The riders on the podium! The National anthem! The flower bouquets! The medals! And behind all that……the horses and their grooms. I don’t mean to take anything away from the riders but for getting onto the Olympic or World Championship podium the grooms are an essential part of the team and their contribution cannot be underestimated.
“Alan Davies, our travelling groom, is definitely the key to my success–he never stresses, and he’s the most incredible supporter and so proud of what our horses achieve.”—-Charlotte Dujardin.
This past week I had the opportunity to speak with Alan Davies, one of the world’s best known grooms, in the tack room of Carl Hester’s yard in Gloucestershire, England.
Alan, in case you don’t know him, is the groom responsible for Valegro, the Olympic gold medal winning horse, ridden by Charlotte Dujardin, in London 2012 and Rio 2016. He is also the groom responsible for Carl Hester’s Uthopia, team gold horse in London 2012, and Nip Tuck, team silver in Rio 2016. He has received numerous awards: 2015 Team GB Groom of the Year, 2016 the Horse & Hound Groom of the Year award, the British Grooms Association Lifetime Achievement Award and is the first groom ever to receive the prestigious British Equestrian Federation Medal of Honor. In short I was in the presence of Grooming Royalty!
In Susan Stickle’s photo above,taken at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy 2014, you can see Charlotte Dujardin (wearing a helmet) in the awards ceremony where she won the gold medal. The horse is her record breaking Valegro and there is Alan rewarding him with a kiss. Valegro is now retired and was retired at the height of his career. His record breaking scores still have not been beaten. Alan’s connection to this horse is a very deep one.
Is it important to develop a bond with the horses you are looking after?
“Totally! It is vitally important to build that bond. I’ve traveled a total of 75,000 kilometers with Valegro. All of the grooms of the top horses travel with them and we all have a bond with our horses. It is a massive responsibility. We have to know if the horse is well or know if they are even a tiny bit off color. The riders do not travel with the horses so they may not see their horses for 3 or 4 days while they are traveling.But we are with them they whole way.”
Were you ever nervous about having to travel with the most famous dressage horse in the world?
“I was not nervous at all. After transporting horses for years I felt comfortable with it.”
How do you feel about Valegro’s retirement?
“Valegro loves his retirement. He’s happy and he stays out in the field longer. But…if we are taking him somewhere he runs onto the truck. It’s like he’s saying “I’m going somewhere. Someone is going to see me.” When I was away for two weeks, with Charlotte for a competition, Valegro would not speak to me when I came back. I went over to his stall to see him as soon as I got back and he just turned his head away from me. I was devastated. It took a little while for him to forgive me. He made me suffer”
What was it like for you at Valegro’s retirement ceremony at Olympia?
“They asked me to lead him out into the stadium and it was the most emotional moment of my life. We were waiting behind the curtain and I said to him: I don’t think I can do this. “Oh it’s fine,” he said to me. I was sobbing as we walked out and thousands of people were cheering. But I pulled myself together in time for the pictures!”
Although it is sad not to see him compete I feel it was such a good decision as he had won everything and had nothing to prove to anyone. Would you agree ?
“Yes, I’m happy about it but also sad. But when I look at Usain Bolt I think: “That could have been us.” I wonder how Bolt felt about not being able to win in the end. Valegro went out on the biggest high.”
I had brought an apple which I gave to Alan and told him to give it to whichever horse he wanted. Who got the apple? Valegro!
I was allowed to greet this superstar as well. I took a peek at his legs and I can tell you those legs were the legs of a horse half his age; no puffs or any signs of wear and tear after some years competing at the highest level of dressage. That is a testament to the care he has received. When I mentioned this to Alan he told me he still wraps Valegro’s legs at night!
Valegro has a large stall and his door is on the far left in this photo.
It was a wonderful afternoon spent with Alan. For me it is a truly joyous thing to spend time around someone who has such a great love for their work. Alan expressed it like this.
“It is my entire world. I cannot imagine not being part of that connection with the horse. Every time I go to a Championship with the horses I say to them “we’re off on another adventure.”
I will be posting about some of the adventures that are ahead for Alan. He will be taking horses to the World Equestrian Games in Tryon NC in September and I spoke with him about what goes into the preparation for such a major event and also what are his duties once he arrives and is with the horses. Those posts will be coming up closer to the Games.