I first met Jessica Tighe about 6 or 7 years ago. Even back then, Jessica’s enthusiasm and dedication to equestrianism was very obvious. That’s why it came as no surprise to me when she made the decision to branch out on her own into the world of freelance grooming.
Jessica claims she was always an outdoorsy person who always loved working with animals. She began riding as a teenager and still owns her mare, Lynskey’s Lass, who she jumped to 1.10 level. However, Jessica doesn’t come from a traditional equestrian background. When she announced her plans to go into the equine industry full time, her family were a little bit shocked, believing she would go down the road of veterinary medicine. This was not to be, and on her 18th birthday, Jessica made the decision to chase her dreams and hasn’t looked back since.
In her first job, Jessica worked as a groom and rider. However, an unfortunate accident put her out of the saddle which led her to discover she loved grooming more than riding. From then on, she has dedicated her life to being full time groom.
Over the last couple of years there has been much media attention drawn to the working conditions for grooms and stable hands, particularly in the racing industry. Although this attention has led to an improvement in conditions for some, there is still no doubt that working within the equestrian industry is extremely hard, especially for those just starting out.
I’ve asked Jessica about her experiences and why she made the decision to branch out on her own. She offers some hard truths of the job and some sound advice to anyone thinking of branching out into the world of grooming below.
Describe how you came to choose a career as a groom.
They say if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. I can say hand on my heart I love every second of being a groom. I don’t view this as a job, this is my passion! I’m one of the few people in the world that gets to chase their passion and love every second of it. The thoughts of an ordinary job horrify me! A 9 to 5 desk job? No thank you! Pass me the stable fork please!
What is it you love about your job?
It’s impossible to narrow down what I love about the job. I just get an overwhelming sense of pride watching my rider and horse performing at their best and knowing I was apart of that team. Watching a young horse go from his first show as a 4 yr old to jumping Grand Prix level is an amazing feeling. Personally I love walking into the yard first thing in the morning seeing all the horses looking out their doors, waiting for me and last thing in the evening when all is quiet. Giving each horse a pat and just checking to make sure everyone is OK.
What has been your biggest high to date?
I’ve groomed at 5* level but there is something special about winning on home soil. Last year at the RDS , I was grooming for the Wachmans . Tom and Alice made it to the main ring in the 128cm championship where Tom won it for the second year in a row on ‘PARC Epic’. It was an amazing feeling having the entire team there to celebrate. Hard work truly pays off. Max topped off the week by winning the children on horses section!
What has been your biggest low to date?
It’s a horrible feeling moving on from some yards, especially when you have spent a lot of time there but such is life. I’m very lucky to have never had a horse die in my care (fingers crossed it will never happen). I’ve just always found it hard to leave horses behind, I get attached to horses quicker than I would with a human!
What have you learned so far?
You never know everything so listen to what others have to say! It’s a harsh truth that an awful lot of grooms need to learn. I learned from the ground up and that’s the only way to do it.
Never, ever stop practicing. I didn’t get good at plaiting overnight, I kept working on improving it and never settled for anything less than my best. Have pride in your work, it will show on the day!
What is the best advice you have received to date?
Never ever change who you are. Don’t be fake or false. You mess up, say it! We can only learn from our mistakes if we accept them and move on. Following your gut instinct, it knows more than you do.
Would you recommend a career as a groom?
Choosing a career as a groom is extremely hard work and trust me, it doesn’t get any easier as time goes on. You are literally sacrificing any form of a normal life. Being a groom is a 24/7 job. However, being a freelance groom I can go anywhere in the world at the sound of a phone call and I love that. I want to see the world and everything it has got to show me. If I get to do that with an equine by my side, think I might be in heaven but this lifestyle isn’t for everyone.
If you are willing to work hard, then you will make it as a groom. I have gotten to work with the most amazing people so far like Marylin Little (USA), Vincent Byrne, E.E.T (USA/Germany), Coolmore Showjumping, Castlelawn Stud, Jessica Bourke and so much much more. You will meet amazing people on your journey and it’s well worth all the effort, trust me!
What advice would you give anyone trying to make it as a groom?
Go to a small yard starting off, that’s where you will get the most opportunity. If you show potential as a rider then chances are you will get horses to ride or even compete, this rarely happens at bigger yards. They will already have a steady stream of good riders or grooms trying to get in. Don’t complain about mucking out stables either, we all did our fair share of shoveling and still do.
Also, find what makes you happy! I hate being cooped up in a yard for too long without a show or sale to go to so I know being a home groom is a big no no for me. I only found that out through trial and error. It’s all about finding out what you want from life and chasing it. I started out wanting to be a rider and look at me now, I travel the world being a show groom. If you told 18 year old me that, I think I would never believe you!
What are your plans for the future?
To the future I’m aiming to breed my own line of competition stallions. It was something I discovered I had a passion for whilst working for a competition yard in the west of Ireland. Castlelawn Stud, ran by Gabriel Slattery Jr, was where I learn how to be a head groom. The wealth of knowledge that I gained from my experience there has propelled me to the level I work at today. I wouldn’t be where I am today without all the help and guidance I received from Gabriel. As it stands, my own mare (by Brilliant Lad, out of a Powerswood purple mare) has a foal at foot by Gabriel’s stallion, ‘CC Captain Cruise.’
Thank you Jessica for taking the time out to participate in this piece. It’s given us a little insight into your dreams and aspirations! Wishing you the very best of luck with your future career!