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The Voice of the Grooms: Stable security – “They can’t just speak about it; they have to do something to change it!”

Tuesday, 11 February 2020
Stable security


Text © World of Showjumping



Stable security is a hot issue. Although there are FEI regulations in place, these seem to be implemented very different from show organiser to show organiser – and enforcement is often absent.

World of Showjumping had a talk with four experienced show grooms about the stable security at international venues. Are the stables safe enough for the four-legged athletes? It is easy to have an opinion from the outside, but what do the grooms – that spend the majority of their work hours in different show stables – think? 

Luca Ferreira – Pedro Veniss’ long-time groom

“There are some shows where the stable managers try to do their best to keep all the horses safe, but at other shows it can look like nothing is done. As a groom, there are a few shows that you like to go to, where you feel safe to put your horses in the stable – where you have a feeling that everything is clean. 

Other times it is different. I did a show in Italy a couple of months ago and it was impossible to put the horses in the boxes when we arrived. They used the shavings from a previous show and just added one-two bales on top. At this level, with these horses this is not the way to do it. I spoke with the organisation and got the reply that “Here all the people do like that” – saving the shavings from the week before. This is really not fair to the horse or the rider coming after, because you have no idea what horse used the box the week before and if that horse got treated in any kind of way. Then you have Geneva or Den Bosch for example – and similar shows – where the stable managers and all the people organising the show think about the safety of the horses. 

With all the contamination and doping issues we witness, I think some shows really need to improve. 

In my opinion, the FEI doesn’t want to see how it works at some of these shows. However: They can’t just speak about it; they have to do something to change it! I am not sure if they actually don’t know how it can be or if they ignore it, because most times the stewards know these kinds of things but perhaps they don’t report it to the FEI. 

Another issue is that too many people are allowed in the stable area. I think the owners need to be allowed into the stable and the partner of the rider. But it is a lot of people that shouldn’t be in the stable. On tours or smaller shows everybody can go into the stable, there the security is not good enough. It really puts the horses in danger, because you never know who comes into the stable.

Some shows also need to think a bit more when they plan the stables. It can get very difficult for the grooms and also the riders to figure out how to put our horses. When you are travelling with stallions, you can’t put them next to, back-to-back with or diagonal to a mare. 

Furthermore, some mobile stables are really not safe. The ones with the soft plastic can be very dangerous if the horse next door is kicking. Sometimes our horses have injuries in the morning, and we have no idea what happened during the night. The soft stables are just not safe enough for the horses! If you have a horse that you know is kicking, you have to put up kick-pads to secure the horses around. Then some boxes aren’t really high enough either so a horse that is about 1,70 – a normal horse – can easily put their head over the top. That can be especially difficult when you have stallions. At some shows, where they have extra boxes, they can make the walls higher if you ask them. But if you go to other shows where they just rent the exact amount of stables – they can’t help you. Many grooms use electricity on top of the boxes to keep the horses safer – you never know what horse you have on the other side. Safe stables that are high enough would make our life so much easier.” 

Malin Henlöv – Peder Fredricson’s long-time groom

“The security is very different from show to show. At some shows you can’t walk half a meter outside the area before you have to show your bracelet again and at other shows there is no security at all. And it is not always better at the bigger shows. 

What I really would like to be changed are the shows where anyone can walk in and out of the stable as they like, where you don’t see any security at all. Some have security during the days, but in the evening and night there is no security to be seen. 

It would also be nice with more video surveillance, but I understand that it doesn’t work at all shows. It is unreasonable to demand that all the CSI2* shows have it, but I think it could be a requirement at the biggest shows. For the shows without video surveillance – at any star level – I would like to know that someone is walking tours around in the stables during night, someone that knows horses and can see if something wouldn’t be right with any of them.

To have someone knowledgeable walk around the stable a couple of times a night would be really appreciated. 

I also think it is too many people in the stable area. It is so easy to give away bracelets to anyone – not just to the horse owners. It is difficult to work when it is too many people running around in the stable. Of course, the owners and maybe an extra groom should be allowed into the stable, so I don’t really know how to limit it. But maybe it would be possible to make a time limit for others than riders and grooms into the stable – the stable is open to anyone with the right accreditation between for example 11 and 18 and other times only grooms and riders are allowed in. I don’t know, but it would be nice to be able to work without distractions sometimes. 

