Meet Pro Groom and Pro Braider Alyssa!
There are lots of ways to work in the horse industry – one of them being as a Professional Braider! This lets you truly be your own boss – but it’s plenty of hard work! Meet Alyssa Milano, and learn her story. You can find her on Facebook here! If Instagram is more your jam, try this page.
“I first discovered my interest in braiding and grooming in my early teens when I entered the world of horse showing, eventing to be more specific. I would run around the barn on the nights before horse shows asking boarders and friends to let me groom and braid for them. Though my braids were something less than perfect at the time, I gradually taught myself everything I know now through the years. During my four years on the Intercollegiate Dressage Team at the University of New Hampshire, I was known as the “designated braider” for our school horses at home shows.
Immediately following graduation, I then went on to groom for international four-star event rider, Lisa Sabbe, in Lo-Reninge, Belgium during the summer of 2013 where I learned to true meaning of being a Professional Groom. When I moved to Kentucky and started showing here locally, a fellow boarder suggested to me that I should make a business out of it after spending a weekend braiding at the first annual KDA Breed Show. I took her advice, not expecting that the business to take off and be as successful as it is today.
Becoming a Professional Braider and Groom was not something I had on my list of things to do for a living. It had always been a “hobby,” per say, but to have it become an addition to my career has been nothing short of a blessing. I work a full-time 8-5, Monday through Friday job, am a graduate student pursuing my Masters in Agriculture, and have a horse of my own to compete and maintain. The time I get to spending “working” as a Braider/Groom is my down time, my therapy, and a time to socialize and network with new friends and clients.
Though I focused on a handful of disciplines when starting out, I have narrowed it down to focus mainly on dressage, eventing, and jumpers. However, I will dabble in the hunter world every now and then.
Over the past year that I have had the business going, I have learned to truly appreciate the way that the horse industry treats professional Grooms and Braiders. For the most part, there is a genuine appreciation for the hard work and time that goes into making these show horses look their best.
The most important advice is would give to someone who wants to groom for a top rider is to push through. There are going to be times where you feel unappreciated, defeated, and purely exhausted but I promise it is worth every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears. Though it may seem like it, your hard work does not go unnoticed by the individuals you work for. Resist temptations to cut corners or be lazy with your work – the extra oiling on your rider’s tack, the one last stall-picking before you go to bed, the lunch break spent dragging the arena or organizing the tack room – it all makes a difference.
Coming from someone who used to freelance raid and groom for friends, I would advise to not let anyone take advantage of you. No matter how close a friend it is. Your hard work and your time must all contribute to your happiness and satisfaction.
My best grooming tip as it relates to manes:
Don’t overwash and overbrush! Similarly to tails, if you do too much, you end up with less.
Most embarrassing moment?
I would have to say my most embarrassing moment was having a new (and old) client complaining about the work I had put into her horse from the next stall over. Moments like that will happen in this world, and I’m honestly glad they do. Though it was embarrassing and crushed my confidence in my work, it also built character and made me realize that some people in the competitive world are just impossible to please.
Though I have had a number of great accomplishments in just the first year of business, the one I am most proud of is getting recognized and hired by some of the top level riders in the local dressage world. For example, at the July KDA Dressage Show – 4 days, 12 hours of sleep, 45 sets of braids, 24 horses, roughly 200 yards of yarn, only ONE broken needle, and very happy clients. It was a very busy but very successful and satisfying weekend!
What advice would I give the new horse owner about grooming and mane/tail care?
A daily dose of grooming is not only good for the coat, mane, and tail, but it also contributes to the bond you build with your horse. When my horse was laid up for a period of time this summer due to lameness, I think it kept us both sane to spend some time each day grooming and upkeeping. It is also beneficial in helping you get to know your horse’s physical condition, what is normal and what is not? You will be able to identify new cuts, bumps, scratches, skin funk, etc. and will then be able to treat accordingly and in a timely manner.
What is on my plate besides horses?
A full time job, graduate school, a relationship, and a new home! Though I love my life outside of horses, I rely on this time to feed and maintain my happiness within my mind and soul.
What is my typical day like?
During show season now with more competitions being added to the calendar each year, I rarely have days off from braiding or grooming. On weekends where I am not braiding, I am usually pulling manes or clipping. In the winter time, I spend most of my free time clipping horses.
Where do I want grooming and braiding to take me?
I’m hoping that someday the business will take off in a way that allows me to travel more and build a clientele in surrounding states.
**Special thanks to John Borys, Wendy Wooley, Shirley McQuillan and Grace Rauppius for photos.