Alan Davies on speed-dial and perfect plaits: a day in the life of Charlotte Dujardin’s groom Francesca Gorni at the Europeans

  • When Francesca Gorni got the call-up to be Charlotte Dujardin’s groom for the European Dressage Championships in Riesenbeck, Germany, she had mixed emotions. She had worked alongside Alan Davies, grooming Imhotep, at Charlotte’s previous trip to Germany, for Aachen in June, which was effectively “a handover”.

    “Anyone who knows me knows how much I adore Alan, so it was bittersweet to come without him,” says Francesca. “I didn’t know how I felt about that; I was a bit emotional, but Alan said, ‘Come on, it’s your turn’.”

    But the two grooms are in constant contact – “every hour!”, Francesca estimates.

    “I keep him posted on his precious boy,” she says. “He’s actually in the middle of the sea, but he can’t get away completely. I’m constantly back and forth messaging him.”

    Francesca now works freelance rather than being based at a yard. Although she is probably best known as Tom McEwen’s groom for five years, she honed her skills working at Carl Hester and Charlotte’s yard at the start of her career. While she was at Hartpury College, she worked for them part-time for nearly three years, which is where Alan became something of a mentor.

    “I annoyed Alan, asking so many questions about everything,” she says. “I learnt so much – Alan is always cool and calm, that’s his priority, as well as enjoying it. In my experience, too, there’s no point getting stressed because you’re not going to be much help to anyone. I did my first championships with Tom, and I learnt a lot how to deal with my own emotions and keep a lid on them.”

    Whether it’s nature or nurture, Francesca certainly seems to have the right temperament for the job. It’s rare to hear someone who has groomed for an event rider say they don’t get nervous on cross-country day.

    “If you get nervous it means you’ve got a worry, but I have been lucky to work for talented riders and I know they’re capable. I’m laid-back, and I don’t hide away not watching – I’m like, ‘Let me see!’ I love cross-country day. I love all the TLC, when they’ve gone out and done their bit and worked really hard, and it’s your job to pamper them like the prince or princess they are.

    “The dressage is a different intensity. Everything has to be so perfect, and then it’s the horse and rider’s job to take over and do their job, and you’re just there for minor details that need tweaking. People always ask me which is my first love, but I genuinely love both disciplines. Dressage probably pips eventing slightly, just because I love the glitz and glam, that you can make the horses so perfect and pretty. And there’s no mud – we didn’t have to be towed on here, there are concrete paths!”

    ‘I believe in letting horses rest’: Charlotte Dujardin’s groom Francesca Gorni

    As for the pressure of working for a dressage superstar?

    “I’m loving it,” Francesca says. “Lucy Scudamore, who works for Carl, did a lot of the legwork, and Carl and Charlotte are lovely as always. I’m lucky I used to work for them. Team GB is incredible to be a part of, every championships is astounding, all bases are covered. The stables are lovely too, with Tokyo vibes.”

    Imhotep sounds like a paragon of virtue. As a freelance groom, the challenge is to get to know the horses and riders’ likes and dislikes really quickly. It didn’t take long to work out Imhotep – aka Pete – loves sugar lump treats.

    “He’s really sweet, such a character,” she says. “He is hot to ride, but he saves that for Charlotte. With me he’s nice, though he drags me round the stables a bit. He has three white socks, but he’s very clean so he’s easy to look after.”

    Pete usually spends a lot of time in the field at home, so Francesca takes him out for leg stretches and grazing in the mornings and evenings when it is cool.

    “You have to have attention to detail, and I’m a firm believer in letting them rest at an away show as there is a lot of hustle and bustle,” she says. “The heat this week has sent us a slight curve ball to the usual grazing routine, so we are getting them out while the temperature is cool, early and late.”

    And a grooming tip? “I do like plaiting. Eventers like lots of little ones whereas dressage is much more based on the horse and what the rider believes is right. It is much more about the presentation and how you can get the most marks for their conformation, so the plaits matter. Naturally I seem to end up with 14, whereas with the eventers it might be 16. My bugbear is dirty manes – you want the mane squeaky-clean, and I use NAF Plait It Up.”

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