Thursday, January 01, 1998

The Groom's Lament - Mike Walder

The term "underprivileged classes" has been well-defined and usually conjures up the image of persons living under conditions of extreme hardship in squalid poverty. There is however a small but significant sub-specie of the underprivileged class , the Groomus Enduricandum downtrodennicus , member of which , while they may give the outward impression of belonging to the privileged strata of society , are seriously underprivileged in other ways. The plight of this unfortunate and pitiful band has been widely ignored by those self-styled "champions of the underdogs" , the liberal press. This is either because the reporting of our wretched existence would not sell enough newspapers , or , taking the kindlier view , the liberal journalists are genuinely unaware of the abuses and hardships we endure , not only at the hands of the riders whom we loyally and unselfishly serve , but also from their horses. I speak of the latter from bitter experience. I am one of the many grooms whose right arm is a foot longer than the left after having been yanked out of its socket more times than I care to remember by hyped-up>horses ,who get more nervous during the ride than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. I also , along with others of my breed ,have toes like seal flippers- the result of countless horses dancing a "vastrap" (square-dance) on my feet. The horses I can forgive. They are after all God`s "dumb creatures" (Although I am not so sure at times!!) I feel less forgiving towards the riders since the Lord supposedly endowed them with a higher level of intelligence( again I doubt this at times!) But , maybe I should be more forgiving. A mental patient cannot help being mad and many endurance riders are of course raving schizophrenics. At home , the loved ones we groom for are kind, thoughtful , caring persons. Before and after a ride , however , they undergo a complete personality change and adopt the temperament of a scorpion with a serious "babbelas"(hangover) to the extent that Hitler and Attila the Hun seem like kindly old uncles by comparison. Those loving gestures we receive in the home environment from these very same people are replaced by savage cuts with the crop and well directed kicks when one is bending over a water bucket. (This is why many of us have bucket-shaped heads) My wife , for example , has perfected a karate type kick-back. Mercifully she doesn`t wear spurs otherwise I would now be the oldest boy soprano in the Western Transvaal. Similarly , the kindly words we hear at home are replaced by the most hideous abuse snarled through foam-flecked lips in the most fearful language which has been known on some endurance rides to cause whole fields of lucerne(alfalfa) to wither and die. Among the more unreasonable comments we have to endure are: "You`re towing too fast"(You are actually doing 60 kmph) "Why are we grooming so far from the toilet?" (Because your riders starting time was late and all the places near the loo were taken when you reached the checkpoint) "He won`t drink this water. Why didn`t you bring a contained full from the showground?" (Because the horse didn`t tell you before the ride that he didn`t like the water at plaas)(Mister....`s farm) "Why didn`t you dry out the numnah I used on the first leg?" (Because it has been raining all day and silly me I clean forgot to load a generator and tumble drier in the bakkie(van)) "How did it go?"(After a vet check) " He was eliminated - pulse too high/interfering" - "You fool!! You should have sponged him down more/told me to use brushing boots./taken him to a different vet!!" "Go ahead to..... and throw water on the horse as I ride past" (This is the time when one employs a little-known technique known as the Grooms` Revenge - you "accidently" throw water, preferably dirty, over the rider instead.) "There is no paper in the toilet. Why didn`t you bring some?"(By this time I`m normally several Castle`s(beer) downwind - we grooms have to aneasthetise ourselves - and am tempted to tell her to use a empty beer can and her imagination!) Of course none of these reasons are acceptable to the rider - the groom is always in the wrong. Indeed , the tasks of we unsung heroes has , I believe, a higher risk profile than riding shotgun for Eugene Terreblanche through Soweto! Therefore , Brother and Sister Grooms , the time has come to rise up and fight this oppression. We must rally together and form a Grooms Union.Our Coat Of Arms should depict a groom with buckets standing on top of a pile of manure with a rider half buried in the pile. The Latin inscription underneath should read "Nil Illegitemi Carborundum" (Don`t let the b....s grind you down). IF you riders are now deeply offended , worry not!!!! It`s all tongue in cheek. The real reason we groom for you is because we love you and our horses. We are deeply proud of your courage, fortitude and achievements. A few days feeling the rough edge of your tongue during the season is therefore a small price to pay for the privilege of serving you and your horses in this noble sport.

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