Well-groomed: Gitte Hansen on looking after Danish dressage rider Agnete Kirk Thinggaard’s precious pony.
TEXT Anne Ulrikke Bak PHOTOGRAPHY Gitte Hansen & All Over
As we all know, taking care of horses means long hours and hard work. It’s not just physically demanding: you also have to be sensitive to register how the horses act and whether they behave differently. Being responsible for your own horse is quite a big deal – looking after someone else’s is even more challenging.
Gitte Hansen, 27, works as a groom for the Danish national team dressage rider Agnete Kirk Thinggaard and her horse, the 13-year-old gelding Jojo AZ. Here, Gitte discusses her job, how she copes with being entrusted with a top horse before and during a big show, and addresses what makes a good groom.
How did you start working as a groom?
I’ve been involved with horses all my life. I’ve always either had a horse or been riding other people’s horses. After I graduated from high school I started travelling and spent six months at a racing stud in Australia. When I returned to Denmark I studied Agro Business and Landscape Management and became an AP graduate, specialising in horses. The education is based on counselling and sales within the horse industry, but I knew I wanted to take care of horses hands on. After graduating I started working for Dorthe and Hans Jørgen Hoeck at Hesselhøj Horse Centre. I worked in the stables, braided horses and prepared them for competitions, inspections and customers. I learned so much from it, and I use it a lot in my work today. Three and a half years ago I applied for a job as a daily groom for Agnete. A year and a half later Agnete’s groom left, and I was asked if I wanted to take over.
What makes a good groom?
You have to be tidy! Be able to keep the stable nice and clean and keep track of a lot of things. You have to be disciplined and honest. You will be responsible for some very good horses, and your boss puts a lot of trust in you. They need to be sure that you always put the horse first. It’s important to be honest, and to admit it if you have made a mistake. After all, it can have severe consequences for the rider. You need to be disciplined so you can get yourself out of bed at 5 in the morning, even if you had to stay awake until 1am. But that’s life once in a while, working as a groom. Sometimes you must do without sleep or skip a meal. Last but not least, you have to stay positive and focus on solutions. It’s very important that the rider doesn’t have to worry about things, and can focus only on the ride.
Are you ever nervous that you will forget something or do something wrong? Do you have any routines or rituals to prevent that?
I have so many routines that I don’t need to worry whether I’ve forgotten something anymore. I always make a schedule that tells me when the horse needs to be ready. That helps me to know what time I have to start braiding, what time I’m going to feed, things like that. I do that to make my head calm and to make sure that I won’t forget anything. If I can, I try to have a lot of time in the schedule for each thing. That’s one way to avoid stress around the horse, and you’ll have the possibility to run through everything one extra time. I have often criticised myself if something went wrong at the arena. If we did not achieve the result we aimed for. I’ve gone through everything I’ve done, over and over again, trying to figure out what I could have done differently before the ride. Later I’ve come to realise that as long as I have done my best in the stables, then Jojo and Agnete have the best conditions to do their best, and I shouldn’t blame myself.
You’ve spent a lot of time with Jojo. How is your relationship with him and how would you describe him?
Jojo is my favourite and he’s also very fond of me. He always keeps an eye on me when he is being tacked up, and when other people come to his box to chat with him. We have a special relationship given the experiences we have shared. To people who don’t know him he may seem a bit reserved. But when he gets to know you he is the most lovable and calm horse I know. We call him the Labrador; always happy and always hungry.
What have been some of your best experiences on the job?
Last year when we won silver at the Danish Championships was so special. Before the finals, we were fourth in the rankings. I knew what score we needed to win the bronze medal, and when we succeeded I was so glad. I was prepping Jojo for the award ceremony, and I heard that something had happened to the second place rider, but I didn’t really get it. Not until Claus, Agnete’s husband, came to the stable and told me that we had won the silver medal because the other rider had made a mistake in the test. We gave each other and Jojo the biggest hug ever. Our trip to Las Vegas was also really great. And the Olympics in Rio, of course. London Olympia is always something very unique. The show is just before Christmas, the stables are decorated and the Christmas spirit is everywhere. There have been loads of memorable experiences so far. The best thing about working as a groom is definitely all the travelling, and of course, being with the horses.