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Study finds 58.5% of 1389 grooms fail to see relevance of FEI initiatives aimed at improving career recognition and working conditions

Thursday, 14 March 2024

A study has revealed that the FEI’s initiatives aimed at improving the career recognition of grooms, as well as their working conditions, have had marginal effects. 1389 grooms completed an online survey that was used in the study, and 58.5% of them failed to see the relevance of the initiatives to themselves personally. The study ‘Are Current Efforts to Prevent Grooms from Leaving the Industry Effective? An Analysis Based on Principles of Behavior Changes’ has been authored by Susanna L. Ole and Inga A. Wolframm at the Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences, Applied Research Centre, and was published 7 March 2024

The study reflects on how the grooming industry has experienced an outflow of experienced staff – and how poor working conditions, insufficient remuneration and lack of respect towards the profession have been named as some of the many reasons as to why grooms leave the sector. In an attempt to improve the recognition of the grooms, as well as their working conditions, the FEI has over the last years launched several high-profile initiatives – the formation of the International Grooms Association (IGA) being the most significant. The IGA – established in 2022 – was created to achieve greater representation and career recognition for grooms, as well as to improve their working conditions, especially at equestrian events where long hours are the norm. Additional initiatives include the now annual FEI Cavalor Best Groom Award, as well as the #ChampionsAsOne campaign launched prior to the 2022 ECCO FEI World Championships in Herning, Denmark. In the study, the authors aim to determine whether these initiatives were perceived by grooms as addressing prevalent barriers that currently prevent them from staying in the industry. 

The study was conducted drawing on the COM-B model, developed by Michie et al., and the Behaviour Change Wheel as a theoretical framework and using a four-part online questionnaire. Statistical analysis using chi-square tests, Kruskal-Wallis and Mann-Whitney U tests revealed that the above mentioned initiatives were not perceived as effective. 

The 1389 participants who completed the survey had a mean age of 34. 54% were former grooms and 46% currently worked as professional grooms. 91% of the participants were female, 8% male, 0.4% non-binary and 0.5% preferred not to say. Participants from the United States were represented by 33.8%, followed by the United Kingdom (12.2%), Germany (9.1%), Canada (8.6%), and the Netherlands (7.8%). 74% of the participants worked in the discipline of showjumping A total of 87.4% of participating grooms attended competitions; 49.5% national and 50.5% international.

The study gives valuable insight into how these grooms have perceived the different initiatives launched by the FEI. 58.5% of the grooms indicated that the initiatives had no impact on them personally, arguably because the initiatives failed to address those issues perceived as most pressing – namely a high mental and physical workload (physical opportunity) and insufficient remuneration and time off (physical capability).

In particular, the study details how the FEI-initiatives appear to have failed to address barriers relating to the grooms’ physical capability. According to the study, effective interventions would have focused on reducing the mental and physical workload of grooms, thereby 'enabling' them to take better care of their health and physical fitness. The study also found that the initiatives failed to tackle barriers related to physical opportunity. Providing better remuneration or time off would likely have been much more effective seeing that these are concrete examples of the relevant intervention functions enablement or restructuring of the (working) environment. Lastly, the study found that the initiatives seem to have done little to clamp down on, or 'restrict' levels of disrespect by employers – rather than the general public – thus failing to attend to pervasive barriers relating to social opportunity. 

The study points out that most of the barriers that have been left unaddressed by the FEI fall within the responsibility of employers. Tellingly, grooms named employers as the responsible stakeholders for leading the change in the grooming industry. Out of the 1389 participants, 29% would like to see employers take the lead in developing a sustainable grooming industry. The FEI was chosen by 23.5% of the participants, followed by the IGA with 15.5% and national federations with 10.7%

The study concludes that albeit undoubtedly well-intentioned, the effect of the FEI initiatives aimed at galvanizing the grooming sector is perceived to have been marginal at best. By drawing on the existing theoretical frameworks such as the COM-B model and the Behavior Change Wheel, the authors pinpoints why this might be – writing: “Launching initiatives that target secondary issues, rather than attempting to tackle those barriers considered essential. As such, the current approach of using the Behavior Change Wheel shows considerable promise in assisting governing bodies when drawing up initiatives aimed at (behavior) change within the equine industry in general and the grooming profession in particular.”

The authors conclude that future research should focus on investigating how grooms themselves see the future of the industry, what changes they consider essential, and what might be needed to prevent grooms from leaving their jobs. The authors aim to publish the second part of their study later this year, which will focus on these topics. 

The full study can be found here. 



With permission from Susanna L. Ole and Inga A. Wolframm


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