As the clock ticks down to the start of competition in Tokyo’s Equestrian Park, H&H caught five minutes with the British grooms for a chat. In the first of this two-part instalment, we hear from Jade Lockwood on life in the GB camp, how she got into grooming and why Don Cara M is the talk of the stables...
Jade, 19, and Liz Walsh are the two grooms in Tokyo caring for the British Paralympic horses. Her day job as a groom for Sophie Wells means that she has taken on the main care of Sophie’s ride, Don Cara M (“Don”) and Georgia Wilson’s Sakura (“Suki”), who she knows well as Georgia trains with Sophie.
“I’m still very young, so I’m learning a lot from everyone around me,” Jade told H&H.
“I’m learning a lot from Liz – I think she’s done 17 championships now – she’s been teaching me a lot, and I’m just absorbing every bit of information I can. It’s difficult to put into words how incredible it is.”
She added she had heard amazing things about the venue and what being at a Games would be like, but the reality surpassed the already incredible picture she had built in her mind.
“The day that we walked on to the venue it was just surreal,” she explained. “The venue is so well thought out. You don’t realise when you’re in all the Zoom meetings and all the planning, you don’t realise quite how extreme everything is. They say the humidity and the temperature is [high], but when you get here it feels like you’re walking into a steam room or a sauna, it’s that hot, even when the sun’s not out.
“It’s so warm that when you walk into the air conditioned stables that are at about 24 degrees, which would be quite warm back home, it feels really cold. It just shows. It just shows how hot it really is.”
The grooms’ accommodation is a “two-minute walk” to the stables, with a view over the spectacular main arena, meaning they are on hand to care for the horses. This also means the grooms don’t face long journey times to and from the venue, when the schedule involves early and late start times owing to the climatic conditions.
The team has been working to help the horses get used to being ridden late in the day, to prepare them for the times they will be competing. The rest of the time involves normal day-to-day care, plus grazing in hand and walking in the cooler hours of the morning and a “horse siesta” between 11am to 4pm, where the stables are quiet and lights turned off to give the horses time to fully rest.
“The horses have honestly just settled in so well with the heat. We take their temperatures after every time they have exercised and they’ve all coped really nicely. There’s cooling tents and ice water next to the arenas – it’s all been thought out really well for the welfare of the horses. Their welfare has been put first,” she said.
“It’s things like, the whole surface around the stables is like a rubber surface, so they don’t even have to walk on concrete. The rubber doesn’t get hot in here at all so it’s really nice on their feet. The hand grazing is about five minutes away, so everything’s in really close proximity, which, when the heat and humidity is as high as it is, it’s lovely for the horses and for the riders to not have to be out in it for too long.”
Jade added: “Liz has done so much and so many championships that it’s very normal for her. For me, it’s very surreal. It’s just incredible. You don’t realise how much actually goes on behind the scenes to create such an amazing event.
“Little things from thinking about stable hang grazing and booking time slots. It’s very eye opening is how much actually goes on, and just how well the horses are coping with such a big venue.
“Everyone is working as a team – it’s really nice, the team spirit is really high, it’s very exciting.”
Don, owned by Roland Kinch, has been delighting everyone with how much he is enjoying his time in Tokyo and his antics in the stable, from demanding attention to playing with the British bunting.
“He’s really come out of his shell here,” she laughed. “He’s normally quite a reserved horse, and he’s got a little bit of cheekiness and character to him, but he always keeps himself to himself. He loves a cuddle, but here he’s been the absolute talk of the stables, and everyone loves him.
“He’s been playing with an apple on the string and tried to catch it, and if you’re stood outside his stable well he’ll give you a kiss. He’s just been talk stables every time someone comes past him, they are just in awe of him because he’s just got such a good character, and he’s really coming out of his shell, which is really nice to see.
“He’s become really cheeky. It’s nice to see him being so cheeky and so playful and it shows that he’s really enjoying himself.”
Grooming as a career
It was one of Jade’s friends who suggested that she contact Sophie to see if she might have space for her to come and do work experience.
She was at college at the time and started by doing one day a week, which she loved. Then the Covid pandemic struck, and Jade made the decision that she didn’t want to bring any additional risk to Sophie’s yard.
“Once Covid had settled down a little bit and everything was starting to get back to normal, Sophie popped me a message and asked me if I wanted a Saturday job,” she explained.
“I was waitressing as well at the time, so I would work a couple of hours in the morning at Sophie’s and then I’d go to my waitressing job and do 11am-7pm. Then in late September last year, the current travel groom at the time Beth Revill [changed roles] and Sophie offered me the position. I was still very inexperienced. I’ve had horses my whole life, but this is a completely different ballgame. Beth has been like a big sister, helping me through it all, she’s taught me everything from bandaging, to little tricks and tips, and everything that I would need to know.
“Sophie has been absolutely brilliant with teaching me the groundwork the horses need and they’ve really both supported me and helped me along the way. Something Sophie is really good at is if you make a mistake, she helps you learn from it and I think that’s been the most important part of the whole journey. She’s really helped me with making myself a better person.”
Jade explained that it was this that made her realise grooming was what she wanted to do.
“I had a place at university to do an equine sport science degree and I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do,” she said, explaining that she did “really want to go into grooming”, but was still a little on the fence.
“I think it was finding that yard that was so welcoming and supportive that made me feel at home and made me realise that this was what I really did want to do, and that this was the dream I wanted to pursue.”
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