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Louise Persson: “Some grooms have maybe lost their why; why are we actually doing what we do?”

Tuesday, 31 May 2022
Interview

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
From a groom’s point of view, Louise Persson talks to WoSJ about the current issues in the industry and how self-care can contribute to a more sustainable career. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

Over the past 15 years, Louise Persson has worked as a show groom in Europe and as a stable manager in the US. Currently, Louise is freelancing and WoSJ met her at the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Final 2022 in Leipzig, Germany, where she took care of Harrie Smolder’s Monaco. From a groom’s point of view, the Swede talks to WoSJ about the current issues in the industry and how self-care can contribute to a more sustainable career.

Finding a balance

“I used to live for my job, but I realized it was not healthy,” Louise begins. “I think we all have had that one job that meant everything, where you gave all your heart – and in the past, I had that. My job still means a lot to me, and I love the horses I look after and get very attached to them, but I do think about myself as well. There are other things outside of this sport, and I try to find a balance – although it is easier said than done.”

I used to live for my job, but I realized it was not healthy

“In this sport, there is a lot of pressure – all the time,” Louise continues. “If the horses go well or not, we take it in our hearts – which is maybe also the reason we are good at what we do, because we care that much. However, we sometimes have to remind ourselves to not take it too personal. To keep it healthy long-term, we have to learn to let go a little.”

Louise started working with horses in Sweden when she was 14, and went to an equestrian high school. “I started to work there on the weekends and got to do some national shows so that is how I got into it,” she explains. “Then, we started to do international shows and a few Nations Cups, and I thought it was really cool. I wanted to see more, so I left Sweden when I was 19 and worked as a show groom in Switzerland for ten years.”

To keep it healthy long-term, we have to learn to let go a little

“After ten years in Switzerland, I started to think about doing something else because I was a little bit burned out,” Louise continues. “I felt like maybe it was time to take a ‘normal job’ – but that is not so simple when you have worked in this industry for so long. I ended up as a stable manager in the US and was there for five years. For personal reasons, I left that job last fall. My mom got really sick, and that put things in another perspective for me. Also, I felt that I had lost the passion in my job. I am a very happy and positive person, and I started to not be that person anymore. I felt like I needed to change, because I think it is really important to stay positive: This job is so hard, and if you can’t see the good parts in your daily work, it simply gets too much.”

Take responsibility for yourself

After some time off, Louise is now back to grooming as a freelance, and has gained another point of view on the issues the grooms are facing. “I see it more clearly after being away,” she points out. “I believe that we do it to ourselves; we push ourselves too far – all of us,” Louise says. “However, at the end of the day, we do this for the horses, so we have got to learn to stop and think twice. You have to take responsibility for yourself: If you are not happy, you have to change something – if not, the horses and the people around you will suffer from it. As a groom, you should remember to take time for yourself; try to be finished in time, take your days off. It is not easy to do when you are in it, and I was the same; I was crazy. Before, I did not see it, but now, with some distance, I can admit that. I’m a perfectionist, but it’s physically and mentally not possible to be perfect 24/7 – we set ourselves a standard that is impossible to fulfill.”

I believe that we do it to ourselves; we push ourselves too far – all of us

“Now, I see these grooms, driving every week from show to show – all the credit to them. However, I have noticed that it has started to become a bit of a competition of who has it the worst: Who drives the most, who doesn’t have days off, who has the worst employer – there is a lot of complaining,” Louise says. “And I don’t feel too sorry for the grooms who complain, because I do think they also have to take responsibility for themselves. In the end, you don’t do a good job anymore because your body can’t hold up and it can get dangerous. I know, because I have done it myself: I thought I was a super woman, but I am not. And nobody needs to be, either. If you want to do a good job, you have got to sleep at one point, and I think it is a healthy development to see more and more riders hiring drivers. As a groom, you cannot keep going for years with sleep deprivation.”

I thought I was a super woman, but I am not

“At one of the last shows before Christmas, I got very disappointed with my colleagues – the atmosphere was unreal: People were very cranky and miserable,” Louise continues. “An environment like that really drags you down and the ones that suffer are actually the horses; they step on your foot, the grooms get angry. It is not their fault that their grooms refused to take a day off and are over-tired.”

We set ourselves a standard that is impossible to fulfill

“It is not easy to come in as a new, young groom either,” Louise adds. “I know when I started, it felt like a mafia. To come in and roll with it was not easy. I think the community of grooms has to be more open, and give fair opportunities to the people who are still learning. It is important to let everyone learn by doing and involve everyone. Nobody wants to work with a miserable, overworked groom, who gives you a feeling that whatever you do is wrong or never good enough. An important point to remember for anyone new coming into this industry is that there is no such thing as right and wrong; every stable has a different system.”

