Archive / A Grooms Insight

RSS feed for this section

A Gentle Hand ~ Sikhangele Mbambo

One of the lesser known special events at this year’s Derby was the presentation of long service certificates. We caught up with one of the recipients, Thembelani Mabhena, a very soft spoken gentleman, who has been a groom for the Bowyers for most of his working life. The 39 year old gentleman is originally from Zimbabwe. He first became a groom in his country of birth, at the young age of 18, for Gill Davis where he looked after 7 horses. He left because of the continually plunging  economy of Zimbabwe, looked  to Botswana for a better job opportunity and this is where he met the Bowyers who were then based there and has since been their family groom.


How long have you been a groom?:


Tell me a bit about yourself :

I am  39 years old, Zimbabwean, married and a father of 2. My children, a girl 14 and a boy 4, both live back home with my mother. My wife is here for a short while, working part time but she is going back home in December

What did you do before becoming a groom?:

I have always been a groom, first in Zimbabwe for 2 years, then in Botswana for 2 years and I moved with the family when they came to South Africa.

How did you get into grooming?:

My very first job was as a groom in Zimbabwe for Gill Davis, I was 18 years old then.

Why did you leave Zimbabwe?:

I left because of the economy was bad.

What has been the highlight of your job?:

I received a long service award from my employers at the Derby show. I have been with them for almost 15 years.

Describe a day in the life of a groom:

At 7am, I start by checking the water from the night before and replacing it. Everyday I lunge 2 horses on a rotational basis unless I am given a special request to lunge an extra one. I give them all grass and take them out then I go for my breakfast. When I come back I clean all the stables till 12pm when I bring 4 of the horses inside for lunch. The other 2 stay out for a while longer (their owner prefers it that way), then they all get their lunch. Their meal consists of Alzu 13% meal, teff and lucerne. They also get Complete (Equifox) At 3pm the other 2 horses come in and I groom them all. Supper is served at 5pm and all horses are settled down for the night. At 8pm before I go to bed I check all their water and make sure everything is alright.

Do you have any riding experience?:

Yes, I rode for a short while when I was 18. nothing serious, just walking around and I enjoyed it.

Would you like to take your knowledge of grooming a step further?:

I would have loved to do a few courses when I was younger but now I think it’s too late for me. I am too old.

Do you think a horse understands verbal communication?:

Definitely, one of my horses, Ascot Wonderland has serious trust issues, I don’t  know what happened to him when he was younger but he gets very aggressive when someone just approaches him. When I approach him, I talk to him softly and he calms down very quickly.

Can you immediately see if something wrong is wrong with your horses?: 

I have been working with them for a long while so I know when one of them is not well from the moment I enter the stables in the morning. We are lucky that none of them have ever been seriously ill.

What do you think are the characteristics of a good groom?:

For me, knowing your horse is very important, understanding their different characteristics. Get your horses to trust you and always be careful around them.

What has been the best venue for shows in your travels so far?:

We have traveled to Blouberg in Polokwane and Revil in Shongweni. I enjoyed Shongweni and would love to go back again. We were treated really nicely at both venues. We sleep in the truck when we are away. We were given food in Blouberg and cooked for ourselves in Shongweni.

What did you like most about going away?:

I have not traveled much, this is a good chance for me see the country. I also meet other grooms and learn about their lifestyles.

What are the characteristics of a good horse?:

A good horse has a calm personality, it does not spook easily.

How do you tell a horse is in a bad mood?:

Always look at the ears, they tell you if a horse is cross. The way that it stands can also tell you a lot about its mood. If its pawing the ground, you had better be careful

What horse food do you know?:

Teff, lucerne and Alzu meal.

Do you think the type of food fed a horse affects its behavior?:

Yes, a lot.

Have you ever tasted any of the food eaten by your horse?:

Yes, when I was in Zimbabwe we used to eat these sweet cubes that were made by a company called Agrifoods

If you had the financial capacity, would you own a horse?:

No, I would use it to send my kids to better schools.

When horses are sick do you think they appreciate human comfort?: 

Everyone needs comfort when they are not well, even horses.

Is there anything you would improve in the way you care for your horses?: 

I always do my best,I hope my employers would tell me if there was anything more that I needed to do.

How do you prepare a horse before a competition?:

The night before the show,  I shampoo the horse with Silky n Soft shampoo (Equifox again) and make sure that it is well groomed. I always plait my horses in the morning before the show. I make sure they get Untye, which is good for their muscles because they jump and one of my horses Carl also gets given Redcell.

How would you improve the life of a groom?:

Respect is earned and should be given both ways. I witnessed a groom being shouted at one show and the same thing to the same groom at another show. It didn’t sit well with me. I also think it would be in everyone’s best interest if a groom had a basic grooms’ course when they start their job. Medical and life insurance would also be great as this is dangerous work.

