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Josie Eliasson: “As a show groom, you spend more time with your rider than they do with their partner”

Thursday, 22 September 2022
Interview

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ. For the past six years, Josie Eliasson has worked with Jessica Springsteen. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

World of Showjumping had a chat with Josie Eliasson, who for the past six years has worked with Jessica Springsteen. From a local riding school in Sweden to winning a team silver at the Tokyo Olympic Games with the US squad, the 32-year-old Swede talks us through the twists and turns before landing her dream job, as well as her ways of coping with the immense pressure that came with it.

Pack your bags and follow your dream

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "I always liked the grooming part at competitions and thought it was something I would maybe want to do as a job," Josie tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

As her mother was terrified of horses, Josie followed along with a friend to a local riding school – and ended up staying put for twenty years. “After my first visit to this riding school when I was five, I went home and told my mum that I wanted to start riding,” Josie recalls. “My mum had to overcome her fear of horses to take me there. I got my first pony, then I got a horse and stayed in that stable until I left to work abroad. I was showing a bit with my own horse, but also got into grooming: I went with the daughter of the owner of the stable to some small local shows, as her groom. She also did the young horse classes in Falsterbo, so I got a taste of that atmosphere. I always liked the grooming part at competitions and thought it was something I would maybe want to do as a job. However, since I had my own horse, I felt a little bit stuck in Sweden.”

A visit to a friend who was working at a stud farm in Switzerland convinced Josie for good. “I think I was there for four days, and by the end of that trip I told my friend I wanted to find a grooming job abroad,” Josie laughs. “My friend called me five days later with an offer from Switzerland. The owner of the stable where I grew up was great, she told me not to worry about my horse and follow my dream. So, I packed my bag and left for Switzerland. I started working for Romain Duguet and basically did everything there; riding, grooming at home and some grooming at shows as well. Romain used to have a second rider – Jennifer Meylen – and I did shows with her, as well as the Sunshine Tour with the two of them. I was there nearly a year and really liked it, I had such a good time. However, I wanted two things: I really wanted to go and do a season in Florida, and I wanted to be a show groom. Since I didn’t have a truck license, I would sometimes be left at home because I couldn’t drive. Therefore, I decided to go back to Sweden and do the license.”

Into the unknown

 Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "I really like the whole competitive part of my job; going into the ring, wanting them to do good. That is the part I enjoy the most," Josie Eliasson says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

While Josie was in Sweden to do her truck license, a post on Facebook – with a groom position for a season in Florida – caught her attention. “All I knew was that it was a client from Tops, who was going to Florida that fall,” Josie recalls. “I never did the license but left for the Netherlands instead. A week or so before I went down there, I was told who the rider was. I was super excited that it turned out to be Jessica Springsteen; I had always thought of her as a very talented rider. My position was supposed to be a home groom/rider though, but that was fine for me, because I just really wanted to experience Florida.”

However, when it was time to leave for Florida, Josie did not go with. “Some of Jessica’s horses ended up staying in Europe,” Josie explains. “Tops’ stable rider at the time was Alberto Zorzi, and he was supposed to compete them – so I stayed in Valkenswaard. I went with Alberto and Jessica’s horses to Oliva for a few weeks and enjoyed the show part of the job a lot. So, even though I did not get to experience Florida that first season, I really liked the job.”

When Jessica’s show groom at the time, Esther Bukkems, wanted to stay more at home and focus on riding, she and Josie switched roles. “I got kind of lucky,” Josie says. “I started doing shows with Jessica and by the fall of 2016 we got the horses from Rushy Marsh Farms as well. I went over to America to do the indoor season there with those horses – and that is six years ago now! Today, I do all the shows. I really like the whole competitive part of my job; going into the ring, wanting them to do good. That is the part I enjoy the most, as well as seeing the horses develop. We have a 9-year-old that we have had since she was six, and seeing her grow, get better and now be competitive in the higher classes has been really cool.”

Good connection and communication skills

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "What I like most about my relationship with Jessica is that we can talk about everything," Josie tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

While there is no need to be best friends, Josie believes that as a groom, a good relationship between groom and rider is essential. “If you look at the time you spend with your rider – especially as a show groom – in most cases, you spend more time with them than they do with their partner. It is an intense relationship; there are pressured situations where emotions run hot. You don’t have to get along all the time, but you need a good connection. What I like most about my relationship with Jessica is that we can talk about everything; she has respect for me, and I have respect for her. She listens to my opinion and I see that a lot with other great rider-groom-combinations, like Kent and Denise, Harrie and Tamiles… Good riders involve their grooms, we know the horses in a different way than they do. You don’t always have to agree, but I think it is important to have mutual respect and good communication skills.”

Because Jessica is American, but Josie only ever worked with Europeans, they have taken the best of both worlds and created a system of managing their horses that is something in between. “In Europe, everyone has different systems as well, so in general there is a lot of variety in how top riders manage their horses,” Josie explains. “The American way is often about having less horses and more people and there are systems where the horses only come out once or twice a day. We try to take them out more, as well as turn them out, which is more European. Also, whenever Jessica is at home, she rides a lot herself, whereas in many American systems riders have other people set the horses ready for them.”

