the office.
I had a shavings delivery person follow the directions of a groom — we are talking a semi-load of shavings — which were summarily dumped in the opening to the barn. We couldn’t even get in to get shovels and wheelbarrows to move some of it to get in and out! This happened on the day we had the surprise fire department inspection of course.
I had a worker pushing up the manure pile with the tractor hit the electrical transformer box that had thousands of volts providing power to two major buildings. He survived, unfortunately, but we were without electricity in the barn for a week and it cost us thousands to replace and fix. He laughed, and told me, “Hey, that’s what happens when you work on a farm,” and I laughed and said, “Hey, you will need to work for three years to pay for that little 10 minute mistake.” I fired him.
I had a groom tell me, “I don’t do stalls.” I didn’t even hire that one. I had a groom brushing all the horse’s tails for 20-30 minutes a day until finally the horses had nothing but little wisps left on the end, and I fired her. I had a groom who snuck about the barn hiding in stalls to avoid work, the first to jump in the truck and go to the track, the last to find at night when we were leaving. One night, after the last horse raced, it was snowing hard and I wanted to get home before it got bad on the road — I loaded three horses all by myself, got the equipment in the truck, still no groom — called him on his cell phone about sixteen times, no response. By this time there’s an inch of icy snow in the parking lot, I’m about the last trailer leaving, and I just drove out the gate — sorry about your luck. Turns out he was in the casino, partying it up — he won $5,000 on a slot machine after I let him “run up to the restaurant and get a hamburger”. The next day he knew he was fired, he didn’t even show up.
I had a groom with one horse take 8 hours to race and return; found out he drove my rig, horse inside, to the grocery store, bought the beer for his homeboys with the gas money for shipping, had a party, took a nap, forgot he had a truck hooked to a horse trailer with a racehorse in it….who raced 7 hours ago and hasn’t had any water or hay….we thought he was hurt or had been kidnapped or carjacked….we had the cops from two counties and state police looking for him, we thought he was seriously injured or dead…..but I had a personal “come to Jesus moment” after I found the truck and trailer at 11 p.m. parked in front of his house. I didn’t have to fire that one, he got arrested and went to the pokey for a while. The cops were not as amused as we were.
I have driven to the track only to pass my own truck and trailer on the side of the road at the local McDonald’s while the grooms are fueling up on Happy Meals and the horses in the trailer have to be in the lasix barn in 10 minutes — and they are still waiting on the large order of fries….I fired them.
The best groom I ever had drank all day long. He had beer for breakfast, nips during the day from hidden flasks and bottles all over the barn, and got into the heavy stuff at night but he always showed up, he treated the horses lovingly and we won a lot of races when he was with us. He was never sober but you could never tell he drank. Finally our racing jurisdiction instituted drug and alcohol testing for all employees in the paddock and he had to quit after he blew like a 2.0 on the breathalizer four or five times in a row and we couldn’t afford to pay his fines anymore. Years later we were still finding half empty bottles of peppermint schnapps and peach brandy in the bottoms of trunks.
I had a groom with a potty mouth screaming the f-bomb at a horse that wouldn’t hold still in the washrack at the instant my millionaire owner’s wife walked into the barn with her golfing girlfriends, who were interested in buying a new racehorses for their syndicate. I had grooms with violent ex’s that would drive up to the barn door, slam on the brakes, get out yelling obscenities, stomp down the aisle bent on slapping someone around, and I would simply bring the biggest horse I had out of his stall and turn his hindquarters into firing position — and call the cops.
I had a free daycare going on most of the time, littlest kids in muck baskets and wheelbarrows, bigger kids in strollers, bigger kids yet playing around sweeping, riding on carts with Mom or Dad while they jogged horses, building hay forts, digging in the shavings pile, jumping like Superman off tack trunks and breaking their arms on the concrete aisleway in the barn while their mothers were yacking away on the phone outside cooling out a horse.
I have had grooms put diesel in gas tractors, and gas in diesel trucks. I have had grooms put horses in the trailer without equipment to race, and put equipment in and load up only to forget the horse and remember halfway to the track 100 miles away. I had grooms drive down the driveway with the tailgate down and the horses in the trailer going crazy and not notice. I had grooms put the wrong horse in the trailer and take to the track to race all the time, so much so one of the trainers or owners had to be there at loading to prevent it. I had the wrong equipment get packed for horses regularly, no equipment, not enough equipment, half the equipment, or dirty equipment, necessitating many trips to the tack shop at the track, so many I had an account there in the thousands one year. I took a look at the tack room once and wondered how I ended up with 30 pairs of ear plugs and only 20 horses.
Loose horses were a way of life….grooms did not lock stall doors, left gates open, let go of horses who acted up, stand still while loose horses WALKED past them, put horses in paddocks with the fences down, watch while horses ran through open gates, and many more creative ways of losing control of big, powerful, racing fit animals on a regular basis.
I had grooms lie about everything under the sun, work less than 2 hours in an 8 hour day and go halfway around the world to avoid doing something that needed a 10 minute application. I had them steal everything, credit cards, food, the barn coffee pot, equipment, medications, gas out of the trucks and cars, spare tires, and feed and even my winter knitted hat that my mother made, a very small size and at the time I had no groom working for me smaller than 200 lbs. Go figure. A used knitted ladies winter hat in pink and silver, with a yarn pompom on it. I had so much feed stolen, I was feeding half the horses in our town I think at one time. If we caught them, we fired them, but sometimes they went undetected (or so they thought) for months. We had several we kept because although the pilfering was annoying, we looked at it as part of their generous salary because we needed help.
In all, I trained over 20 grooms to take care of racehorses and gave them a way to make a living, and a leg up in the horse industry. If you were to go to a college, or technical school, and pay tuition to learn a trade, it would cost you — but at my “school”, I not only paid the students, most of the time I fed them, fed their horses, gave them trucks and trailers to drive, equipment for racing, stall rent, daycare, after-school programs, a place to hangout and oh yeah, a job!
The absolute topper of a bad groom story came one day when I was dropped off a sold horse at a fellow trainers’ barn. This was midwinter, a day about 30 degrees outside. He had just hired a new groom that day. We had gone into the barn to put the new horse in his stall, and the groom had the hose out, was down the aisle and was doing something with it. The aisle was soaking wet. The stalls were wet, and as I looked down the aisle, I could hear the horse in a stall near the groom jumping and banging in the stall. We ran down to look, and he was spraying the cold water from the hose through the stall bars AT the horse who was plastered against the back of the stall, panicking and kicking at his wet blanket. All the horses starting at that end of the barn were in similar condition — soaking wet, shaking water out of their ears while their stalls were swimming in water. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?,” we screamed…. his reply – “I was watering the horses like you said,” he looked at us with that deer in the headlight eyes. Watering the horses. Like a garden. I guess his last job was at a hydroponic vegetable farm. True story.
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