‘Love for horses drives you on’: top showjumping figure backs international grooms

  • There is no way to last in equestrian sport without a deep love for horses, says the new chairman of directors of the International Grooms Association (IGA).

    The IGA said it was “very proud” to welcome John Madden to the role, as an “important sign of its growth”.

    John, who is married to top US showjumper Beezie Madden, started as a groom and moved into an assistant trainer role. He started John Madden Sales in 1984 and has coached riders and horses to championship level, as well as holding a variety of roles for US Equestrian and serving as FEI jumping director and vice-president.

    IGA executive director Lucy Katan said: “I am so pleased to welcome John Madden to sit as chairman of our board. He brings such a wealth of knowledge and experience, and has always recognised the vital need for international horse sport to be more forward thinking and open to adaptation.

    “As the IGA enters its third year I feel this appointment is an important signal of our growth; and shows that the voice of the international grooms is being taken seriously at the very highest levels. Having such a well-respected figure standing alongside us to represent the grooms is another great step forward in bringing positive development for FEI grooms around the world.”

    John said it was his love for horses that led him to equestrian sport, “much like most grooms I meet and work with”.

    “This sport and the horses demand so much of all of us, and our grooms deserve a strong organisation looking out for their best interests,” he said.

    “Ultimately, everything we do to improve conditions and education for our grooms betters the lives of our horses, which every horse person can agree is an admirable goal. I am honoured to serve as chairman of the International Grooms Association and be working with Lucy Katan and her associates to continue their mission.”

    The IGA was founded in 2022, when a memorandum of understanding was signed with the FEI, to be the voice of international grooms.

    John said he accepted the role as, having been a groom, he knows the sport would not exist without grooms’ “hard work and diligent care”.

    “The grooms deserve a strong organisation like the IGA looking out for their best interests,” he said.

    Asked what makes a great groom, he added: “First – you have to love the horses. There is no way to last in this sport without that love; it drives you to continue on the hard days. The second most important quality is a thirst for knowledge, a true desire to continue to learn and improve. Clark Shipley, who was a groom for us for decades before his death from cancer in 2020, used to talk about how much he picked up on the road just from keeping his eyes open.

    “He had so much experience, but what made him a great groom was that he never thought he knew it all. He wanted to keep learning, keep getting better. That, and he had a great sense of humour, which is also important on the long, hard days.”

    John said changes that need to be made for grooms include “reasonable” schedules, time off, a good team to help and a living wage that allows them to save for the future.

    “I think most riders and owners would agree they want the same, but the demands of the sport and the needs of the horses often lead people to stray towards unreasonable expectations,” he said. “I hope we can work to keep improving conditions for grooms in terms of schedules and working conditions so the best of the best can stay in this industry without burning out.”

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