What’s it really like... to be a horse groom?

What’s it really like... to be a horse groom?

When Shona Crawford was 15, she turned down Madonna’s cash. Now she’s 24 and the head groom for Warminster Saddle Club! Discover how she got to where she is today and what happened with Madonna…



Shona Crawford, 24, is the head groom for Warminster Saddle Club. She has a triple distinction BTEC in horse management and is working towards her intermediate teaching exam. Discover what life’s like as a horse groom… 

Tell us about your job...

“I’m the head groom and instructor for a military saddle club in Warminster, Wiltshire. I start work at 8am and the first thing I do is feed our 20 horses before mucking them out or bringing them in from the field. In the summer, depending on the weather, all the horses are out in the fields so I have to walk a lot – probably at least five miles a day. In the winter they all stay in, so there is a lot of stables to muck out! 

“This takes me and the team around two hours every morning – it’s the only routine part of my job! From 10am onwards my day is extremely varied. I might be ordering horse feed, drawing up staff rotas, organising vet and farrier visits, teaching children as young as two how to ride – or training riders who compete regularly. 

“My day finishes at 5pm. I am part of a team of five grooms, two office staff and my supervisor, who I work very closely with.”

What are the best bits about your job?

“I teach at the Pony Club, working with children aged five to 13. Although this can be stressful at times, I love teaching complete beginners how to ride. Watching them improve is amazing and you get to share their new passion with them. 

“Then there’s the riding – which is, of course, the biggest perk of my job! If I’ve got a spare half an hour in my day I can spend it either popping over the show jumps in the arena, having a go around the cross country course, or going for a good canter over Salisbury Plain.”

Did you always want to do this as your job?

“Yes – I was horse mad as a child and horse riding has been a big part of my family for years. My great grandfather used to breed horses and it’s a passion that has passed down through the generations. I was always told from a young age to do something I loved – after all, money can’t buy happiness and nothing beats waking up every day to a job you adore. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my parents – they have always been very supportive. 

“I started my equestrian career with the British Horse Society (BHS) and my first full-time job was at Bryanston School in Dorset – where I qualified as an instructor. I left there in 2010 to travel around Argentina, Canada and Australia and experienced adventures I’ll never forget! 

“In Australia, I was lucky enough to be trained by a top dressage coach and compete on the top 40 horses in Australia. I went for a regional qualifier in Melbourne, then Victoria state and got into the national final.  I returned to the UK with tonnes of experience under my belt and got my job at Warminster Saddle Club. I still wanted to train more so through Haddon Training – a work-based training provider in Marlborough, Wiltshire – I got funding for my BHS stage 4 and NVG team leader qualification."  

What subjects did you love at school?

“I enjoyed and was good at PE and history. PE is definitely relevant to my job as a horse groom as I need to be physically and mentally strong. 

I think the skills I developed in history are useful, too – you need to remember facts and build up specialist knowledge, which is an essential part of my job."

Did you do any work experience?

“Yes, lots. My first Saturday job was at the riding school in Tollard Park Equestrian Centre in Salisbury mucking out stables – I was only 12 years old! I then progressed to running the Saturday lessons, and when I was 17 I got the chance to work for a lady who produced show jumpers that jumped at 1.60 metres. I gained some valuable life skills – but it was hard work and not for the faint hearted!”

Which qualifications would you recommend?

“I think the best qualifications are from the British Horse Society. They have a fantastic website where you can discover careers and qualifications that will help you break into the horse world. 

“I’m still gaining qualifications from BHS – and I’m doing my intermediate teaching exam next. You can study for these exams alongside working – so you learn while earning and expand your knowledge in a practical, working sense.” 

Did you overcome any difficulties to get where you are?

“I suffer from dyslexia so I’m hopeless at spelling – I couldn’t get through life without spell check! I also used to be very shy. I overcame my shyness thanks to horses – I never felt shy on a horse or with a horse, so when I started teaching I always imagined I was talking to the horse rather than the rider. Once I know that I’ve built up confidence I really enjoy interacting with the riders.” 

What advice would you give someone who wants to do your job?

“Working with horses means long hours and hard work – and it’s physically and mentally demanding. But it’s also rewarding and fun – and I’ve worked with a lot of great people. The best advice I’ve been given was to never give up, and to always look at a horse’s ears – they always show what your horse is thinking!” 

Any ‘Doh!’ moments?

“Once, a horse lorry turned up with the Guinness logo painted all over it. The owners got out and we started unloading the horses and chatting. I said: ‘So you’re sponsored by Guinness then?’ and they said ‘No dear, we are the Guinness family!’

Have you worked with any interesting celebrities?

“When I was younger I kept my horse at a livery near Madonna’s country estate. I owned a palomino Arab cross at the time and I was out riding him when she drove past me. She stopped her car and asked me if she could buy my ‘beautiful horse’! He was the love of my life so I turned her offer down, but my father was horrified when I told him – I think he was seeing some serious pound signs!”

Next: Read our careers advice about how to be a horse groom


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