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Lucy Katan: “The International Grooms Association will be created this year”

Thursday, 11 February 2021
Interview

Photo © British Grooms Association
“Grooms need to have a voice,” Lucy Katan, founder of the British Grooms Association, says. Photo © British Grooms Association.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

World of Showjumping spoke with Lucy Katan, the founder of the British Grooms Association (BGA), to learn more about this national alliance and Lucy’s ambitions on creating an international equivalent.

The British Grooms Association was created in 2007. It was Lucy’s personal experience as an international dressage groom that sparked the idea. “I had some good times but also some bad times,” Lucy tells about her grooming career. “I was virtually never correctly legally employed.”

It was in particular the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain, that made it clear to Lucy that things had to change when it came to the grooms and the way they were treated. “For the grooms, it was such a bad event,” Lucy recalls. “We lived in a mixed male and female bunk bed cabin; it was just awful. I remember sitting on the tack trunk talking with the other grooms, saying how wrong it all was – something should be done about this. When we arrived back to the UK – after a terrible trip home – I wrote a very formal letter to the British Equestrian Federation, saying that never again should the British grooms be treated in the way that they were this time – whilst on British team duties.”

“As a result, I formed the British Grooms Association and raised 25,000 pounds worth of funding and that is how the BGA started,” Lucy tells. “I am a social entrepreneur: I want to create a business that makes other peoples’ lives better. The vision for BGA was always the Rs: Recognition (of the importance of the role of a groom), reward (not only financial but also in the media), respect (for the groom as an individual and their wellbeing), and retention (keeping people in the job for longer so that the knowledge they gather won’t go to waste). We should be attracting people to our industry and looking after them. Those principles still stand today.”

“There are 40,000 people who work with horses in the UK,” Lucy continues. “They should all belong to our association. If you want to see change, then give the body that is seeking that change the mandate to do it by the numbers. The more members we have, the stronger our voice will be in seeking modernisation and support for all within this sector. I would like to see the illegal employment abolished – we live in 2021.”

Now, the FEI has reached out to Lucy. “Since we are the only country in the world that has a formal association for the grooms, the FEI came to us,” Lucy explains. “Unfortunately the coronavirus has held everything back. Currently, the FEI does not have an organisation of grooms to speak to. The FEI has committed to support the funding of the IGA, and once there is a body to talk to, then we have a direct route to the FEI that is formally recognised.”

When Ingmar De Vos ran for FEI Presidency in 2014, he stated in his presidential manifesto: “I strongly believe that we must reach out more to a group that often has been neglected, namely, the grooms. As they take care of our horses, day in and day out, and travel with them from event to event, we should make more effort to better understand them.” In 2017, the FEI created a grooms’ working group, which had its first and only meeting with the FEI President in July 2017.  

“Grooms need to have a voice,” Lucy continues. “However, we need an independent voice, and it will require people who feel strongly about these things to come together. We just need to get going and dedicate the time. There has to be a better gumption; a belief that the grooms' world can, and will, change.”

Lucy is adamant that the international version will be created this year. “It is going to take time, but it provides a start and I hope the national federations will start to consider grooms better within their own organisations and governance. One of the first things for the IGA will be creating a white paper of minimum conditions for grooms at FEI events.”

“Some things have not changed, and the FEI recognises that,” Lucy answers when asked if she has seen any improvement since her days as a groom. “One thing that has changed is the reward – maybe not in the financial sense, but in the sense of recognition. The groom plays an important role in the medals and in the success, and I think it is important that the high-profile riders recognise them in public. Social media gives a good opportunity for that, many do – particularly the BGA Patron Charlotte Dujardin – I would like to see a lot more of it.”

When it comes to creating the international version of the BGA, Katan has one major concern: “If we create the IGA and the grooms don’t join us,” she sighs. “For years, grooms have been sitting on their tack trunks moaning instead of being proactive. The grooms need to get behind the IGA.”

One thing Lucy is passionate about is professionalism. “As a groom, if you want to be treated as a professional, then behave like one,” she explains. “Respect goes both ways. Again, there has to be professional standards and the FEI will bring in a grooms’ register like they have done for the veterinarians and the physios. In time, entering the FEI stables at a showground will require you to have a status of a FEI groom. That will come.”

“We have to be constructive and seek positive developments and I believe it will happen – but it will take time. We are changing a culture here, something that is so deep seated that it is bizarre in so many ways. Everybody needs to take their responsibility on this," Lucy says. 

"The FEI definitely needs to put pressure on venues to hold to the best practices on their showgrounds. There should be a groom’s representative just like there is a rider’s representative. Federations need to do their part, too. This is the beginning of a new normal. It is going to take time, but we have a start," Lucy concludes. 

 

No reproduction without written permission, copyright © World of Showjumping



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