DIARY OF A FREELANCE GROOM..

Hi let me introduce myself……..I’m Debbie – a freelance competition groom. I’ve been a freelance since 2014, but before that I was head girl for Izzy Taylor and worked for Andrew Nicholson and Chris King. I’ve been a groom for 13 years and done everything from yard work to grooming at Badminton and the European Championships.

Please join me monthly on my journeys and antics as I give you an insight into what a competition groom gets up to. I will hopefully give you an idea of how hard top grooms work and also give tips on grooming, travelling and preparing horses to look their best. I will also be keeping a mile-o-meter to show you how far and wide we travel in the eventing world.

April
My April started out better than almost everyone else’s as I travelled down to Tartas in the south of France for a 2* on the 27th March to 2nd April. This competition was running over the Easter Bank Holiday the same as Burnham Market in the UK which unfortunately got cancelled. I headed down here with a French young rider, Chloe Mariani. Chloe rode as in individual on her horse Dumbleton in the Junior European Eventing Championships in Millstreet last year and she is currently trying to qualify for the Young Rider squad this year. 

On board the lorry we had Dumble and a lovely mare called Uccla who was competing in the CIC1*. It was a two-day journey down to the competition so Chloe’s mum had organised an over-night stop. We took it in turns to drive and kept a close eye on the horses. When you are travelling this far you may want to take your horses temperature for a few days before you leave, during the, journey, at the competition and when you arrive home. Keep a close eye out for signs of travel sickness, which include a high temperature and a tiredness in the horse, call a vet if worried! Luckily, I have only had it happen once to me and the horse had some antibiotic’s and recovered well but it can be fatal.

Dumble scored a 31 in the 2*putting him mid-way down the field and Uccla score a 36 in the 1*. Next was cross country; the course ran on sandy ground and was very typically French and forward. For Dumble this would be tricky as he is only 15.1, so Chloe really has to ride him forward. Both produced a lovely clears and Chloe was very happy, especially with Uccla who had been off due to injury. Sunday morning sadly Dumble didn’t trot up as he had bashed his leg and had a swelling so we withdrew him. Uccla proceeded to the trot up and show jumped having two poles down being rather feisty!

The journey home took two days and I safely got the horses back to their house on the 3rd April.

Miles covered 1,384

In-between Tartas and Belton I was supposed to be going to South of England with a young American rider. Unfortunately, this event was abandoned like many others this year. I also took up some work this week by working for Giovanni and Kathryn Ugolotti, who are based very close to me. They were on the build up to Badminton with one of Giovanni’s horse’s ‘Hero’ after the sad loss of Kathryns horse ‘Let it Bee’ who passed away at Burnham Market. The yard certainly will not be the same without him.

Miles covered 60

So fingers were crossed all over the UK for the hope that Belton international would run. Everything was packed and the go ahead was given. Off I went this time grooming for young rider Charlotte Bacon and her three horses ‘Last Touch’ in the 3* ‘Abacus ‘ and ‘Well Foxed’ in the 2*. Charlotte has represented Team GB and medalled at pony and junior level and was also on the short list for Young Riders last year. She will be aiming Abacus for the Young Rider trials this year and Last Touch will hopefully go to a 4*.Charlotte and I always go to Belton together and is a bit of a tradition it also helps as I live at here yard.

Both 2* horses produced a decent test – Abacus 35.3 and Well Foxed 36.2 – considering the atmosphere and the fact that they had barely been in an arena this year. The show jumping was up to height and they rolled a few poles between them. Then on to the cross county with is a good bold track, Charlotte rode a clear round on both and had a few time faults but she was very happy with them. Now onto the 3* with Last Touch. He can be very tricky to ride in the dressage arena but charlotte knows him very well and rode him brilliantly, this is Jacks weakest phase as he was a hunter until about 3 years ago.  In the show jumping they tapped one pole but had no time faults . Charlotte and Jack were then chomping at the bit to get out on the cross country course and when they did they flew around clear. This is Jacks best phase and he narrowly missed out on a Badminton qualification last year and will be aiming at Bramham Under 25s this year and then hopefully 4* at the end of the season. She finished in the top 3rd of a tough section.

Miles covered 254

The drive home from Belton was good and we arrived back at 6.30, but I only had a quick turnaround to my next job. Quick meaning one hour as I needed to be at Ludwig Svennerstal’s yard by 8pm to jump in the truck and start the drive to Vairano (Italy).This time I was joined by Izzy Mackeeman ,Ludwigs amazing head girl. We would be driving in shifts, taking four horses and having one stop off in France to rest them and us!!

