Grooms

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We met five of the very best grooms in the world during the European Championships in jumping and dressage, where they shared with us a few tips and secrets about their jobs, and the wonderful horses they work with.

Photography KAMILLA BRYNDUM Text MARIA GRAAE & SUSANNE MADSEN / The Horse Rider’s Journal No.9 

Alan Davies
NATIONALITY British
AGE 47
Groom for british dressage riders
Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin for three years

What’s the best part of your job?
Making a living taking care of horses. I love horses: their psyche and their intelligence. And of course, working with two of the best horses in the world, who both have such a delightful temperament. Seeing them progress to being medal-winners has been a huge treat.
What makes a great groom?
It helps to be patient and caring – making sure the horses are always happy and fit is a tough job. It’s important to maintain a routine, even while travelling: you have to have foresight and be adaptable to different locations. You also have to help meet the riders’ demands, while under pressure, and help to make sure everyone is calm, so the horses don’t get affected – so you have to be quite good with people too.
What’s the most challenging part of the job?
At the moment, it’s having to share my beloved two horses with the whole world. When I walk them, everyone wants to say hello, so we make a lot of stops. You can’t really say no, because they are such superstars. But to me they are just Blueberry(Valegro’s nickname) and Uthopia.
How would you describe your relationship with Carl and Charlotte’s Olympic gold-winners, Valegro and Uthopia?
They are like friends. I know what they like and what they don’t like, in the same way you do with your best friends. Uthopia is the bridesmaid, always following behind Valegro – but he doesn’t take offence; he’s such a gentleman.
What are your qualifications and how did you get the job?
I got this job through my experience. I worked as a freelancer when Carl needed an extra hand for two shows, and I’m still here. I’ve known Carl for a long time. and we have a great mutual trust. He can go on with his life knowing the horses are travelling safely with me.

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Jane Kalstrup
NATIONALITY Danish
AGE 28
Groom for danish dressage rider
Anna Kasprzak for three and half years.

What’s the best thing about your job?
When Anna does really well and has a great ride – when the things we’ve been practising in training succeed in the arena – it’s amazing. Anna is very grounded and easy to be around, which I feel is very important since we spend such su much time together.
What’s the most challenging part of the job?
To keep everything organised: that the vaccinations are maintained and everyone is shoed in time. When packing for a show, there is the worry that I might forget something – the feeling comes every time we leave the driveway. Once I actually did forget our freezer, but luckily Anna’s grandmother came a few days later and was able to bring it with her.
How would you describe your relationship with Anna’s horse Donnperignon?
In the beginning when she first got him, he was quite reserved because he was still very attached to his former rider Christoph Koschel. So I spent lots of time reaching out and trying to connect by staying outside his stall. I fed him with bananas, apples and carrots. Sugar is exclusively for shows, but he can easily eat a couple of bananas during a normal day. He’s very calm to be around in the stable and loves when I scratch his ear.
What’s your best grooming tip?
We groom the horses twice a day with three different brushes – it’s truly hard work when done well, but it certainly pays of. My best secret is to use hairspray for the tail and then brush it – this gives a lot of volume, and luckily Donnperignon’s got natural curls, which of course helps. And a bit of leather conditioner on the noseband to make it shiny – it works wonders every time.
What has been your best experience being a groom?
London for sure at the Grand Prix, when it rained cats and dogs during Anna’s test and they still performed amazingly. The saddle was so soaked with water I had to bring it to my hotel room to dry. We were smiling so much that we didn’t even realise we were totally drenched when we got back to the stable, and luckily I could borrow some clothes.

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Katarina Esping
NATIONALITY Swedish
AGE 26
Groom for german show jumper
Ludger Beerbaum for three years

How did you get the job?
I worked for Paul Schockemöhle for almost four years, but I mostly rode at home. Then I did some big shows for two American girls and got to know Ludger’s team, who needed a new groom and asked me. At first I said no, because I was a bit worried about being away from home so much. But then I thought, why not? If you want to do full-time grooming you should do it for the best!
What’s the best thing about working with Ludger?
He’s a great rider who really wants the best for the horses. And I like that way of working. Some people can be a bit difficult – they want everything to look nice and tidy, and they focus on the wrong things. He trusts me, and I know how he wants things.
How would you describe your relationship with Ludger’s Nations Cup winner Chiara?
She can be a bit special, but if you know her she’s so easy. We have a lot of stallions, and they can be a bit all over the place, but Chiara is so sweet – in the stable, on the truck, at shows. You never have to worry. And she is so kind with other horses.
What makes a great groom?
You obviously have to like the horses. Some people do it more for the social part and the cool factor, and the horses become second priority. But the horses have to be your priority. And you have to be flexible and be able to work with people.
Are there any products you swear by?
I have a really nice, soft rubber glove for the head. The horses really like it. I can’t actually be without that one. Once I left it at home, and one of the riders had to bring it. I also forgot to bring the martingals for a show in Paris once, but I managed to tell Ludger before he got on his flight!

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Heidi Mulari
NATIONALITY Finnish
AGE 32
Groom for swiss show jumper
Steve Guerdat for eight years

What’s your favourite part of the job?
It’s hard work, but horses are my passion. You get so much in return when it all goes well, and you win something, like when Jaliska won the first World Cup. We had nothing for such a long time, and then we got her. That’s what you work for. She’s my favourite.
What’s your relationship with Steve’s Olympic gold-winner Nino des Buissonets like?
He is a real pain! He’s like a six-year-old kid. If you tell him to go left he will go right just to annoy you. He’s actually a very friendly horse, but he’s a bit naughty. And he hates it when you brush him, which makes my job a bit difficult!
What makes a great groom?
Someone who is hard-working and has good common sense and a love of horses. Those things alone will take you quite far. You cannot do it for the money.
Are there any products you swear by?
Arnica. It works for everything, including myself.
What’s your most memorable experience?
The Olympics. And the time I accidently took an extra horse with me to a show. Steve had told me which horses we were taking, and I left with them in the middle of the night. The next morning he called and was like, “Why did you take this horse with you?” I still think I did exactly what he told me, but I am not sure he agrees. It’s better than forgetting something, though. Normally I forget all my own stuff, like my socks.

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Miriam Börner
NATIONALITY German
AGE 22
Groom for german dressage rider
Helen Langehanenberg since May this year

What’s the best thing about your job?
The moment when Helen rides in, and it all comes together – it makes me so proud being part of her team.
What’s the most challenging part of the job?
Every day, the whole thing – it’s not an easy job but such a rewarding one. I have to keep the day going so Helen can focus on her riding; just making sure everything goes smoothly.
How would you describe your relationship with Helen’s horse Damon Hill?
Dami is a true rock star: he’s usually so cool and calm even though he’s a stallion, and he just thrives on attention and has such a soft spot when it comes to carrots. When I first started, I thought it would be a big responsibility handling him. But at some point I just had to do it when there where none of the other grooms around, and he is very uncomplicated, which makes everything much easier. He makes the funniest face stretching for a carrot.
What are your qualifications, and how did you get the job?
I just applied, because I wanted to learn from the best. I’ve been around horses all my life, and I got a Bachelor’s in Biology at university. I applied in May, and here I am at the European championship, so everything has happened quite fast. It’s a great job, being around such great horses. I also learn a lot from Sebastian, Helen’s husband – he’s really gifted when it comes to working with the younger horses.
What’s your best grooming tip?
To do a good job at home, so that you’re well.

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