‘Charlotte tricked me!’: British groom Alan Davies on keeping horses cool in Tokyo and an Olympic birthday surprise

  • Wrapping up our mini series chatting to the British dressage grooms out at the Tokyo Olympics, we speak to none other than Alan Davies, groom to Charlotte Dujardin and Gio

    Three of the four dressage Tokyo Olympics grooms are Games first-timers, but the fourth, Alan Davies, is far from a rookie. Alan was groom for the wonderful Valegro at both London 2012 and Rio 2016, as well as grooming for Emile Faurie at Sydney 2000, and now he is here caring for Charlotte Dujardin’s new Olympic ride, Gio – otherwise known as Pumpkin. 

    “I still can’t believe we’re actually here at the Olympics,” Alan admitted. “After everything that’s gone on in the last year it’s incredible to be here. The Japanese are so welcoming and they’re trying so hard to make it happen and happen well. The stabling here is amazing, and they’re looking after us really well. 

    “It’s my fourth Games but for the other British Tokyo Olympics grooms around me [Lucy Scudamore, Steph Sharples and Steven Caley] it’s their first time at an Olympics. So I’m trying to keep them calm, and give them a bit of advice.”

    Alan’s responsibilities have gone further than just looking after his sole charge on the ground in Tokyo. Having spent seven days in quarantine with Carl Hester’s En Vogue, Gareth Hughes’ Sintano Van Hof Olympia, and of course Pumpkin, in Leicestershire, he then drove with the horses out to Liège in Belgium, where they joined up with Lottie Fry’s Netherlands-based ride Everdale. Alan travelled on the plane with all four horses to Japan, while the other grooms flew separately, and he admitted that the journey was exhausting. 

    “I was really tired when we arrived – we drove out to Liège and then it was an 18-hour flight. And when you don’t know the horse, and it’s someone’s Olympic horse, there is pressure [to care for them well]. Up there it’s tough; there’s not much space, you have to keep an eye on each horse, making sure they’re eating and drinking and doing what they normally do as much as possible. It’s not easy but they were amazing. 

    “Pumpkin is loving it here, and he loved the flight,” added Alan. “Because he’s quite small he had plenty of room in the crate. He’s so chipper, so jolly, he came off the plane really fresh. We were out hand-grazing this morning watching the eventers jumping and galloping nearby, and he thought that was hysterical – his eyes were out on stalks. 

    “The first couple of days here in the heat his temperature went up quite high, so we did quite a lot of rapid ice cooling. Gradually as the days have gone on, the horses’ bodies are adjusting; their temperatures aren’t going up so high and we’re getting them down quicker too.”

    The competition may not have quite got underway when we chatted, but Alan had already had something big to celebrate – even if he was slightly reluctant to do so. Friday, 23 July was not just the date of the Tokyo Olympics dressage trot-up, and opening ceremony; it was also Alan’s birthday. 

    “I said to everyone I didn’t want any fuss,” he said. “We were busy in the morning with the trot-up, so everyone just crept in and said happy birthday quietly, and I thought I’d got away with it. Then at lunchtime Charlotte told me she wanted to go for ice cream. She said, ‘Can you come with me? Nobody else wants to come.’ I thought it was a bit weird, but I got taken off for ice cream, then we got back to the stables and it all kicked off – there were banners and balloons and cheering. Charlotte tricked me!

    “The girls from British Equestrian were so amazing and had a Japanese birthday cake made for me. It was a light sponge with strawberries and cream. It was divine. So it was a very different birthday, but it was very nice, and amazing to think I’m surrounded by all these lovely horses and people for my birthday.”

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