Championship debut in Tokyo

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "To make the Olympic team was huge for us," Josie tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

After years of hard work, the Olympic Games in Tokyo were a highlight for Josie and the first championships for both her and Jessica – which made the experience even more special. “We were like little kids, just happy to be there,” Josie smiles. “When I started working with Jessica, she was still studying – I don’t even know where she was on the world ranking. She graduated after the first six months I worked for her and since then, started to ride fulltime. It has been so much fun to be on this journey with her; to see her become a better, well-known rider who is respected by her colleagues. She has taken herself all the way up to the highest level and to make the Olympic team was huge for us.”

“I think the whole Covid-situation made the Olympics in Tokyo a strange experience for most of the people there,” Josie tells. “We were in our little bubble, we could not go outside and everything was very isolated. However, since neither me nor Jessica had never done a championship before, we had nothing to compare it to. For us, it was still massive. What was sad though was the arena being empty of spectators. When there was a prize giving for the individuals, all of us grooms went out and tried to make as much noise as possible so that it would feel like a bigger thing – after all, they were standing on the Olympic podium.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
"When there was a prize giving for the individuals, all of us grooms went out and tried to make as much noise as possible so that it would feel like a bigger thing – after all, they were standing on the Olympic podium," Josie tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“Apart from the lack of audience, it was an incredible experience,” Josie continues. “And to be able to perform that well made it even better. I have never seen Jessica so focused; she worked so hard to get that spot on the team, we both did. We hardly took any days off in the lead up to the Games, we put a lot of effort in reaching that goal. Once we got to Tokyo, we actually felt relaxed. Of course, we wanted to do well, but for me, I just wanted Jessica to go in and ride well, to be happy with the way she rode – that was all. If that meant having one or two down, then that would be it, but I wanted her to come out of the ring and be happy. And that is what she did, and it took us all the way to a medal.”

“The medal final, that was something else,” Josie tells. “It was so intense; I almost didn’t understand what was going on. I just remember that after we had jumped, as I was walking our horse back to the stable, I was told to be prepared to maybe come down for a jump-off. For me, the end result was a double joy, because I am Swedish. I am not going to lie, I still wanted USA to win, but I am happy it went as it did. I think after the impressive performances from the Swedes, everyone would have hated us if we would have won over them. The Swedes really deserved to win, so I am really happy with the silver we got.”

As Tokyo marked the first championship experience for Josie, she is hungry for more and has no plans of slowing down. “I want to keep doing this as long as I enjoy it – and I do still enjoy it a lot,” she smiles. “I am still hungry, and even though we did the Tokyo Olympics, I want to experience real Olympics, with audience – and other championships, as well. As long as the hunger and joy is there, I am going to keep doing what I do.”

Running to be a better groom

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "As long as the hunger and joy is there, I am going to keep doing what I do," Josie tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ.

Working with living animals means that there can be many bumps in the road, but Josie has found ways to cope with the stress. “There are times when the horses get injured, and it feels like whenever one gets hurt, they always come in threes – everything seems to happen at the same time,” she says. “We have had times when it has been very quiet, when the horses just have not been fit enough. During those lows you just have to think about the good times you have had and stay positive, even if at times a doubt of the unlucky streak ever ending might sneak in. However, this is how it is with horses; you have to find some silver-lining in everything.”

“It is very easy to get consumed by this job; to only live and breathe horses,” Josie continues. “When I started doing shows fulltime, I was completely drained by the end of that first year – both emotionally and physically. You give so much of yourself in this job. If I take a step back and think about those times now, I wonder how I ever got so emotional about so many things. However, it is because you live for this job. I remember how at the end of that year I caught myself thinking that I cannot live like this. And that is when I started to run. Running was my way to zone out and think about something else, it was something that made me a happier person. Running has helped me to deal with the horses in a better way: It clears my mind, it is my therapy.”

“I am lucky enough to have a job where I get to go to all these incredible, beautiful, historical places and I use running as a way to clear my mind but also to see these places a little bit more,” Josie explains. “It takes the stress away, gives me energy and makes me want to be a better groom. In the beginning, everyone was making so much fun of me and my running. However, it makes me happy, so I don’t care what others think. Maybe I started a bit of a trend, though: Others started to do it too, get out of the horse shows and see the surroundings as well. The horses don’t need us there 24/7 – I am sure many of my horses look at me and think ‘please just leave me alone’. Horses need their space; they enjoy their own time just like we do. Leaving them alone while I go for a run does not mean that I care less about them – it is just my way of being happy. As a groom, taking care of yourself is everything, the job is so demanding. I am lucky I don’t drive, so I have that extra bit of energy. I don’t sleep when I have a driver, but I can sit and relax, I don’t need to focus on the road. That helps me, but I think in general, taking better care of yourself makes you happier and better at your job.” 

 

No reproduction without permission, copyright © World of Showjumping

 



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