Madeleine Broek is the girl who looks after Marc Houtzager’s and Sterrehof’s super stars Tamino, Opium and Uppity. We sat down with the Dutch 29 year old to find out more about what these three top horses are like, and found out not only that they are all three something really special – but also that you might have to be a little crazy to do the job as an international showjumping groom!
Madeleine has been working for Marc for the past seven and a half years, after she – as she puts it – “Just went there to see as I needed a job. Then I fell in love with the horses, and never left!” It was her father that was asked by Marc if she needed a job after working for a few months in America, and arriving at the Dutch rider’s yard she started off as a home rider. “Then at one point I asked Marc if I could go with him to a show. And then I came with a second time, a third time – and ended up always going with. Now I only ride on the show when Marc is not there, I’ve become a fulltime show groom instead!”
“Opium has been with me the whole period I’ve worked for Marc; I think he came there a month before I did. Opium is a real character! I have to say that in the beginning I was kind of scared of him! I tried to tell Marc that he was not so easy to handle, and once in Aachen Marc came to me and asked if he could help me out so I send Opium with him to do the vet-check. When Marc came back he just looked at me and was like ‘This horse is wild’ – and then it was just for me to say ‘I tried to tell you already!’ Really, he was like a lion back then. But now he is 17 years old so he has calmed down and is a bit quieter. Now, we are the best of friends – and it’s really special as I am the only one who can actually do and handle everything with him. The vet will for example not do certain things with him if I’m not there, as Opium can both rear and try to bite. He’s not really mean though; it’s just about whether or not he is in a good mood.”
Opium has always been known for his bucks and kicks in the ring. Charming as it might have been to watch, it got really dangerous in Amsterdam some years ago as the stallion fell when he bucked through the finish line – both Opium and Marc were very lucky that the consequences were not worse. “Opium came out of the ring on three legs after that fall, and although it looked bad there was nothing wrong in the end – but they were both very lucky. You could just see the way Opium tried to avoid stepping on Marc, and in the end he got away with a scratch on his helmet. Opium really calmed down after that fall – and he’s not as wild as he used to be anymore. He is still fresh though, and as long as he is fit he will compete and not be left at home. I really hope he can stay on in the sport for a bit more,” Madeleine says.
Madeleine describes Marc’s Olympic partner Tamino as a ‘spoiled and special horse’ – and she obviously has a soft spot for him. “Tamino is really easy to deal with, but he has his vices and is quite special. Like today he was windsucking on his water bucket, and suddenly it was flying around his box and there was water everywhere and all over the blankets. But the positive thing is that when he is like that he is in a good mood,” Madeleine laughs. “I have a special bond with him, as he has been with us since he was four and gone all the way from the youngster classes and to top level. Both he and Opium are very special to me,” Madeleine explains.
As to Marc’s winning partner Uppity, Madeleine says; “Uppity is really easy and really sweet. We just call him Ninja’s brother [they both are by Guidam]; they have the same face – they are just the horse-version and the pony- version of each other. And they really liked each other!”
What’s the best thing about the job as an international showjumping groom we ask Madeleine? “The horses! You have to be crazy about the horses to like this job. And maybe just a little crazy in general! You drive so long distances, and work very late hours. Like you come back from one show in Gothenburg one Monday, drive to Madrid again on the Tuesday – go back home, and then leave for Hamburg the next day. It’s pretty wild with all the shows going on now. When we go far, I try to go with my friend Lais who works for Gerco – then we fix everything together and don’t need a driver.”
You would maybe believe that a groom’s favorite show would be something like Doha, Cannes or Monte Carlo – but Madeleine has other preferences. “Actually I like any two star show close by Marc’s place, so I can sleep at home in my own bed and see the people that I don’t normally see around. I am on the road almost every weekend, so it’s really nice to be able to stay at home sometimes!”