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.