‘He didn’t go in a stable until he was nine’: meet Sparkles Watson, the groom of ‘wild’ Burghley runner SAP Talisman

  • Hannah “Sparkles” Watson isn’t just the wife of Irish eventer Sam Watson, who is competing at the Defender Burghley Horse Trials this week, but she is also his groom and she owns half of his horse competing here this week, SAP Talisman.

    “I never thought I would own a horse that would compete at Burghley – it feels quite surreal,” says Sparkles Watson, who first started grooming when she was 18, initially working for Lucinda Fredericks before going to Dag Albert and then to Pippa Funnell for seven years. “Burghley is an amazing place – it gives you goosebumps coming here. It’s so intimidating but it’s got such a lovely feel about it and is so friendly, but just terrifying at the same time.”

    Sparkles Watson says that SAP Talisman, a 13-year-old she co-owns with Sam’s mum Julia Watson, is “a little wild”.

    “We’ve had him since he was four and he’s a tiny little barrel of a thing – he just never grew – he’s barely 16hh. He never lived in a stable until he went to his first international as a nine-year-old as he lives out 24/7 – we couldn’t get him into it!

    “He’s quite tricky but he’s an out and out cross-country machine. I think they have to be quite special when they’re competing at this level and are barely 16hh.”

    Sparkles says that the horse spends as much time out of the stable at events as possible.

    “I’ve looked after him every day since he was a four-year-old, so I know him well. I’ll take him hand-grazing, lungeing or just for a walk – I’ve been walking him up to the main arena five or six times a day here to try and keep him relaxed and familiar with it.”

    SAP Talisman scored 35.4 in the dressage, which Sparkles says is “like him getting 25”.

    “Just getting him into the arena and being able to contain him is such an achievement,” she explains. “I can’t watch the cross-country though – people have to update me with a series of thumbs up signals as Sam goes around the course!”

    Sparkles married Sam in 2012 after they met on the eventing circuit and they live at the Ballybolger Stud in Co Carlow. Together they have two sons, Archie and Toby, and Sparkles runs the yard and family life seamlessly.

    “I’m a morning person so I get up at 5am each morning before Sam and the boys get up so that I can get everything organised,” she explains when asked how she manages to juggle everything. “Sam is amazing –he’s very relaxed and he just lets me get on with it. He rides and I look after the horses and it is just so easy between us.”

    Sparkles says that some people have told her she doesn’t have to groom anymore now that she is married with children.

    “I genuinely love doing it. It’s not a chore to do,” she says.

    In terms of advice for aspiring grooms, Sparkles says: “I had no idea what I was doing when I started, I’ve been keen to learn and am still learning every day now. You have to be meticulous in everything you do – all the little things add up to the bigger picture.”

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