Tales from Stoneleigh: ‘You can’t have straw in the tail and poo-stains’

  • The veteran of four pony, junior and young rider European championships, Tom Hobday is the ultimate multi-tasker. He’s your groom, chef, counsellor and organiser.

    As camp manager for the pony teams this year, Tom is in charge of everything from cooking the meals to sending the girls to bed.

    “I try to be firm but fair. I’m like their big brother, but I get bullied – they always tease me!” he says, grinning. “It can be stressful, but they’re such an amazing team.”

    He started off with the British teams by grooming for Olivia Oakeley, and later the Bell family. “I’m a bit OCD,” he admits. “Everything has to look spotless, like I’ve been there a year.

    “First impressions are so important; you can’t enter the arena with straw in the tail and a poo-stain on the bum. It’s the first thing the judge sees,” he says.

    “My first priority is always to make sure the ponies are happy,” he says. “And you can never have enough saddle pads or bandages! Always be prepared — temporary stables usually leak, so I wouldn’t be without a lightweight turnout rug.”

    At this year’s national championships, the groom of every winning horse received a bottle of champagne, to thank him or her for their hard work. Tom was the first recipient on Thursday, when Katie Bailey triumphed in the advanced medium with Bocelli IV.

    “It’s so lovely that the grooms get recognised; it makes it all worthwhile. The riders and owners are always so appreciative. It was fantastic to see the Olympic grooms get their mini medal and certificate, too,” he says.

    The highlight of his career so far was seeing the pony team win in Malmö last year — the first time the Brits had claimed team gold.

    “That was amazing, being there to see that. They’d been my life for the year leading up to it, I was so proud of them,” he says.

    “Whenever they’re feeling the stress of a big competition, I remind them how much work they’ve done to get there,” Tom says. “Whatever they do in the arena, is nothing in comparison to how much work it takes to be there, against such tough competition.”

    This support extends to the parents too. “I always try to understand their side of things. And you need good communication with riders and owners; they can have different opinions!” he says.

    You won’t be seeing Tom in the saddle any time soon.

    “I haven’t ridden in about seven years. I’d be terrified; I’d have to to be on the lead rein! On the ground, I’ll handle anything; I cling on and I don’t let go,” he jokes.

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