We met Nel ten Stroete in Valkenswaard this summer as she was there working for the Danish rider Emilie Martinsen. Working for Emilie, Nel is based half the year in Belgium and the other half in Florida. Nel originally started grooming for Emilie, but her job has grown to be more than grooming. What we found interesting talking to Nel is that her job and her reasons for doing it differs a lot from the other grooms we have spoken to before.
“I met Emilie a long time ago as I groomed for her trainer and some for her as well,” Nel starts to explain. “I actually refused to help her carry the saddle before she was able to herself,” Nel smiles, and adds that Emilie was naturally quite tiny already then.
“I have always been grooming and working or going to school at the same time, but finally I decided to just go to school and have a normal career. During this period Emilie and I became friends. Then about two years ago I was between jobs and Emilie needed some extra help going to Florida for the winter. I came to help her as a friend, and I stayed there,“ Nel says with a smile before she continues talking about their relationship that is more about two friends than just Nel working for Emilie. “I think what separates me from many other people in this game is that I do my job for Emilie. If I stop working with her I will probably quit horses,” Nel explains.
As we talk to Nel we find out that her job is much more than grooming and Nel explains that after she had worked for Emilie about a year she had to undergo surgery in her back. The surgery made her stop working for about six months. “I am now the worst groom ever,” she states with a laugh. “ I can no longer do all the hard work, but Emilie has been amazing and been there as my friend. I am now groom, friend, dogwalker, the cleaner of the lorry, I shop and fill up the lorry with food and vegetables, and I do a lot of cooking for Emilie as she is very into eating right. I make her about 100 chicken meat balls before every show,” Nel tells us while she laughs of our stunned faces. “She eats about 8 kilos of vegetables a week,” she continues as our mouths drop another centimetre. As Nel tells us that Emile also works out for two hours every day we are nearly out of words. Luckily Nel is not.
“I also do a lot of paperwork and help with all the book keeping, budgets and now I am working on trying to get us visas to Florida.” In other words we conclude that Nel’s job is more like the private assistant, but as Nel puts it; “It does not feel like a job. She is my good friend. Many of these things I would do for her anyway.”
But enough about Nel and Emilie, we still need to know a little bit about the horses at EM Horses that we have seen competing with Emilie the last year with some good results. “There is of course Caballero. Caballero means gentleman – which he is. Kind of like a George Clooney. He is amazing and he loves his job going to shows. If he is not going to a show he gets really mad in his box. We have to load the other horses when he can’t see. He had a bad accident when he was young,” Nel continues. “He fell under another horse on a lorry and he has a big scar from it. But that did not stop him. He is 13 years old now and the king of the stable,” she smiles and adds that the King (or George if you prefer) takes a nap around 10 o’clock every day.
Then there is Apollo, Emilie’s partner for several Nations Cups and also at the Europeans in Madrid. “Apollo is a 14 year old stallion and one of my favourites. He has been injured for some time, but hopefully we can bring him to Florida. Apollo is not as gentle as Caballero. When he meets people he always tests them to find out if he likes them. And he choose to like me so I kind of have to like him too,” Nel smiles. “Now when he is sick he bites me when I get back from shows like he is trying to say; “Hey, where have you been?!”” – Nel explains with a laugh.
“Then there is Carisma. She is a real mare, but she has for sure done some good shows. She was Emilie’s partner for the World Cup final and she has been placed in many World Cup qualifiers. We call her the grumpy princess – she has a lot of personality. Luckily she is Laura - the other groom’s - favourite.”
Before we finish off with Nel we want to know a little about how it is working and living half the year in Europe and the other half in Florida. “I get the best of both worlds. When we get to April I always want to go home, but in Europe it is more driving and in Florida the show finishes early so you feel like you can have a life. But then again in Florida it is the same people and the same arena for three months. So when April comes I am ready for Europe again,” Nel finishes off.
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