Should I tip my groom? Yes. Here’s why and how much to tip.

man grooming a horseIf you ride more than once a week, it is fine to combine tips into one generous one at the end of your lesson week. You may also decide to offer a tip once a month, although I am sure most grooms appreciate something a little more frequent. Tipping is not just about money, it is about showing appreciation and that you value the person and the work that they do. Saying thank you isn’t enough. Saying thank you with a tip is also a stronger way of saying, “thanks for all you do.”

To Tip, Or Not Tip:  There Should Be No Question — Tip!

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When I was new to riding I would show up at the barn to find a horse tacked and waiting for me.  A groom passed me the reins, and after my ride I returned the horse to the attentive hands of the same groom to untack for me.

When I began taking lessons, I was not allowed to groom, tack, or untack — not that I even knew how, but as my skills and knowledge and barn credibility progressed, I did learn to do the very basics: picking hooves, tacking, untacking, and bathing a horse.  I found I loved to do these things and was eventually allowed to help, but I only had to do it for one horse at a time — not three, five, or even ten in an hour like some grooms need to do.

I had been riding for a few months when I saw a woman hand a groom $5.00.  I was horrified because it had never occurred to me to tip!  I mean, I was paying a decent hourly rate for lessons, isn’t tacking up and untacking sort of an implied benefit included in that hourly rate?  Uh, no.

If it has never occurred to you to tip your groom on the basis that they get paid an hourly rate and you already paid the barn for services, then you need to more fully appreciate the hard work of these taken-for-granted, behind-the-scenes folks.  When I was a non-tipper I genuinely did not appreciate that horses are never on self-care mode and the amount of time, attention, and hard work that they require of the people responsible for their care.  I also did not think it through:  what you pay your barn does not go directly to your groom so if you want to thank them directly, give them cash — not just a quick “thanks.”

The Hard Working All-Around Horse Groom

Grooms often work for a low-wage hourly rate when in fact, they should be salaried.  Overtime laws are very strict, but that does not mean your groom is getting paid over time if they work more than 8 hours in a day, or more than 5 days a week.  If an employee is on-call, or a groom is required to work extra days to attend shows, the law is clear:  they must be compensated for the additional hours unless they are salaried, and, if they are not salaried, then they must be paid time and a half.

In 2013, the average salary for a horse groom was $20,000 per year.  Show grooms and head grooms may earn slightly more.

Grooms may or may not have health insurance benefits, and those that do are more likely to have cheaper plans with less coverage because most barns are private or small businesses.  They may also not receive paid vacation, sick leave, or other corporate “perks,” but they do, like the rest of us have expenses.

Most grooms do more than just tack and untack your horse.  They may also feed, longe, handwalk horses, turn them out, give medications,  clean stalls, add bedding, and perform various odd jobs.  It is hard work caring for horses and with the exception of elite stables, grooms are almost always responsible for multiple horses.

Lesson grooms are the wonderful folks who get horses ready for riders taking lessons.  They typically pull the horse from its stall, groom them, tack them, untack, clean them up, bath them, and put the horses back into their stalls.  And, they also are likely responsible for cleaning all the tack and if it is locked up at night, pulling it out and putting it all back.  They may also be required to keep the tack, grooming, and bathing areas clean, too, which does not just include scooping up manure, but hosing, wiping, removing trash, etc.  In smaller barns, grooms may also feed the horses, give them supplements, and medications, and clean their stalls.  Some, may even have to do laundry — saddle pads and polo wraps need regular washing — they do not clean themselves.

Grooms are also sometimes called in to help tarp and untarp rings when it rains, paint and fix jumps, as well as perform other various jobs requiring manual labor.

How Much To Tip A Groom

How much to tip always depends on who you are tipping, where you live, how often you ride (which by default also includes how often you tip), and how happy you are with the service.  This article intends to address the basic, all-around groom — not private grooms, or racetrack or show horse grooms.  I am talking about the everyday groom that takes care of school horses used for lessons.

For what it is worth, I live in Los Angeles County in California.  I tip our lesson groom $20 a week per horse (and give him a nice bonus at Christmas) even though my daughters and I pretty much do everything for our horses except stall cleaning, feeding, and longeing.  Still, we continue to rely on our groom for so many things.  He checks on our horses when we are not there and is quick to inform us of any bumps,cuts, or changes in behavior, etc.  On rainy days we always hand walk our three horses, but our groom also does it so they get out of their stalls twice.  If we are running late, he starts to get our horses ready without being asked.  If one of our horses is high, he longes them.  We may not use him all the time for everything, but he clearly appreciates that we appreciate him and always has our back.

Unlike calculating a tip at a restaurant based on a percentage of the total amount of the bill, tipping your groom has a different basis for expressing gratitude and is easier to figure out.

  • Tip in whole numbers in five dollar increments – $5, $10, $15, etc.
  • Never tip less than $5.00 per lesson — handing a couple dollars to a hard working groom is insulting because tips, like it or not, place an unspoken judgment about the value of a person’s worth to you.   A dollar or two is insulting. Period.  If you are at a fancy barn of the “rich and famous” $5.00 is an insult, so bear in mind the culture and atmosphere of your barn and tip appropriately.
  • Don’t tip sporadically.  Either tip, or don’t (but I encourage to offer a tip.)  Predictability sends a message you are happy with your groom, tipping only now and again sends a mixed message that sometimes you like them, and sometimes you don’t.  Or, that you are simply ungrateful for the services being rendered.  General rule of thumb:  If you ride in a lesson program once a week and do not own your own horse, tip once a week.  If you own and board a horse, tip your groom once a month.
  • Grooms also give horses body clips and keep their facial hair trimmed.  Body clipping the horse you ride can take several hours and is back breaking work.  If your groom clips your horse a tip of $25 to $50 is not unjustified.  In most cases, the fee your barn charges to clip your horse is not past along to your groom, or, the barn takes a cut of at least 25% and up to 75% of the fee you pay.

How Often To Tip If you Ride More Than Once A Week

If you are going to tip each time you ride, and you ride more than once a week, tipping can become a bit of a hassle for you.  The groom rightfully may come to expect a tip and when it is not offered because you simply forgot, or did not have a spare bill in your purse, may think you are unhappy with them.

If you are a regular rider, it is fine to tip at the end of the week after you have taken all your lessons for the week, or even once or twice a month.  The key is to be consistent.

To discuss tips in your particular geographic area (which can heavily influence the amount to tip) try asking in a horse forum.  For example. here is an interesting discussion in a forum on the work grooms do, and how much they earn.  www.chronofhorse.com

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