Hunter groom Cristian Neri Garcia arrives at the ring at the Winter Equestrian Festival with a small ladder and more additional equipment in hand than a painter/decorator. He’s here for the Double H Farm $5000 Groom’s Class and there are more spectators than usual lining the outside fence as owners, trainers and fellow grooms cheer on their barn mates.
Cristian is awarded second place for the quality of the turnout of Kelly Sims’ James Bond Van’t Roosakker in the hunter section of the class. “It means a lot,” he said. “Because this is the Winter Equestrian Festival.”
Michael Britt-Leon of Winter Stables trains Kelly and her impressive-looking hunter. “There’s an emphasis on how the horses are turned out and we couldn’t do it without these guys,” Michael said. “It’s great that they have a class where they get to show off a little bit of their work.”
More than 30 WEF grooms turned out for the class, featuring a mixture of hunters and jumpers. Cheryl Scott’s groom Tyler Johnstone brought in her jumper Gina Bella. “It was all his idea to compete,” she said. “He has worked very hard. He takes time with his braids. He is meticulous.”
While the jumper grooms may take pride in their horses’ appearance, for the hunter grooms turnout is critical. “He’s got four white stockings so he requires a lot to be cleaned,” said Michael of James Bond Van’t Roosakker. “He [Cristian] has chosen a difficult one, but he’s confident, he loves that animal and he spends a lot of time grooming him.”
Even when the weather turns bad, as it often can do as Florida winter storms come through, there is no respite for a hunter groom. “They still come to the ring looking beautiful,” said Michael. “The horses have to wear socks so they can at least walk in to the ring with white socks when it’s raining – they might come out dirty…
“First impressions mean a lot and when you walk in the ring with a well-polished horse and a well-polished rider – a horse that looks muscular and fit and well-fed and shiny and clean – they’re showing. It’s a horse ‘show’ so it’s like a dog show or any other show. Appearance is extremely important.
“The work that we do behind the scenes for the weeks and months leading up to the horse show is crucial. It’s not just a bath – and the horse is clean and shiny. They have to have all the pieces – and it takes months to get them there.”
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