The stables are also very different from show to show. Most of the time the stables are clean when we arrive, but then once in a while we arrive to dirty or broken boxes – where you really don’t want to put your horses. Sometimes, when we get to permanent stables, there is still old shavings and it has not been mucked. Often, we then have a long travel behind us so it is just for us to accept and start cleaning ourselves so that we finally can get the horses out of the truck. However, when I get to a stable that doesn’t feel okay I normally take some photos and send them to our Chef d’Equipe and the team veterinarian. My experience is that it is mostly with permanent stables that we get problem with the boxes not being properly cleaned. 

Luckily, we have less accidents than expected in the stable area but I doubt that many of the mobile stables would stay intact if a stallion decides to hang over the wall. I’m always a bit worried.” 

Alex Tyler-Morris – Lorenzo De Luca’s groom and former long-time groom of Harrie Smolders

“The stable security could be better, and it needs fine-tuning. Many times, at the CSI2* shows they get a bit slack with it and people are walking around without accreditation. Especially on the tours it can really improve. When you go to the tours a lot of things can easily get stolen. I think that all shows should have people with horse knowledge going through the stables at night. Generally, you can have a security guard, but if one horse is digging in a strange way or rolling continuously, they will not notice without horse knowledge. Nine times out of 10 – if your horse has colic and you are not there – it is another groom that sees it and calls you. But if it for some reason happens in the middle of the night, no grooms are there, so it could be that your horse has been in colic for 5-6 hours when you come in the morning and that might already be too late.

I think it is necessary to have someone with horse knowledge in the stables at night. 

I don’t think it is really necessary to have video surveillance in the stables, but perhaps it would be an idea to have some in the aisles to prevent people from stealing. I know some shows where people jump over the fences to steal equipment. 

From time to time it is also too many people in the stables. The rings are the rings, and you can have all the VIPs and everyone there. Of course, the owners want to come and visit their horses – however, everyone needs to understand that the stable is where the horses can be quiet, where they can relax and chill. Sometimes when you have too many people around, the horses can’t relax and we can hardly work. I think it would be better with certain time periods during the day when the others than grooms and riders can visit the horses. The problem is, the weak points are normally discovered when it is too late.”

Andrea Hoenack – Marlon Modolo Zanotelli’s long-time groom

“In general, I think a lot can be improved in regard to the stable security. At many shows, especially at CSI2*s, they never even ask you for your accreditation or wrist band – you can go in and out of the stables as you like. It can’t work like that. Most of the bigger shows are better, they do ask for the accreditation when people enter the stable – but that also needs to apply for the smaller shows. 

Just recently, at a CSI2* show in Belgium, saddles were stolen – again. The doors to the stables were open at night. The security staff is there but sitting inside their container and don’t see who is going in and out of the stables.  

During the night I wish that the security staff would be doing their job, walking around in the stables. To have staff with horse knowledge would be good, so they can recognise a sick horse and call the people responsible. And it needs to be someone at the stable entrances. There are too many times you can walk in and out as you like during the night and that is not ok. 

When security is lacking, anyone can access my horses. Potentially they could, if they wanted to, give them something or do something to them. How can I then, when I have no idea who has been in the stable or what they have done, sign a doping test with a clear conscience? 

Sometimes it is also too many people in the stables. Everyone has limited space and suddenly you have groups of people standing in front of your box when you have to get a horse ready and that is too much. Riders, trainers, owners and partners need access to the stable, but not the whole family and all of their friends. It is getting too noisy and hectic for the horses.  

The quality of the boxes is not always good. For example, the boxes with the soft plastic walls are not safe if the neighbour is kicking. I also find the walls on these boxes very low. On the other hand, sometimes you have the boxes made with the harder plastic – they are higher, which is very good – but in the winter when it is cold that plastic breaks very easily. If a horse kicks, it is easy for the wall to break and then you have the problem that the horse can get stuck with the leg.

Most of the time the stalls are clean when we arrive at the show ground, but it has happened a couple of times that it is not and then I would rather not put my horses in there. Then it’s just to clean it yourself before letting the horses in.”


No reproduction without permission, copyright © World of Showjumping 

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