We drove through the night and got to our stop off in Reims at about 9 in the morning. We unloaded the horses and gave them a walk, checked temperatures and fed and watered them. On board we had Lexi (CIC2*), Stinger, Misty and Elk (CCI3* and CIC3*). Hopefully two of them will qualify for the World Equestrian Games this year. We ate some food and got our heads down for a little sleep before setting off at 8pm again in the evening. 

Before we set off again on the Monday evening we gave the horses a walk and a hand graze to let them stretch and move their muscles as they would be on the lorry for about 11 hours this time. The next part of the journey would be up the French Alps and through the Mount Blanc tunnel and into Italy. By day this would be a very scenic journey but by night we didn’t really see much!! Just before the Mount Blanc pass I was having a nap when I heard Izzy give a little squeak……We had taken a wrong turning and were heading up into a town on the mountain, not ideal in a 20 tonne truck!!! Luckily in the town there were signs directing us back to the main road and after a few u-turns we were on the right road again. EEEkkk. The Mount Blanc tunnel is 7.25 miles long and 4,180 ft high, it only has two lanes and if your truck is too old they will not let you through as you could be a fire risk, and you have to go the long way around. 

We then journeyed down the other side and into Italy heading for Milan.  Susanna Bordon an event rider runs the event at her property and we arrived in mid-morning on the Tuesday. The sun was shining and we unloaded and set up the stables and our lorry for the week. All of the horses travelled well and we left them to have a rest. Ludwig arrived late afternoon and took them for a little leg stretch and exercise.

Trot up was on the Wednesday and all horses were passed, although not easy to plait when the blazing afternoon sun is coming in your stables, but at this point we couldn’t complain as we had just heard BallIndennisk had abandoned due to the weather (we were originally heading there but redirected). Two days of dressage and only two arenas meant late times for us on the Friday with Misty doing his test at 7.10pm. Lexi scored a 38, Stinger 34, Misty 41 and Elk 31 putting them about mid-way up the score board.

Cross country was starting at 8.30 on the Saturday this meant Lexi would run early but the boys would be running in the midday heat and our times meant we only had a hour between them. The day was planned to the ‘T’ and everything was super organised. 

Ludwig arrived got on to Lexi and went to warm up, he started and unfortunately she misread fence three and banked it but then couldn’t get her landing gear out and fell, Ludwig also fell and izzy and I did some running to retrieve Lexi. Both she and Ludwig were unscathed and it was on to the 3* boys. Misty ran a speedy but clear in the CIC3*, I washed him off while Izzy went to get Elk ready as there was barely any time between them. 

Elk started of great and was really flying until he left a leg at the final water combination and fell causing Ludwig to pop off in to the water and yet again Izzy and I sprinting across the track!! Luckily, they were both fine and after a vet check we washed Elk off and took him back to the stables. Stinger was last to go and Ludwig quickly changed clothes and off he went. Stinger however had other opinions and had a very naughty run out at an arrowhead, he had only been running about 5 mins and for a WEG qualification he would have to be clear so Ludwig decided to pull him up and save him for another day. Not the best xc day for us and out of bringing four horses we only had on to trot up on the Sunday.

We did trot them all up sat night and Sunday morning and they were all fine and sound. I was the quietest Sunday morning I have had for a long time due to only one horse completing. Misty passed his trot up and went on to show jumping where he knocked one rail. He finished in 15th and also helped team Sweden claim 2nd place in the FEI Nations Cup. So at least it was not a wasted journey but somehow, I think Karma played a part after we had a little laugh about Ballindennisk being cancelled!! We decided to leave in the early hours of Monday morning so on Sunday we packed up the stables and the lorry, had showers and dinner then went to bed for a few hours. We started the long trip home at 1am and got to our first stop at 2pm not to get lost over the mountain section!! The same care and attention went into looking after the horses on the way home as it did on the way there and they all ate and drank well. Finally, we arrived back to the yard at about 10 am Tuesday morning and the horses were all pleased to have a roll in their own stables.

Miles covered 1722

The final few days of the month were spent between Giovanni’s and Ludwig’s yard helping out the yard staff with days off and general yard duties. Also getting the horses ready for yet another cancelled event….Withington. 

I hope you enjoyed the read and I look forward to writing next mouths which should include Floors Castle and Houghton.