‘If a horse isn’t happy it’s picked up straight away but a person is often ignored’

A Grooms Minds online resource has been set up to support stable staff with mental health issues. It

A Grooms Minds online resource has been set up to support stable staff with mental health issues. It comes after a survey revealed 70% of grooms reported being bullied. Picture: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you’re working as a groom, chances are you’ll feel stressed and perhaps even bullied. Sheena Grant finds out about a project to help the stable staff who, until now, might have felt they had nowhere to turn for help.

Bullying can - and does - happen in all kinds of workplaces but evidence suggests that if you’re a groom in an equestrian yard you’re highly likely to be a victim at some time or another.

A survey by the British Grooms Association (BGA) revealed a staggering 70% of grooms reported been bullied, either by their employer or fellow workers and 83% of the 1,315 people who responded were suffering from stress and mental wellbeing problems.

Respondents came from across the sector, including competition yards, riding schools, charities and private yards.

But the BGA has a message for grooms who are struggling: you are not alone.

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This month, in response to the shocking results of that survey, the BGA has launched an online resource, called Grooms Minds online, which has eight areas to help support mental health, including a wellbeing checker, self-help zone, video scripts and real life case studies

The BGA says its research makes for uncomfortable reading and highlights the need for urgent change.

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One young worker who shared her experiences with Grooms Minds said the bullying she suffered from colleagues was subtle but the lack of empathy and care shown by her employers and clients was significant.

“I felt vulnerable and depressed but I kept working and I kept it to myself,” she said. “I didn’t talk about it and didn’t want to admit anything was wrong and that I wasn’t coping.”

Matters came to a head when she was badly injured in a fall and, stuck at home and feeling unsupported by her partner too, she took an overdose before phoning for help.

“As grooms we are so aware if a horse isn’t right or happy and it’s picked up straight away, whereas if it’s a person or colleague it’s often ignored,” she said. “We need change and should be looking out for each other more. The first time I sought help it was a big step forward in the right direction. If you’re in a bad situation, just walk away. There are other jobs but only one you.”

She encouraged others who are suffering to seek help through the Grooms Minds support line, as she had done.

The inspiration for the Grooms Minds project came from BGA founder Lucy Katan.

She said: “My experience of being bullied whilst working at a high profile dressage yard was the catalyst for the formation of the BGA. It is something I will never forget and at the time there was no organisation for me, as a groom, to turn to. I am always concerned when we receive communications from grooms who are suffering from mental health issues in their workplace and the BGA is determined, through the Grooms Minds project, to raise awareness about this.”

Newmarket-based Racing Welfare is supporting Grooms Minds’ 24-hour helpline, available to BGA members, which ensures a trained helper is always available to talk to anyone who is struggling with workplace issues or life challenges in general.

A Racing Welfare spokesperson said: “Advisors are trained in everything from bereavement to relationships and mental health issues and this service to BGA members is an extension of what is already offered to racing staff.”

Sylvia Bruce, a mental health in the workplace consultant who helped develop the Grooms Minds web pages, said: “Grooms Minds is vitally important because it promotes the principle of talking about mental health matters and encourages members’ mental health awareness and confidence.

“In addition it will enhance the profession, industry brand and reputation; aspiring to create more empathic, compassionate and supportive working environments thus attracting, engaging and retaining the best talent – surely a win-win for everyone involved.“

The BGA says the project has been supported by British Dressage, British Showjumping, British Eventing, the British Horse Society, the Pony Club and Norfolk-based World Horse Welfare.

It adds: “The life of a groom can be complex and so this bespoke project aims to support all who work with horses.”

To find out more visit www.britishgrooms.org.uk/grooms-minds

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