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The Grooms Award co-founder Andrea Mewhinney: “Remember the people who are the heartbeat of the sport”

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Photo © private collection
Andrea Mewhinney (left), co-founder of The Grooms Award, with a group of volunteers. Photo © private collection.


Text © World of Showjumping



Founded in 1998 by Andrea Mewhinney and Noel Glavin, The Grooms Award consists of a group of volunteers that tours some of the biggest horse shows in the US, rewarding the grooms. What started with a t-shirt for the grooms of the winning horse in the Grand Prix, has evolved into gift bags for each groom in the class. World of Showjumping spoke with Mewhinney to learn more about this important initiative.

“I think we all love horses and most of us who volunteer were lucky to have good employers,” Mewhinney begins. “We got paid, we had good places to live, we had owners and great riders who appreciated us. Many of us were employed by the same person throughout our entire grooming career. We were recognised as an important part of the team and still, 40 years later, we are friends. I think this makes a big difference. Not everyone has this luxury, and you really can tell. I think a part of the reason we do The Grooms Award is to encourage people to appreciate the folks that work for them. Some grooms don’t get the support they need.”


I think a part of the reason we do The Grooms Award is to encourage people to appreciate the folks that work for them.


“I used to take care of Norman Dello Joio’s horses – a long time ago,” Mewhinney continues. “One of my best friends, Moira Caffarey – who took care of the famous I Love You – died young. We wanted to memorialize her so we asked the manager of the horse show in Harrisburg if we would be able to give out a Grooms Trophy for the Grand Prix – because I Love You won that Grand Prix.”

An idea that started small, has grown throughout the years. “In our first year, 1998 – which makes it 23 years to date – we had a trophy made that the horse show kept and the only thing we asked from them in return, was a T-shirt”, Andrea tells. “The next year, someone gave us money, and the year after a few more donated… Soon, we ended up having 10 000 dollars in the account. Ten years into the award we had so many donations that we needed a wheelbarrow!


We do what we can with The Grooms Award, we promote what we love: Taking care of horses.


“We have a lot of fun doing this, and we have many good sponsors including companies like Haygain, EquiFit, SmartPak and some others who want to support our efforts!” Mewhinney continues. “2021 is the first year that we are sending different teams to the shows; we have nine shows on our schedule. Everyone that volunteers is a former groom. I would say that all of us have gone into different professions – myself, I am a nurse. However, we’ve still got it: A couple of years ago, a groom had a problem and even though we were all dressed up, we could help her. We still know how to tack up!”

Throughout its history, The Grooms Award has been well received by everyone – grooms, riders and event organisers alike. “Everyone we ever met said it was a great idea,” Mewhinney explains. “Seven years ago, we decided we needed to divide the prize up though and rather give each groom in the Grand Prix something instead of only rewarding the winner. As a result, we created gift bags. One of my favourite stories goes back to the first year we did the bags. We had about 40 grooms, and they immediately texted their friends, telling them to come up to the FEI stables, saying there were some weird people there giving them stuff,” Andrea laughs. “We would tell the grooms: This is not for your rider, trainer or owner, this is for you. We thanked them for the job they do, told them we really appreciate it and that we used to do this for a living. Once, a young woman took her bag and said ‘who are you people!?’. She gave us a big hug and could not believe that someone she never met before said thanks for taking care of the horses. And the word has spread. There are a lot of grooms out there who are excited to see us now.”


Our message has been: Remember the people who are the heartbeat of the sport.


For the future, Mewhinney would like to see more events pick up on their idea. “Horse shows in the US have picked up on our idea and there are a lot of events that also reward the groom,” she tells. “I know we have started this, but we cannot do it all. Our message has been: Remember the people who are the heartbeat of the sport. Florida has three to four thousand horses showing every week and without the grooms, it would be a very different world. I think for the future, for as long as we are able, we will keep doing this. When every horse show follows suit, they won’t need us anymore and by then we will be in wheelchairs anyway,” she smiles.

How the grooms are treated by the FEI and the organisers is also related to the FEI’s CSI requirements. In Europe, meals are mandatory for the higher star-levels, while in the US grooms don’t have the same benefit. “I remember going to Europe and the most amazing thing was that the grooms actually were fed!” Mewhinney recalls. “In the US, we never had a meal supplied and that was why I loved showing in Europe – there was a kitchen for the grooms. It would be so nice if the FEI events – who are giving hundreds of thousands to the winner – were able to give something back for the grooms. You can start small: We started with a T-shirt! After all, we are talking about the people who are getting these horses and riders to the ring. If every event would do something as minor as we do, it would be so uplifting for these people who work so hard.”

“It took us 23 years to spread the word to the best of our ability,” Mewhinney continues. “We do what we can with The Grooms Award, we promote what we love: Taking care of horses. I hope the idea of recognizing the grooms will spread; anything they get is small in relation to what they do!”


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