The horse industry – pay, gifts, and tips!

We can thank our awesome supporter and resource, Marcia Hancock, from The Job Search Advisor for sharing her amazing knowledge and smarts with us.



The spirit of the Holiday Season lends itself to gift-giving not only among family, but with those at our place of work. It is the time of the year when we reach out to express our gratitude for a job well done, to acknowledge the dedication of those with whom we do business, and to offer something a little out of the ordinary as an added reward.


Accepting Gifts


You are a Groom and the owner of one of the horses under your care offers you a personal holiday gift what do you do? You are a Barn Manager and one of the suppliers for your barn offers you substantial cash gift, what do you do?


Each of these scenarios involves holiday gift giving, but the situations are quite different.


A Barn Manager is in a position to make decisions concerning which suppliers to contract for a product or service also offered by other vendors. There is competition for the selection of a supplier. The Barn Manager’s decision will impact how business is conducted: the costs, quality, method of delivery and other factors concerning purchase of a product. Example: hay, a very necessary commodity for barns with many variances in cost and quality. The appearance is that with the gift giving, the intent exists to influence decisions made by the person accountable for the decision-making.


The Groom has been offered a gift for his/her own personal use. However, the value of the gift needs to be considered. There is a difference between a bar of imported French soap and a vacation for two in the Caribbean.


Your decision as a Groom reflects not only on you as an individual, but on the organization for which you work. Refusal of a gift might cause offense or insult to the giver. However, as a professional and a representative of your organization, the expectation is you will conduct your work with integrity, impartiality, and honesty at all times. Accepting a gift may compromise your reputation and ability to do your job effectively. How you accept or decline any gift is part of your image as a professional Groom, Barn Manager or other horse industry professional.


What Is a ‘Gift’?


A gift is any ‘payment’ or ‘reward’ outside of regular wages that is of personal benefit to the employee outside of the workplace when the employee does not provide something of equal or greater value back to the giver. In other words, not ‘tip for tat’. A gift does not replace regular wages. Promotional samples such as t-shirts, baseball caps, new type of hoof pick, new products, are not generally considered ‘gifts’ but a necessary part of doing your job in the barn. A Barn Manager needs sample ‘gifts’ or promotional items to make decisions about which products to buy.


A good guideline for what classifies as a promotional sample is whether or not the ‘gift’ is for general use and applies to all at the barn. Is this something that can be used by all Grooms for all horses and clients? Or is the gift personal, like a watch or sweater?


Again, it is the value that is a factor and the perceived intention of the giver. A Barn Manager may generally accept promotional samples from a vendor for general use at the barn to be used by all employees. This is part of doing business and the intention is that the Barn Manager will buy the product for general barn use. But a gold watch is a personal item that is not intended for general use and is meant solely for the receiver. And the Groom that is given a sweater to keep him/her warm while grooming has a much different use is of lesser value and the intention is to make his/her work easier. Value and intent.


Another example is if your employer’s sponsor ‘Feed Them Right’ feed company wants to give caps to all the Grooms at a show, you can freely accept this ‘gift’. Why? It is a gift to all the Grooms. And most likely the cap has the ‘Feed Them Right’ logo on the cap which makes the gift impersonal and standard practice by the vendor. It is not really a gift; you are free advertising for the feed company.





What About Tips?


A tip or ‘gratuity’ is a small sum of money paid to anyone who provides a service as part of their regular job. Paying a tip in acknowledgment to someone for a job well done is an accepted practice and a social custom in the US. It is expected for many jobs that a client/customer will pay a tip as part of the service provided such a waitress in a restaurant. A standard tip payment rate of 15% to 20% of the cost of the service is expected to be paid to the service provider. The wages of these jobs across the board are legally adjusted downward in expectation of regular paid tips at the point of service for every time the service is provided. The Federal minimum wage rate for waitresses is $2.13/hr with a cap at $5.12/hr.


Grooms provide a service to their clients but it is not a standard industry practice to pay tips to Grooms. Wages are not legally adjusted downward in an expectation that all Grooms will receive a tip from all clients.


Does that mean you cannot accept a small cash tip or gratuity from your clients? For most situations, the answer will be ‘No’. If you are on a contract and working a horse show, one of your clients is very impressed with your work and wants to pay a tip in addition to your regular rate, graciously accept the gratuity.


