Attention: Grooms

Hi! So I am the sole caretaker of an 8 horse private family barn in Northern VA. Nice horses, nice farm, nice family. I do everything- turn in/out, muck, clean tack after every ride, exercise 2/3 horses a day, etc. everything but mowing, dragging ring. I have been there since May and they love me!
I work six days / week and get Mondays off. I work all holidays unless they fall on a Monday- so I worked Thanksgiving, Xmas, new year’s, 4th of July - you get it. I get paid 500.00/wk less taxes, so I take home 450. I also get a cute one bed, one bath cottage on site- they pay all utilities except TV. No health insurance or other bennies. Is this a good deal or am I being taken advantage of. When I started they only had five horses. I’m thinking instead of a pay increase, I would really like another day off per week. I’m getting burnt out. What say you, COTHERS?

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I get paid 500.00/wk less taxes, so I take home 450.

In 1973 I worked the summer for a saddlehorse show barn, took care of Five head, no riding required, just take care of the beasts and was paid $500 per week plus when working shows (which was nearly every weekend another $100 pulse)…and that was 47 Years ago

Burn out? that summer was the longest year of my life

I’m not going to comment specifically on the $$… responses on what is fair will run the gamut. Plus, sometimes it’s hard to put a dollar value on some aspects of the job that are of value to you (like liking the family, no inter-staff drama, riding perks, etc… how much stuff like that is worth depends on the person).

But I will say, if you are on here asking, you are starting to feel used. And that matters. It’s good you are recognizing this burn-out at the start of it. This means you can do something about it before it turns into misery and resentment.

You are going to have to talk to your employers (I know, I know… these conversations make me cringe too). They may have no idea how you are feeling, or even realize how much the extra horses have put on your plate. Maybe it should be obvious math, but if you’re doing the job well and mostly staying positive, there is a pretty solid chance they haven’t noticed. And I know, if you’re a good groom (and itsounds like you are) there is a certain pride in being able to get your job done and not bother others with it. So go ahead and tell them what you’ve said here. Tell them another day off would probably be really helpful. (Another option might be having someone come in for a couple of hours in the mornings to help turnout and muck. Lot of people with flexible schedules now).

As for holidays… that’s a tricky one. I think when you take on a groom job in general — especially sole charge — it goes with the territory. I have not yet figured out a way to stop them from eating for a day… That said, I’ve been paid time and half for those days when in a similar position to you (though never while show grooming, actually). Also, if you value the actual holiday off, is there any chance your Monday person (or new future extra day person) might like to pick up an extra day here and there?

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No wonder they love you. You’re working for half the going rate. If that. Especially when you add in all the extras on top of the horse care. And eight horses is a lot for one person, especially if you’re also riding them.

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Seems pretty standard. Rent free is a ‘benefit’ of your job. They probably can’t pay your health insurance if they are just a family with horses and pay you out of household accounts as an independent contractor. If there was showing involved, the pay should probably be a bit more.

Mucking and cleaning tack for 8 horses isn’t a ton, as long as you aren’t also having to ride all 8 yourself.

The only thing not that seems uncommon about your experience is that they don’t give you vacation time. When I’ve held similar jobs, I’ve always had a week of paid vacation per year.

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As with any job, you need to decide if the circumstances make it worth it for you.

If, for example, you live in a high cost of living area and you really enjoy it then the free apartment might be worth a lower salary. If you’re in a very low cost of living area the free rent may not be as much of a financial advantage. Or, if you just plain hate the area the free apartment really isn’t worth anything to you regardless of how much money it’s saving you.

Same with holidays. If your family is 15 minutes away it might not be a big deal. If you have no family around you may think differently.

Decide what you would need to be happy in that position. Tell your employer you really like the job but in order to make it work for you long term you need X, Y, and Z. Be prepared to compromise but also realize that you may not be able to come to a compromise that works for both parties and that’s ok. You don’t have to decide you’re fine working every holiday just because they can’t find anyone to cover you. They also don’t have to agree to your requests, even if they are reasonable. Some jobs just don’t fit some people no matter how hard you try. But, it is worth trying :slight_smile:

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Assuming you’re working 10-hour days (60 hours a week), rent of $800 and $200 utilities ($3000 total compensation), you’re getting the equivalent of $12.50/hour.
Doesn’t sound worth it to me.

