‘Toledo De Kerser can be like flying a kite’: Tom McEwen’s groom Francesca Gorni on why she loves a championship

  • Francesca Gorni, groom to Tom McEwen, may have only been to two major eventing championships, but these being the Tokyo Olympics and this week’s World Eventing Championships, she has certainly had a whirlwind experience so far.

    Francesca Gorni has been a groom for Tom McEwen for four and half years, following a two-year stint working for Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin. When it comes to her current role she says she “just loves all of it”, and she and Tom’s top ride  Toledo De Kerser both have a particular love for the cross-country phase of a competition.

    “I love cross-country days – that’s fun and exciting, and Toledo, for sure it’s his favourite day,” she laughs. “I bounce off his excitement. I like looking after the horses, pampering them at the end of cross-country, especially when you know them quite well. You know what’s normal then, so as soon as something’s not normal you can act appropriately.”

    Of course, looking after horses competing at such a high level of the sport brings unique challenges, not least in the knowledge that it doesn’t always go to plan.

    “It’s weird nerves,” says Francesca of the feeling she gets as Tom and Toledo set off across country at a championship. “It’s not terrifying, but it’s just that you don’t want anyone to be disappointed at the end of the day and you want them both back safely. You want the whole team back safely and everyone else from the other countries as well. You just hope for those plain sailing days.”

    Francesca Gorni, groom to Tom McEwen, with Toledo De Kerser at the eventing World Championships

    Francesca Gorni, groom to Tom McEwen, removes Toledo De Kerser ’s ear covers for the steward’s routine check after the eventing World Championships dressage. Credit: Peter Nixon

    When it comes to the big occasions, Francesca describes the 15-year-old Toledo’s attitude as “cracking”.

    “He loves it. He’s often like flying a kite, but he lives for these big championships. He’s a great character. He arrives and knows he’s here, and he’s always ready to crack on and do his job.”

    Toledo receives plenty of love from British supporters and Francesca met three of his greatest fans as she led him back from the dressage today, sporting T-shirts printed with photos of the horse.

    Tom also makes life easy for his grooms at big events, always keeping them in the loop, according to Francesca: “We like a plan at Team McEwen. We like to be minimal on the day, so everything’s already thought through, and so we’re all prepped and ready for when Tom gets there and wants to crack on.

    “As a groom, you’re not there to get in the way of your rider or your horse. You’re there to make their job easier, and seamless, and to maximise the performance for them.”

    Francesca Gorni: ‘It was weird having to wave goodbye to the horses’

    The location of this championship meant that the British contingent had the choice of whether to drive the horses to Pratoni, just south of Rome, by road over three days, or to fly them, which takes around three hours.

    Thanks to funding from UK Sport via the National Lottery, and some additional funding from the Horse Trials Support Group, British Equestrian had the resources to send the horses by air, judging that to be in their best interests, while also taking action to offset the environmental impact of the flight.

    As it happens, both major championships at which Francesca has groomed for Tom have involved flights, and she admits that it’s hard entrusting others to take care of such precious cargo while she travels separately.

    She sasys: “You wrap them in cotton wool for so long. We were lucky because Adam Short, our other competition groom, took Toledo to the airport, so that was a big relief because it was still someone I knew dealing with him. And then the Peden Bloodstock guys are amazing; they did a lot of the loading onto the plane and they know their job, so you know the horses are in the best hands possible.

    “But it is weird when you have to wave goodbye to them, and also having to pack their trunks a week previously for them to go ahead on the transporter. The horses only have one little flight trunk to go on the plane with them, that could only be packed the day before, after Cornbury Horse Trials. I was thinking, ‘Oh my god, I’d like to be more organised than this, but I can’t’.”

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