But if you are a regular employee of a barn and paid a regular wage for your work, it is best to be familiar with the barn’s policy before accepting any cash tips. Consider if you are the only Groom in the barn to whom one client pays a tip on a regular basis while other Grooms care for this same client’s horses and receive no tip. Accepting cash tips may cause friction at work and place you at odds with your boss concerning your wages.


What To Do


Find out if your organization, no matter how large or small, has a ‘no-gift’ policy. If no written policy exists and there are no ‘principles of acceptance’ for gifts, get clarification from your boss.


Make sure you write down and date his/her instructions to refer back to in case there are any questions later. If your supervisor is not clear on any policy, here are some guidelines.


A basic rule is not to accept any gifts from vendors, suppliers, customers, potential employees, potential vendors or suppliers, or any other individual or organization under any circumstances.


Doing so might give the right or wrong impression of dishonesty, a loss of impartiality, or a lack of integrity.


If offered any gifts of value, tell your supervisor or manager and ask if you can accept. The decision is now the responsibility of your boss. You will avoid any conflict of interest, the appearance of a conflict of interest, or the need for your employer to ask questions about how you received any gift outside of your regular wages.


In an effort to be gracious, many organizations will allow employees to accept gifts from clients, customers, vendors, suppliers, and others associated with the business. These gifts are then placed in a general ‘pot’ for a holiday celebration gift drawing by each employee for a chance to win any item given as a gift. Any gift is not ‘owned’ by the recipient but rather by all employees working within the business.


As for the Caribbean vacation, you might thank the giver, consider a courteous response that includes you will inform your boss of the giver’s generosity, and that the decision whether to accept or not rests with the higher-ups.


Should I Accept a Holiday Gift From My Boss?


If there is an exchange of gifts among all employees, and your boss has given each and every employee in the Barn a holiday present, and the gift is appropriate for the work environment, not lavish or extravagant, then consider accepting a gift from your boss.


If your boss gives you a gift of expensive jewelry over lunch, do not accept this gift. Thank him/her and graciously decline the gift. If he/she gives you several pairs of boot socks over a pile of horse manure, then consider accepting the gift. The message might be ‘you need some new socks for work. Here they are.’


Think twice about giving your boss a gift. Doing so might cause resentment among your co-workers-not everyone can afford a gift to the boss. And you place your boss in a potentially awkward position.


Managers, supervisors, assistant managers, and owners should not accept gifts from employees. Accepting gifts from employees about whom you make decisions about conditions of employment might be construed as favoritism. If a manager were to be involved in an employment dispute, the exposure to a charge of ‘disparate treatment’ or ‘discrimination’ is very high. If you hire, provide performance feedback and fire employees, and you feel compelled to give holiday gifts to your employees, make sure all gifts are of equal value, and every employee receives a gift. And that all managers of equal responsibility are giving holiday gifts as well.


Gifts are not a fun perk of any job and should not be expected. Depending on the value and circumstances, you can ruin your reputation and endanger your job by accepting gifts, holiday or no holiday. The best rule is to follow the gift policy of the organization for which you work and the instructions of your boss.




A general rule of thumb: err on the side of caution, check with your employer about a ‘no gift’ policy, ask for instructions if you should receive a high-value gift or large sum of money, and ask about promotional samples and gifts. Accountability then rests with your boss and employer.


Footnote-Holiday Pay


  • Employers are required by Federal law (Fair Labor Standards Act) to pay employees overtime for hours worked in excess of forty (40) hours in a workweek of at least one and one-half times their regular rates of pay.


  • Employers are not required under FLSA to pay overtime to employees for work on Saturdays, Sundays, holidays or regular days of rest unless overtime hours are worked on such days.


  • Employees may contract with employers to exceptions to this law but only if the law benefits the employee and pays at least what is required under the FLSA.


  • Each state may have laws that supersede Federal law such as California that requires employers to pay overtime for hours worked in excess of eight (8) hours in any one day or twenty-four (24) hour period.


  • And California law does not require that an employer provide its employees with paid holidays, that it close its business on any holiday, or that employees be given the day off for any particular holiday.



Thank you Marcia for explaining all of this! Keep this in mind throughout the year also, as it’s not always the holidays that “gifts” and tips are passed out!


Follow Marcia on Facebook at The Job Search Advisor, and visit her on the web at The Job Search Advisor website!

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are opinion only and based on the experience of the article’s author and not to be construed as legal advice in any respect. Consult an attorney before taking action based on the contents of this article. Marcia Hancock, Liv Gude, and Professional Equine Grooms, LLC. expressly disclaim all liability in respect of any actions taken or not taken based on any contents of this article.