Pushing over the limit

“If the horses don’t jump well, I don’t think it’s only because of one person, I do think it comes down to a team effort,” Louise continues. “I believe it is nonsense to say that we as grooms cannot let someone else go to a show, that we have to be there for it to go well. If you have a good horse, with a good rider, on a good day – most probably it will go well anyway. This is something we have to learn; letting go and be team players. I was the same, I needed to do everything myself, I thought the horses could not do without me – but they can. We put ourselves in that position, we keep saying we are fine without a day off until it is too late. We all push over the limit. Now-a-days the show schedule is so overwhelming, that it is impossible to do it if you don’t have a good team behind you, and the people that work at home are just as important as the ones at the show.”

This is something we have to learn; letting go and be team players

Who you work for also plays a role in a groom’s wellbeing, Louise points out. “The situation is different if you work for an amateur with a strong economic background, versus somewhere where you need to win to pay the bills,” she explains. “The financial situation makes a big difference, and then there is also the added pressure from owners and sponsors. Sometimes it might be easier to work for an amateur who doesn’t care if they win or not and enjoy the sport in a different way.”

I think it happens often; people go until they can’t anymore

“However, if you don’t communicate with your rider and your team about these issues, you easily burn yourself out and risk end up leaving – even if that was not what you wanted or planned,” Louise says. “I think it happens often; people go until they can’t anymore. We put so much into our jobs and no one should leave from one day to the other. Many leave on bad terms, which is sad because you get close to whoever you work with. They become your family and that is why people get hurt: You get vulnerable, when you know everything about each other. I think as a groom, your biggest wish is to get a phone call from your previous employer saying: “We can’t do it without you!” But trust me… that’s not going to happen: Everyone is replaceable.”

A change is always scary

“When you are working as a groom you often get provided with housing and often a car, which is great, but the day you leave you realize you have nothing,” Louise says about the difficulty of leaving the industry for a ‘normal’ job. “And it takes a lot of courage to start a new life. The next thing is… What to do? I’m turning 35 this year and I'm still lost. However, I do think it’s important to talk about this, because I believe I’m not the only one out there feeling this way – we are all in the same boat.”

Do it because you love it

“Sometimes I catch myself saying how I have no education, but actually, I have been working with this for 15 years, I have gained so much experience and I still learn every day,” Louise tells about the many benefits of being a groom. “There are so many things you can take out of this job. My advice is “monkey see, monkey do”: Keep your eyes and ears open, try to learn as much as you can. With the right work ethic and passion for horses, you can go far, get the best experiences, travel the world and make friends for life.”

“In the European system, I learned to work hard, and how when things happen unexpectedly, you need to stay calm and find solutions,” Louise continues. “In the American system, you need more of a social skill; you learn to communicate with people. I think you learn through everything you do; how to manage your time, yourself, people and horses. And, you have a lot of responsibility. All these skills you can use later on in life. Through the years I have been lucky to have learned to know so many amazing people – colleagues, clients, owners, farriers, vets… They will always be close to my heart. I don’t regret a day in my life, but I wish would have done it a little different, so I could have enjoyed it even more.”

 We should do this because we love it

“If you have a passion for this, you have to try to do it a bit more as a job and let go a bit – just to survive,” Louise says when asked how the career of a groom could be made more sustainable. “Self-care is important: Surround yourself with the right people, the right energy. We should do this because we love it. You can get a new job, but not a new family: Go for that wedding or funeral, try to go home for Christmas. Do more things for yourself! Motivate yourself after work to do something; go for a walk or dinner, do whatever you enjoy.”

“I enjoy the horses and that close bond you create with them,” Louise says. “This job is not about the money. We got into this job because we like horses, not because we wanted to go to big shows. We started at a riding school, or with a pony at home; we loved giving them carrots and brushing their tails. These days, with social media and all that, sometimes I feel the horses don’t get as well taken care of as they used to. Now, it seems more important to get a picture out on Instagram and then throw the horse back in their stall instead of actually taking them out for their hand walk.

I believe we should be here for the horses

“I also want to point out that it doesn’t matter how many stars the show has,” Louise continues. “If you are a groom at a  2* or a 5* show shouldn’t matter: You are there to do your best and do what’s the best for your horses. What you see on social media isn’t reality: There is a lot of hard work and late hours behind that picture with the horse in front of the Eiffel Tower or on the beach in Miami. Also, nobody really cares how many braids you are doing; maybe the horse would have been less stressed without them and that time could have been used for a little hand-walk or a pre GP nap – who knows?”

“The industry has changed a lot, and I feel there are more people around not because of the horses but because of the shows and the gram. A big part of this job is to enjoy what we are doing and I think many grooms have lost their pleasure in the job. Some grooms have maybe lost their why; why are we actually doing what we do? I believe we should be here for the horses.” 

 

No reproduction without written permission, copyright © World of Showjumping.com



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