This week Susie Berry and her ride, John The Bull, will be contesting their first five-star at Badminton Horse Trials, presented by Mars Equestrian. Susie, 26, rides under the Irish flag and has enjoyed a number of successes, including finishing third at Blenheim Horse Trials with John in 2021. She spent a number of years based with Piggy March before setting up her own yard in Northamptonshire in 2020.
But, behind every great rider at this level is a great groom, and this week Susie has Chrisy Salmon helping her along every step of the way.
Chrisy is 28 and has been working as a professional groom for eight years. She was born in North London and grew up in the Hertfordshire/Bedfordshire area and she says that, apart from her dad being “into his racing”, she doesn’t come from a horsey background.
“My sister and I both did a bit of riding when we were younger and started helping out at a riding school and getting free lessons because we’d volunteer to ride the naughty pony and stuff like that,” explains Chrisy. “When we moved out of London and we were a bit more in the countryside, we just kept seeing horses in the fields and being like, ‘can we just ride one please?’ And I think the nagging paid off. I was 12 when I got my first Saturday job, so I was the richest 12-year-old in the village getting 15 quid a week and it just built up from there. Definitely every opportunity I was given, I took it.”
Chrisy says that she always wanted a career working with horses, but that she wasn’t initially entirely sure what that career was going to be.
“I just knew horses were where my heart was and it was the only thing that I could actually put any passion into,” says Chrisy. “So I went to college at Hartpury and did two years there, then followed that up with a job at a livery yard.”
It was at this livery yard that Chrisy got her first taste of competition grooming as the owners did a bit of a dressage.
“I ended up helping at a few shows and quite liked it,” she says. “Then I got a job for Sarah Bullimore and it was with her that I went to my first ever horse trials. Sarah literally taught me everything and I actually groomed at a long format event before I’d even groomed at a one-day. So when I eventually went to a one-day I was ready with grease, tape, tubigrip – all the things you’d need at a three-day and she was like ‘no, we don’t need those here, this is a lot more casual now!’”
Chrisy spent four years working for Sarah before deciding she wanted “a bit of a change”, which is when she moved to Susie’s three years ago.
This week at Badminton, Chrisy will be looking after John, who is an 11-year-old, owned by Helen Canton and Susie’s mum, Caroline Berry.
“John is a cocky character – he really knows himself – but having said that, even he’s come here and gone, ‘Okay, something is different’. I think he’s realised it’s bigger and better than anywhere he’s ever been before, so even he’s been knocked down a peg a little bit!” laughs Chrisy. “He’s still got plenty in him when Susie rides him so she’s still got quite a lot of work to do though, but on the ground, he’s definitely been more amenable. I think he has finally gone ‘Oh, okay, maybe I’m not the best one here today’.”
Chrisy says that the thing she loves about her job is, perhaps obviously, the horses.
“The hours can be long and there’s plenty of aspects of the job that could put people off, but I just think every day you get up and you’re thinking about the horses all the time, and even in the evenings when I’m sat watching telly, I can think ‘Oh, I need to pull that horse’s mane tomorrow’ – you can’t turn it off.” she explains.
“Coming to Badminton, this is not only Susie’s first five-star but John’s first five-star too, and when you love the horses you look after, you want to do those firsts with them; their first intermediate or their first long format, and then the first big one when you go to Le Lion D’Angers or Blenheim – those milestone moments – that’s when you think ‘I was there for that and I helped them get there’ and that’s the thing that keeps you going.
“Even when you think ‘oh, do I really want to keep doing this because is my body going to shut down soon? Or do I just want that bit more money?’ It’s always the horses that keep you there and you think ‘oh, well, maybe I’ll just wait one more year, I’ll do one more Badminton’ or something like that. I especially want to keep going at the moment as Susie’s got a good string of horses this year and they’re all working their way up the levels, so we’ve hopefully got some exciting ones and there’s certain horses that I know I want to be at certain events with.”
Even to non-horsey people, Badminton has a special pull about it, and that couldn’t be truer for how Chrisy feels to be here this week.
“I’ve groomed here a couple of times before with Sarah, but obviously I haven’t been for a few years. It’s nice to be back and even at the trot-up, people were sitting waiting for it to start two hours before, which is madness – everyone’s gone ‘Oh my God, Badminton is back!’ and it’s definitely back with a bang,” says a smiling Chrisy. “It’s such a special place to be – even when you’re driving in, it’s just a different feeling. As a groom, you’ve got all your best rugs, and I even bought a new grooming kit for this week. Although there are nerves in the build up, there’s so much excitement.”
Read our full Badminton form guide in this week’s issue of Horse & Hound (issue dated 5 May 2022). Our bumper 20-page Badminton report will be in our 12 May issue and keep fully up-to-date with all the action during Badminton week via horseandhound.co.uk, where a host of features and reports will be published.
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