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The Voice of the Grooms: Are grooms getting enough recognition?

Wednesday, 02 June 2021
The Voice of the Grooms

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping. WoSJ asked Annamari Lahtinen, Andrea Hoenack and Johanna Burtsoff if they feel that the grooms get enough recognition from other stakeholders in the sport. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping


 

WoSJ asked three experienced grooms if they feel that their profession gets enough recognition from other stakeholders in the sport. From the FEI, to the organisers, to the riders – how do the grooms feel that they are being treated? 

Andrea Hoenack, long-time groom for Marlon Modolo Zanotelli:

“From a personal point of view I get recognition from Marlon. I know he sees what I do, appreciates my work and trusts me. He considers my opinion and knows I do the best I can for the horses. I don’t see the same respect between so many other grooms and riders though. At the shows, I often see grooms being shouted at and being talked down to in a very rude way by the riders they work for. These grooms are not being appreciated – they are being used. I don’t like this and sometimes it really hurts to see how some grooms are treated.

When it comes to the show organisers, I would wish for a bit more recognition: One example is food at the shows. Something I never understood is when we are at an event with both a 5* and a 2* show running alongside each other, and the 5* grooms get meal tickets but the 2* grooms don’t. All the grooms are doing the same job, and the organisers are doing the food anyway so I don’t think it would be that difficult to invite the 2* grooms too. I know the organisers are not obligated to do so; it however feels very wrong that they don’t since we all are doing the same job.

We all work hard, we all look after our horses and we all have long days. For me this is absolutely not fair.

Another thing that would be good for the organisers to think about is the hours when we can eat. Some organisers offer food all day long, but many shows have special hours when we can eat and sometimes it is just not possible to make it because of a class running, prize givings and so on. It is not that we expect warm food all the time, a sandwich or some finger food to go is just fine.

Then we have some 2* shows – like for example in Peelbergen – where they have free breakfast for all the grooms every day. This is so appreciated.


 

There are some stewards that actually speak to grooms – who come to the stable to ask for our opinion and that is something I wish would happen more often.

 


About two years ago, FEI did a survey among the grooms. It was not the normal stable report that they ask us to fill out now and then – here they asked for more details. I’m not quite sure what the purpose was, but they said they would get back to us. I still haven’t heard anything.

There are some stewards that actually speak to grooms – who come to the stable to ask for our opinion and that is something I wish would happen more often.

When I started to work for Marlon more than eight years ago, grooms where never mentioned in the media, but now a days it is different. There are more and more articles about grooms, how they work and the passion behind the job. I recently read an article about an International Grooms Association that is about to be started – I really like the idea and I would definitely join. I think it would be fantastic to have a body to turn to if there is a problem that I can’t handle myself: To get help somewhere and have support in the background.” 

 

Johanna Burtsoff – previous long-time groom for Laura Kraut, now working for Clara Hallundbaek:

“I think the grooms’ situation is getting a lot better. The job is no longer considered to be something that girls do for free, just because they love horses. In this way, it is actually getting more professional. Obviously, being a groom is never going to be completely normal job – after all we work with horses and sometimes the horses will need someone there for 24 hours a day and that is just how it is.

The older riders have mostly done all this by themselves – they have been going to shows with six horses on their own and they seriously appreciate that there is someone there to help them. When it comes to the younger riders, it seems that the groom kind of comes with the package. You get some nice horses, and a groom, and you go to shows. Of course, there are still some doing it all by themselves and I don’t think it is like they all don’t want to do it – it is just as it is. Which also is a good thing, since this gives grooms nice jobs.

When it comes to the FEI, they feel quite unreachable for us grooms and are hard to get through to.They always come up with new rules and constantly tell us what we can and can’t do – even without consulting what we have to say.

I think the decisions are made too high up when it on the contrary would be good if they started the process with making them at the bottom…


 

I think the decisions are made too high up when it on the contrary would be good if they started the process with making them at the bottom…

 


However, we can’t blame everything on the FEI, we also need to get our stuff organised ourselves. We would need a contact person who has the will to deal with the bureaucracy – someone we all can talk to and who can then take this on to the right person. If there are 20 angry grooms yelling that something is not good, it is not going to help us much. We might get one single thing changed, but it is not very productive in the long run.

Organisers could also listen to the grooms more often. It is obviously not enough control when it comes to the stable security, and whether or not they are clean or safe enough. This is actually a subject where grooms could have an opinion worth listening to since we live in the stables and we know what’s safe and not. We really want the horses to be safe in their stables and being able to go to the ring without hurting themselves. We have to deal with everything from jumping castles, extremely slippery floors or ground, aisles that are way too narrow – the list goes on. When it comes to stable security, there are a lot of things that would need to be voiced out – to someone that actually listens – so that there can be changes.


 

For the rest it has improved. I haven’t seen the sign ‘no dogs, no grooms’ for a while and that is a huge improvement.

 


For the rest it has improved. I haven’t seen the sign ‘no dogs, no grooms’ for a while and that is a huge improvement. Nobody will kick us out if we have a little shavings in our hair and it is not as discriminating as it used to be. Now we can live quite a normal life at shows with show grounds being central, most lorries having a kitchen and it is mostly an easy access to food. 20 years ago the shows were mostly on a grass field in the middle of nowhere and you where happy if you could find a dry sandwich.

When it comes to the media it is actually nice to be able to read about the horses you see jumping; how they are in the stable and who is taking care of them. On the other hand, I don’t think that every groom needs an article about themselves. It still is an individual sport with the horse and the rider performing, and yes, behind them there is a whole team. However, the grooms are just one part of that team, we also have the trainers, farriers, the vets and everyone else who participates in the success.” 

 

Annamari Lahtinen – long-time groom for Marco Kutscher:

“In general, I think the grooms are appreciated. If you are a good groom, the rider wants to keep you happy. There are always exceptions, but most of the riders appreciate what the grooms are doing and they know how much work it actually is. I also think that these days we respect ourselves more, compared to before. If you are not being treated right and if you are not happy where you work, something has to change or you have to find another job or employer.

I think many organisers could step up a little when it comes to thinking about the grooms. Some shows have it all perfectly organised with their timetable so we don’t have to work until early mornings and they have food available. At smaller shows we obviously pay for the food, but it makes us grooms so happy if there is a place close to the stable where we can buy it for a decent price. Another thing that is appreciated is when there are enough toilets and that these are clean.  Plus, that the electricity for the trucks is working. A winter show with the electricity going on and off all the time is not fun. One generator isn’t enough for 50 trucks…


 

It is one thing if FEI doesn’t have full focus on the grooms, but if they would have a bit more focus on the horses that would make our lives way easier.

 


When it comes to the FEI, our only contact with them is through the stewards. Some stewards are really interested in the grooms and they talk with us while other stewards you only see at the boot check.

It is one thing if FEI doesn’t have full focus on the grooms, but if they would have a bit more focus on the horses that would make our lives way easier.” 

 

 

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