What is it like to be the groom taking care of some of the most famous horses in the world at a big Championship like the Olympics or World Equestrian Games? I had the chance, last May, to find out from Alan Davies, travelling groom for British riders Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin. I asked him to take me through a day at a big championship.
“It rather depends on the climate. If it is hot I will start very early to feed and walk the horses. Valegro (Charlotte Dujardin’s Olympic mount who still holds all the world records for dressage) was always hungry and if I did not feed him first he would have a meltdown. Carl and Charlotte like to have the horses stretch their legs and so I will do that early once they are fed. I unwrap their legs and check the legs and then hand walk them.”
Alan went on to describe the routine of the day.
“At the Olympics in Rio, Charlotte would ride Valegro twice. Once in the competition and once before in the earlier morning. She would take him for a walk of about 30 minutes to make a connection with him.In Rio the Cross Country competition was finished so she would walk him around the cross country course and let him have a look.”
(Just as an aside…..how many top dressage riders would take their Olympic dressage horse out onto the cross country course? But this is the routine for Carl and Charlotte who believe in hacking out with their horses on a regular basis.)
“Carl’s horse, Nip Tuck was taken out early as well and walked in the arena if possible. For the Championships like the Olympics or World Equestrian Games they do all three tests; the Grand Prix, the Grand Prix Special and the Grand Prix Freestyle so by the third day they do not do so much before maybe just a short lunge or a hand walk. “
“I love to do absolutely everything; all the grooming, plaiting (braiding) quarter marks, mucking out the stalls, cleaning tack, wrapping the horse’s legs at night, feeding. I love it. It is my entire world.”
I also asked Alan about what it was like arriving at the Olympic venue for dressage at Greenwich Park for the London Olympics in 2012. I knew that the buildup to the dressage was very intense. I was in London at the time and the British were winning in many events so the pressure was really on for the equestrians in this horse loving nation.
“There was such a media furor and it put us under massive pressure. The equipment truck had gone to London two days before the horses so there was no tack and no riding. The entire TEAM GB dressage team met up in Kent and transported all the horses, all together, from there. It was pouring rain and I thought: ‘How can this work……the Olympics…..in the middle of a park in Greenwich……it could be a disaster!’ Then we arrived and they put down the ramp and we started to lead the horses off and there was a slew of photographers with cameras clicking. The stabling was up on stilts and it was amazing. The muck from the stalls would be put into wheelie bins and they would be whisked away. There was an incredible vet department right there on the grounds. Everything we could possibly want was there.”
I know that horses have already started arriving in Tryon for the World Equestrian Games 2018. I know that Alan Davies will be there with the horses of Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin. Both riders have new horses now but Alan will be looking after them with the care attention to detail that he always brings to these major championships. He will do everything to make sure the horses are rested and well and in the best possible shape to represent Great Britain on the world stage. And best of all…..he will love doing it.