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A Groom’s Tale: Part I

Let me start off by saying that I love grooming. Love it.

When I first started riding, I was at a total do-it-yourself barn. The idea of someone else grooming and tacking for you was simply unheard of. I learned how to pull a mane, braid and clip by watching the older girls and then experimenting on my own. My first pony was a Leopard Appaloosa and come show season, wonky braids and unsightly clipper tracks added to his “unique” appearance. But there was no denying my pride when I presented my pony and the judge congratulated me on doing it all by myself (he didn’t have to ask, it was obvious I hadn’t had help!).

When I outgrew my pony, I graduated to a chestnut Quarter Horse named Cody. Cody was everything every little girl could want in a horse, and together we embarked on an adventure that was like nothing I’d experienced with my pony – showing on the Quarter Horse circuit.

At first, I was totally out of my league when it came to grooming. But I am extremely competitive, so I quickly set out on mastering that perfectly polished show ring look. 4 AM usually found me washing and blow-drying my horse’s tail, then washing and blow-drying his fake tail, too. By the end of my first show season, my horse had the tidiest bands, the shiniest coat, the glossiest hooves and the thickest tail.

After a few years, I shifted my focus to the Hunter/Jumper world. And so it was back to braiding. With a shudder, I remembered the cattywonkus braids of my youth and I was determined not to go back. At first it took forever and the braids still looked awful, but I wouldn’t give up. Eventually, I started measuring my braiding sessions in minutes, not hours. My braids got tighter and tidier. Then one morning as I headed into the ring, a fellow competitor asked for my braider’s phone number. I’d made it back to the top of the grooming game!

When I headed off to college, we hosted several IHSA and IDA shows every year. With over 100 horses on the property, there was a lot of show prep to be done. It was there that I added two new tools to my grooming repertoire: dressage braids and grooming fast. I was also fortunate enough to be living right in the middle of some pretty serious horse country, so when I wasn’t taking care of the horses at school, I was making some extra cash clipping, braiding and grooming at all the rated shows.

By the time I arrived at SmartPak, I had several years of semi-pro grooming experience under my belt. So imagine my delight when one day up pops an email from our staff photographer, asking if anyone in the office is handy with braiding yarn. I could barely respond fast enough! And with the click of the “Send” button, my adventure as the official groom of SmartPak had begun.

In this role, I’ve been fortunate enough to go on location to some exceptionally beautiful barns here in Massachusetts, as well as travelling to Wellington, FL for our annual spring photo shoots. I’ve had the pleasure of handling some of the loveliest and kindest horses I’ve ever met. I’ve put dressage braids on a junior jumper and hunter plaits on an event horse. I get to work with truly amazing people, and I get to see what goes on behind the scenes as a whole barn plays dress up for a day. In short, I have the best job ever.

So ends Part I of this groom’s tale. Check out Part II, where I run through my photo shoot grooming routine, pick my favorite products and share some tips from our staff photographer on how to take a great horse photo!

Sarah Paull

Sarah Paull is a lifelong rider and SmartPak’s Brand Manager. You may know her better as the life-size foam finger from the London Olympics, the host of USEF Network’s Live from London coverage, or “that girl from the Stuff Riders Say videos.” Prior to joining SmartPak in 2008, Sarah worked as a Veterinary Technician at B.W. Furlong & Associates in Oldwick, NJ, and obtained her degree in Equine Science from Centenary College. Sarah is the proud mom of Cody, a semi-retired, 23-year-old Quarter Horse gelding, and she’s currently looking for an eventing partner to help her get rid of all the extra time, money and energy she doesn’t actually have :-) If you're interested in her often-horsey, always-odd musings, follow @SmartPakerSarah on Twitter.

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