How would you describe a good relationship between a horse and rider?:

The rider should be brave and put more confidence and trust in their horse. If the horse is treated well, it will always perform best.

Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?: 

I would like to be back home with my family, watching my children grow because I have missed out on a lot.

How do you deal with a difficult horse?:

I try and make that the horse knows that I know what I am doing and I am not going to harm it.

Getting to know your Grooms ~ Sikhangele Mbambo

We had the pleasure of meeting with one of Burlington’s favorite grooms Paul Sizakele Ngubeni. One thing one can say about this animated gentleman is that he absolutely loves his charges and thoroughly enjoys his job. Like a parent with a favourite child he has a soft spot for Midgard Zingaro owned by showjumper Carolyn Chelchinskey. And like the favourite child that he is Zingaro hurt his groom on the left arm once, was forgiven and remains forever loved.


Paul and Zingaro


Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am 42 years old, from Zimbabwe but I have had S.A citizenship for the past 15 years. My wife, who stays with me here at Burlington, works in Fourways.We have two children, a girl who is 13 and a boy, 8. They stay in Zimbabwe with their grandmother.

And grooming, how did you get into it?

My brother got me into grooming after the company where I was working closed down. I used to be a supervisor at Indimex, we exported dried tomatoed from making outfit in Musina. He then called me down and got me a job as a groom at Linbro Park.

And now you are at Burlington….?

Yes, I worked for 2 years in Linbro park at Byerely Stables and then l moved to Sunlands and became a groom for Claudia Dvrettas for 6 years after that. I loved it there but I couldn’t stay with my wife so I started looking for a job where I would be able to stay with her. Anne-Marie took both of us in and we have been here ever since. That was seven years ago.

Describe a your typical day as a groom.

I wake up at 5am daily, bath and put on my work suit. I drink my special ZCC tea, a whole 2l. At 5:50am I clock in at the stables. I open the 6 stables that I am in charge of, wash the water buckets refill the water and grass. I check on the well being of my horses and note their temperature . If any of them seem unwell I tell the manager, David Wilken or Anne-Marie. All this takes me till 7:45. From 8 – 9 I go for my own breakfast. After that I dress them all up in their fly sheets, fly masks and put on their paddock boots. Then I take them out to their paddocks and come back to clean the stables. At 11:00 I bring all my horses in. All those on medication are dosed and then I feed them their different foods.Zingaro (came from Namibia) who is about 4 yrs old for instance eats Epol Gold cup (1scoop) and Cosmo rider cubes. After all the horses are fed, given their lucerne, bran and watered, its time for my lunch. It runs from12:30 till 2 :30 then I come back and check the water again and on the horses. From then it’s grooming for all of them till about 4pm. I fill up on grass, check the water again (horses hydrated much? ☺) , give them their evening meal from 4:50pm and settle them down for the night. If I am on night duty (which he loves as it brings in extra cash) then I check on the horses after hours to make sure that they are all fine.

Do you ride?

No ways, I fell off a donkey when I was young and I will never get on another animal again hahahaha.

What are your plans for the future?

I am happy as a groom, I have done well for myself so much that I even have my own car. One day I will get a truck driver’s licence and drive the big Burlington truck full of horses to shows. (Does anyone else want to be Anne-Marie’s groom? )

How do you tell if one of your horses is not well?

There are so many signs to pick from. A horse will paw the ground, absence of droppings, food and water not touched or a horse just lying down. It’s important to keep the horse’s temperature checked. I alert the manager quickly so that action can be taken quickly.

Any show experience.

Yes and I love going to shows. I have been to Shongweni , Bloberg and lots of other venues. Blouberg is my favourite as it has really nice clean toilets and hot showers. We sleep in the truck when we are away mostly. It’s fun to meet other grooms from all over and exchange stories.

How would you describe a good groom?

Know your horse, know the signs of a healthy horse. Be patient, talk to your horse, be gentle and gain the trust of your horse so that your horse is comfortable with you.

What advice do you give your clients before they compete?

Be brave but cautious , make sure the horse is warmed up enough and do not rush. I remember once telling that to Debbie Last when she was competing with Picture at Shongweni and they won.

Do you think some types of food affect horses’ behaviour?

Definitely. Epol Gold Cup gives them energy

How do you prepare your horses for shows

I am always careful about saddle marks. I use Palmolive Aloe Vera shampoo, Trident mane and tail detangler. I make sure they are well plaited and well groomed .For flies I always use Quadrepel, it works best. No, I do not rotate fly repellents.

How do you think the lives of grooms can be improved?

Grooming is a dangerous job, it would help if grooms had medical aid and life policies.

Would you own a horse it you could afford it?

Definitely, my son would ride it and jump it. The girl is too shy, she would never get on a horse