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Riding is not a ‘perk’. It is part of the job. Full care of eight horses is a lot. You agreed to a salary when there were five horses. Now there are eight, an increase of over 50%. That is more money. But money won’t save you from the burnout because that is a lot of work. Can they get your day off person to open or close for you one day a week?

As for holidays, that’s just part of the job. If you want a holiday off, ask the family about making arrangements in advance.

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As far as holidays, when I worked a similar job, I would do morning chores, the horses would be turned in early, and then I would be done at noon. The family would take care of dinner feeding. I felt like that was pretty fair.

Burn out is real. If you need a vacation or an extra day off I would ask now (and give them some time to accommodate you) before you reach your breaking point and ruin a good thing.

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Perhaps “perk” was the wrong term. I just meant that some people might strongly prefer a job where riding is a part of it, while others could take it or leave it. Just like some people might prefer a quiet home job while others want to travel a lot. Some might like working for a single ammy more than a big barn. They might prefer these things enough to take it into consideration of the whole picture when choosing a job, rather than just going to who will pay most. Just saying that’s more of a personal decision based on your own values (and truthfully, how much you value money. Some people need more to survive than others. Some people just want it more. Nothing wrong with any of that.).

Also, I guess it’s not 100% clear from the OP, but I didn’t read it as “full care” of 8 inclusive of tacking/grooming the ones she doesn’t ride (only because she mentioned tack specifically and not the other stuff, I could be wrong). So I saw it as doubling barn chores, not the riding/grooming of her 2-3. If so, it’s doable, but certainly does add a load. Hence my additional suggestion of adding a second person for some mornings if possible. If she’s actually full grooming (as in tacking, putting riders on, putting horses away) eight with show-horse type care, it’s absolutely not sustainable. I know, I’ve done it for weeks here and there as a stop-gap. It’s exhausting, even seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

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I’m in NoVa and that doesn’t sound too far off except you should have vacation days. Rent is expensive here and a big perk not to have to pay it.

How many hours are you working and what can you do to maximize your time? Or are chores time consuming and they are expecting more than the time they are paying you for?

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That’s true but it might not feel like such a perk to the OP if she would be living in a less expensive area if not for this job.

Yeah, OP, how many hours a week do you work? I think it could be useful for you to do the math. If you do and the hourly rate makes you feel used and depressed, that will be pretty illuminating. Or you might realize it’s more than you could make at other jobs for which you’re qualified, and that could help you feel better about staying.

Either way though, it sounds like you need to renegotiate time off to avoid burnout. Would it help if one day a week though did only basic morning (or afternoon) chores but no grooming, tack cleaning, or riding? That seems like an extremely reasonable ask to me. Or would you rather have a week of vacation? Think about what would help you most before you approach the owners.

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I’ve never truly figured a per hour amount because day to day it varies. Some days are easily 10+, some are more like 6 ( those are rare). 3 horses are retired, so no riding, but everything else. I’m guessing in my area the house benefit may be worth up to 2,000 a month. I’m not complaining, but I’m in my 50s and my body just needs a break. On my one day off I’m scrambling to get my own stuff done- laundry, groceries, etc. I’m just trying to get some comparisons before I sit down with my boss and ask for stuff. I do love my job and my farm.

That’s fair, too. Even if it came to $60/hour, working six days a week 52 weeks a year will definitely burn anyone out. You deserve vacation days like any other full time job, and a five-day week.

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Do you know any groom who gets a 5 day week? Serious question, because I have never known of any barn job where that was the norm.

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Nope, definitely got the norm. Six is the norm and I have seen the very occasional 5.5 day weeks. The six day week generally seems to be a matter of staffing convenience. No reason the norm couldn’t or shouldn’t be 5 days, except that it seems more difficult for employers to find and retain part time help.

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Of course the OP is not legally an independent contractor…

Otherwise, there’s a basic question I’d ask and then I’ll give you my two cents, OP.

