Being a polo groom is one of the most fun, and demanding, horse jobs. A groom is essentially the secretary of the horse world, a person who organizes the patron (the horse owner) and polo ponies so that the patron may focus on playing polo without distraction. Grooms take care of a string of horses (3-5 horses) as if they were their own, spending day in and day out exercising and training them to perform at the highest level possible. Horses must be able to run at a flat out gallop, then stop and turn on a dime, back and fourth across the field for at least one chukker, sometimes two. A chukker is a 7 minute period (usually 4 in a game) in which the clock stops only for the umpire's whistle.
The horse is the single most important element in polo, which is a physically demanding game for both horse and rider. A polo horse must enjoy the game, be unafraid of what we are asking of him, and be in top shape in order for him and his rider to perform at their maximum potential. Think about it, without the horse it would just be hockey.
The groom takes care of nutrition, exercise, equipment, schedule and general well being of the horses. To be a groom is to truly live the equestrian lifestyle. A typical day will start out with breakfast, served to the horses as early as possible. Horses usually get alfalfa cubes, pellets and/or hay and free graze on grass from their pastures. After breakfast is served, it's time for general work around the barn. Mowing, fixing fences, and cleaning tack (the saddles and bridles) are just a few of the tasks to attend to. Like many horse jobs, not all the work is directly with the horses. After chores, it's off to afternoon exercise.
Polo horses typically have a long vacation during the off season (winter) and to get them back into shape takes a while, rule of thumb being one week of leg up for every month off. The horses start with walking in the first few weeks, then trotting for the next few, and cantering when the horses are finally strong enough.
Young horses must be schooled every day to get used to the stick, ball and noise it creates when the two come together. When they are comfortable with the stick and ball, they get introduced to the traffic on the polo field by first being an umpire horse and then eventually playing practice chukkers. It takes years to train a horse to be a polo veteran.
During the peak of the season, grooms must take special care to maintain the horses' physical health, which includes preventing and attending to injury. Horses legs are especially prone to accidents since their legs are so petite compared to the rest of their body mass. Before the game, horses' legs are wrapped with a special bandage and protected with an over-boot. The bandages must be wrapped in a particular way and this wrapping is an essential skill of the groom: not too tight, not too lose.
Finally, after a long day of polo, the groom double-checks for any injury during the game. He feeds his horses their well earned dinner and puts his beloved string to bed. He then goes to the asado (grill) to eat his well earned meal as the sun sets and yet another day ends on the polo field. Horse jobs will tire you out but they are so much fun!