Meet H&H’s Groom of the Year

  • Newly crowned Groom of the Year, winning vouchers from Grange Hotels for a fantastic holiday, Zanie Tanswell is proof that the life of the unsung hero is not all drudgery.

    While Zanie has evented successfully, she puts paid to the misguided illusion that all grooms really yearn to be Badminton winners themselves. She coincided eventing her own horse with grooming when she was a working pupil for Karen Dixon and Leslie Law, but transferred fully to grooming when she was offered the “fantastic job” as head-girl for Pippa Funnell.

    “It’s either one or the other,” says Zanie. “My horse had an injury so it was an easy decision — but it would’ve been unrealistic to continue competing. You can’t be completely dedicated as a groom.”

    The word “dedication” peppers Zanie’s conversation. It’s been the hallmark of a team that has racked up gold medals, Badminton and Burghley wins and — of course — the resounding Grand Slam success last year.

    “That was the pinnacle of my career,” says Zanie. “The pressure was unique as it was all geared towards the Grand Slam. When Cornerman and Supreme Rock were sidelined, we were down to one horse from four, as one other [Walk On Star] had to go to the Europeans. At the same time, it’s just like the run-up to any three-day.

    “There are so many other horses, you just keep your head down, keep working and jollying Pippa along. And we probably had the best of them all to focus on — Primmore’s Pride is unbelievable.”

    Zanie gives the impression that, despite her relationship with these champions, she affords four-star and pre-novice horses equal devotion.

    “I treat each horse as an individual,” she says. “Attention to detail is so important — grooming is about being completely and utterly dedicated in the whole broad spectrum. You must take real pride in every aspect of your work, from nice, clean beds, turn-out, washing down, checking legs, feeding, speaking to owners, packing the lorry…” She could go on.

    Zanie’s commitment doesn’t stop there. Although she sounds as if she knows how to let her hair down, she remains the consummate professional.

    “You have to remember that you’re not at a three-day for the parties,” she warns. “It’s great if you can get to them, but I’m there for the horses and to take the stress off the rider. All Pippa had to do was turn up and do her best. I didn’t want her worrying about whether her studs were too big or what bit to use. It’s a relationship based on trust.”

    Zanie is emphatic about the mutual understanding within the partnership between groom and rider. She can’t eulogise enough about the depth of her relationship with Pippa, and she has evidently been an integral factor in Pippa’s unprecedented success over the past four years.

    After the climax of 2003, Zanie is excited about her future. She recently moved to run Chris King’s (her boyfriend of 10 years) yard and being awarded Groom of the Year was a fitting tribute to round off four years spent at the Funnells’.

    “Pip always made me feel special, but grooms don’t often get much praise. I hope this award will give others an incentive to do their job as best they can. It’s like a great big thank you for years of hard work.”

    Join Nags

    NAGS membership is available to all bona fide grooms and students. Benefits include:

    • Horse & Hound subscription at £1 per copy
    • £3 discount voucher on a sack of Blue Chip Dynamic
    • 10% discount off Splash Equestrian equipment and clothing
    • No P&P charges from Equestrian Vision mail order
    • Eligibility for NAGS-only competitions and offers

    For a membership form (tel: 020 7261 5945) or e-mail: nags@ipcmedia.com

  • This feature was originally published in Horse & Hound (22 January).

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