#SuperGroom Series: Sara Kelson’s Journey from Pony Club to Professional Groom

We love celebrating and learning about the #supergrooms who make this sport go around — quite literally! — so we’re on a mission to interview as many grooms as we can to learn about their journeys. Catch up on the other interviews from this series here and nominate a #supergroom of your own by emailing [email protected]!

Sara at the Pony Club Quiz Championships. Photo courtesy of Sara Kelson.

Sara Kelson was looking for a change in her routine during the Covic-19 pandemic and wound up working for Sara Kozumplik in Berryville, Va. It was a big change for Sara, who grew up in the Bay Area in northern California and did a variety of Pony Club activities during her childhood.

“I didn’t have my own horse so I just catch rode and I was really big into doing the quiz rally in Pony Club, which I think for me started my whole thing with horse management and learning about things that were not just riding,” Sara said.

Since Sara didn’t have a horse of her own, competing in the Pony Club quiz rally was a way for her to be involved with horses without needing to have her own horse.

Sara began working for 5* rider Jon Holling out of high school and learned all about horse care and management from his head groom, Katy Long. Soon after, she spent time in England working with Beth Burton, who currently rides for Cooley Farm in Ireland.

Jon Holling teaches Sara on her first horse, Ebony. Photo courtesy of Gary Kelson.

Sara liked seeing the differences between the culture of ownership in England compared to the U.S. “People owning horses for people is so much more normal there; normal people want to get involved and support riders,” she said.

After she went to college for a year, Sara decided that she enjoyed working with horses more, and began working at Chocolate Horse Farm, a large client barn in California.

Sara was still in contact with Katy Long, who told her about the job opening with Sara Kozumplik. “I was only planning on staying with Sara for a year,” Sara said. “I ended up falling in love with her program and her horses and we really clicked professionally.”

Sara enjoys working with a boss who is fair when it comes to the horses, and Sara Kozumplik embodies that concept. “She treats both the horses and the people the same: with a lot of kindness, a lot of compassion,” she described.

Instead of jumping to conclusions with the horses, the team at Sara Kozumplik’s farm, based in Virginia in summer and Ocala in winter, look at how to help them first. The team evaluates factors like if their feet are hurting, if they need massage therapy, or if they need acupuncture before associating it with merely bad behavior.

Sara being a superstar groom! Photo courtesy of Katie Trafton.

Sara Kozumplik is always learning, and Sara enjoys watching her lessons because she is open to feedback and even criticism. “She’s also incredibly humble — she has done so much and knows so many people but she always has that student mentality,” Sara said.

Although Sara enjoys going to big events, she likes getting to know the horses and their personalities better. “The day to day is why I like doing what I do,” Sara said. Since she puts so much emphasis on getting to know the horses on a day-to-day basis, when they get to high pressure situations like competitions, Sara knows exactly what they need to stay relaxed and happy. “Just being able to spend quality time with them and really have that relationship is what keeps me going,” she said.

Sara knows how easy it is to get caught up with setting big goals, but understands that horses are still emotional animals. It’s fascinating for her to understand how each horse is unique and how they react individually to the competition environment. “I think that still letting them be horses and be normal, be real is so incredibly important,” she said. “It’s also cool because they are all so different, seeing how Sara will adapt her riding or her approach to the different horses too.”

Sara with the horses. Photo courtesy of Sierra Lesny.

Sara knows that there is major pressure to be “successful” in the equine industry today, but says that “you don’t have to fit into every box. There’s nothing wrong with you if you don’t.” She can see herself staying with Sara Kozumplik for a while, but noted that being a groom is not always considered as prestigious or as long-term of a plan as being a rider. “The only thing that’s kind of acceptable in the horse world is if you are a trainer or you have a lesson program.”

“So many people will ask me ‘What’s the next plan?’ and I think it’s a lot of times because people don’t really think about being a professional groom as a legitimate career option,” she said. Sara believes that people’s outlook on a groom’s role in the industry is changing for the better. “It’s a really cool, really rewarding career. That’s something that I’m really loving riding the wave of.”

Go Sara and Go Eventing.