‘I was plaiting by head torch’: a day in the life of a groom working at the RIHS

  • While the action in the rings at the Royal International Horse Show (RIHS) takes the majority of the spotlight, the competition wouldn’t be possible without the hard work and dedication of those behind the scenes.

    One individual who’s been working around the clock at Hickstead is freelance groom Tabby Oliver. Gloucestershire-based Tabby has 20 animals, ranging from hunters to show jumping ponies, to plait for the ring during the week and she’s also working a full day grooming for a leading show producer.

    Hunter day is always the busiest for Tabby.

    “I was up at 4.40am on Thursday morning to get the first one ready for the ring,” said Tabby, who enjoyed her own success in the ring on Tuesday, taking second in the plaited coloured pony class riding Hopgarden Hanky Panky. “I had three to plait so I started the first horse at 5am; I was plaiting by head torch as it was still dark. It takes me about 45 minutes to an hour to plait each horse. Luckily, all the horses I had to do were very well behaved.

    “Thankfully, I’m not a big breakfast eater so I grabbed a can of Redbull and off I went.”

    Tabby had six to plait on Wednesday, and she finished her stint at 1.30pm.

    “I finished the first horse at around 6am, and after sending him down to the ring I started on the second at 6.30am,” said Tabby. “My third horse was plaited by 8.40am, and then I ran down to the ring to watch a friend compete in one of the M&M classes and catch the lightweight hunter results. The horse I plaited came a very credible fifth.

    “I was then back up to the stables to start the fourth horse at 10.45am. It was 1.30pm by the time I’d finished. I had the afternoon off to catch up with friends; the RIHS is one of the only shows where everyone is in one place for the week. I watched another friend compete and then headed to see the Eventers’ Challenge in the International Arena.”

    Tabby will spend Sunday, the final day of the show, grooming for showing producer Craig Elenor and his team, who have a myriad of show and mini ponies through to respective championships.

    “This will include more plaiting and getting the ponies ready outside of the ring,” said Tabby. “It’s quite a mentally taxing job as I’m concentrating for so long. While my feet get a bit sore and my hands start to ache, I’m a perfectionist and can’t let a horse go until it’s just right, which can get tiring.

    “It’s a very rewarding process, but I dread looking at my step count at the end of the week. I’ll be back home on Sunday night, before I’m back at another championship show to groom on Tuesday.”

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