  1. Have you and your employer assigned a dollar value to your housing? Will they count that money as part of your salary when it comes to tax time? I have known situations where employees had to pay taxes on the dollar-value of the “free board” they got for their horse. It was a nasty surprise.

  2. Given that you aren’t paying cash for your housing and utilities, what would you pay for that in your area?

That said (and the amount added into your salary), can you get other/better work that would pay you that $24K/year you are getting in cash plus that cost of housing?

I do think it’s great but also wearing to work 6 days a week by yourself. If your employers love the work you do for them, they should be eager to offer you thinks like vacation time or time off on a holiday (or 1.5 pay or some kind of big Christmas bonus).

IME, the best employers like yours (members of the horsey set rich enough to have a private farm and a full-time groom) took care to make sure their grooms felt appreciated. In a couple of cases, that meant the employer hired the immigration attorney to get the groom US citizenship. In other cases, that meant some of the perks of a legit job, usually in the form of that extra pay, huge Christmas tip and time off as I mentioned. The job the groom had and living arrangements (some good, some bad) didn’t change. All understood that that was the nature o the job and housing. But the extras the employer through in went a long way to keep the groom loyal and happy.

ETA: Reading more of the responses (Rent for your housing in your area being $2K/month (!)), and about your age, I’d add these thoughts. First, your housing stipend is a significant part of your salary. You are really making $48k/year. I wouldn’t want to spend 50% of my pre-tax wages on housing, but that’s a different question.

Second, and my point: What kind of compensation do you really want in order to make this job continue to work for you in the long term? Do you want time off or more money? Or something else? If your employer agreed to give you housing under the table, that’s worth something because 50% of your pay is going untaxed. Would another half-day off per week do it for you? Would 6 days/week be OK if you had a week of vacation each year?

In short: The real currency of our lives is time and what we do with that, not money. So figure out what you want your life to be like in order to stay in this job and ask for whichever one-- time or money-- will help you get your life to be happy and sustainable.

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Thank you for all the replies. I don’t know if my housing comp will be taxed. Very good question! I don’t think so. They do show their appreciation- gave me a very nice warm jacket, battery operated vest, and a 150.00 tip at Xmas and invited me to Xmas Eve dinner with them, among other smaller things now and then. The reason I’m here asking is so I can continue to do this job as long as possible/ necessary and I just want to sit down with some comparable experiences. I really think more time off would do it. And I haven’t asked about a vacation yet, since I haven’t been there a year, but they seem like reasonable people. I’m thinking they would agree to it at least without pay.

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OP, you mentioned there are days were you worked six hours and others ten. I suggest that you maintain a work log of just how many hours and what tasks you have done.

In 1972 I took a semester off while in college and worked in a position sort of like yours, when I set down with the owner to talk about what was happening he had actually little idea as to what was being done and the time required, his mind set was that everything was in order so really it could not be taking much time. We talked a little and during that conversation I just decided to return to college.

My guess and this is just an assumption is they believe you work or should be working six or so hours a day and feel they are over compensating you.

But without data who knows?

One thing that bothers me is how you are viewed… invited guest or employee… nevertheless if you are injured you can file a claim against their homeowner’s insurance.

(and the deal about housing, usually the IRS gets wind after auditing the owner, they see the records and a sharp auditor will put the pieces together)

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I’ll give you some comps:

$700 per week take home pay for grooming only (no riding) of 4 horses. On site apartment provided (1br/1bath) with electricity, internet, and cable provided. Show tips. Monday off with long weekends available when not showing. Christmas bonus of $150 for every year they’ve worked for the farm, maxes out at $1k. Hired about 4 years ago.

$650 per week for the exact same as above. Hired in October.

$850 per week for “head guy” that takes care of same amount of horses but also drags the ring, does minor repairs.

Your apartment will likely not be included in your gross income.

I would advocate for more pay and for another maybe part time employee to come clean stalls, drag the ring, do handyman work. With horses, I think hours will always vary and there’s not much you can do about that. They get sick, need extra attention, shit happens.

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