‘Carl said we might be going to the Olympics – I thought that sounded fun!’ How Alan Davies landed the world’s best grooming gig

  • Alan Davies is well known for being the third member of the dressage dream team that have propelled much of Britain’s extraordinary success in the sport over the past decade. As head groom to Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin, he was the man in charge of caring for Olympic gold medallists Valegro and Uthopia, as well Carl and Charlotte’s more recent superstars, from Nip Tuck to Mount John Freestyle, to their 2021 medallists En Vogue and Gio.

    But how did Alan Davies come to work for Carl in the first place, and was being an international dressage groom always his aim in life?

    In a word, the answer is no – he didn’t actually start riding until he was about 10, and his first venture into horses was through the world of hunting.

    “My parents were desperate to get me out of the house as a child and do some outdoor activities. My brother was very sporty and I wasn’t – I just had no interest in sports,” says Alan. “My parents owned a Post Office and general stores near Cambridge and they got friendly with the girls from the local hunt yard, who used to come in to get their lunch. The girls at the Puckeridge and Thurlow said to send me over and they’d get me mucking out, so they took me under their wing.

    “I found it all fascinating – I loved it! For months I wasn’t allowed to touch a horse; I would sweep up, grind the oats, fill haynets, make up the banks on the straw beds while the horses were out on exercise and fold the jute rugs and Witney blankets. I still use Witney blankets to this day actually.

    “At that time, around 40 years ago, hunt service was a serious profession and big business. I had head girls who were real sticklers for cleanliness and fitness and looking after horses’ legs, and I was totally encapsulated by the whole thing. I’d stay late at night, after the horses came back covered with mud, and spend hours cleaning all the tack. It gave me such a good grounding.”

    From hunt service, Alan moved into the showjumping world, landing a job grooming out in Florida, which he says gave him more invaluable education.

    “I thought, ‘Wow, the chance to look after horses and travel’ – it was a no brainer,” explains Alan.

    “I did four winters in Florida and had a blast. I had no clue what I was doing, really, but I worked with some of the best trainers and vets and farriers, and learned so much – how to bandage properly, and icing legs. The science of really taking care of horses’ legs was developing in the US at that time and I was there for it, flying showjumpers back and forth across the Atlantic,” says Alan.

    “Luckily I always wanted to learn so I was always questioning things, and that would hold me in good stead for later in life when I would be looking after the most famous dressage horses in the world. I still hark back to those years now – if I’m having a problem with something now, I think, ‘What would I have done back then?’.”

    Alan Davies: ‘I just love beautiful animals’

    From showjumping, Alan Davies moved to showing, competing successfully himself as well as grooming, and he says he still has a soft spot for the sport

    “I love beautiful animals, it doesn’t matter what type. I love seeing them turned out beautifully, and going beautifully,” he says.

    Alan first met Carl at the World Equestrian Games in 1990 – Carl’s first championship – had later had dressage lessons with him on various show horses.

    “He asked me a couple of times over the years whether I’d come and work for him, and for various reasons it never happened. But then he called me at the end of 2010 and said he had two upcoming grand prix horses who were going to be very good, that they were going to some shows in the south of France and did I fancy getting away from the winter and coming with them.

    “I just thought, ‘Yeah, alright, why not?’” laughs Alan.

    Those two horses were, of course, Valegro and Uthopia, and after accompanying them to shows at Vidauban while still working freelance, Alan ended up joining Carl and Charlotte as they competed at Saumur and Hagen in 2011, during the build up to the European Championships in Rotterdam, where Britain would win a euphoric team gold.

    “People were starting to take notice of Carl on Uthopia and Charlotte on Valegro, and so one day Carl sat me down and said, ‘We’d like you to stay on full-time. We might be going to the Olympics!’ I thought that sounded like fun, to spend a year with them in the run-up to London 2012. Little did I know that 10 years later I’d still be here, and what would happen in that time…”

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