A ‘clear way forward’ to recognise grooms in horse sport

  • During the 2021 FEI Sports Forum, federation president Ingmar de Vos said recognition for grooms is long overdue, but now there is a clear way forward. H&H finds out what this will mean

    THE FEI has admitted its “huge oversight” in the lack of recognition for grooms, as it moves to formally recognise and support the backbone of the global equestrian industry.

    H&H has reported the FEI’s aim to formally recognise grooms along with the formation of the independent International Grooms Association (IGA). But the plans have moved forwards and a lively panel discussion at the 2021 FEI Sports Forum (1–2 June) further highlighted why and how this needs to happen.

    “I wish it had not taken this long,” said FEI president Ingmar de Vos. “Although we cannot make up for the lost time, we can lay the foundations and set a new course for our grooms going forward.”

    He added it will not be “plain sailing” as there is no “one solution fits all” because the term “groom” encapsulates a diverse group, from the full-time professional to the volunteer, friend or family member who helps out at occasional shows.

    “But if there is one thing they all have in common, it’s they are all passionate for our sport and even more passionate for horses,” he said.

    “Professional or not, I believe that we as a governing body have to wholeheartedly embrace the role of grooms and provide them with the conditions and the tools they need to fulfil their remit and focus their attention on their horses. This is our responsibility. It’s the right thing to do and it’s long overdue.”

    Mr de Vos invited all national federations to look at how this applies at national level, too.

    “I don’t think anyone needs to be convinced that grooms are key for the welfare of our horses and in many cases also for the wellbeing of our human athletes,” he added.

    “For this reason, I have never understood why this essential role has never been officially recognised by the FEI as a specific stakeholder group.

    “I really believe now is the time to rectify this huge oversight and to officially recognise and integrate grooms in our organisation and community.”

    A roll-out of apps for grooms to see entry information, check-in at shows and stops en route, and upload equine health and temperature records has started, as has access to language and education courses.

    A suggestion to include grooms’ names on start and result lists, as well as team announcements – which already happens in Britain – was warmly welcomed.

     Improving conditions

    TOP groom Jackie Potts (pictured) welcomed the FEI’s move and said her objective is to encourage grooms to stay in the industry and make grooming a career, through recognition and education.

    She added that grooms’ experience could then also be better used for both the welfare of horses and in a positive way for equestrian sport as a whole.

    “We ourselves also have a responsibility alongside the FEI to maintain and improve standards within our profession,” she said.

    “I do feel we could have improvements [in working conditions for grooms] at events. I’m very keen on having a grooms’ representative who can be involved, not only with the FEI stewards and delegates, but also with the veterinary team, to advise on improvements or suggestions concerning horse welfare and sometimes [welfare for the] grooms as well: are they happy with the distance they have to walk to the trot-up, is it safe, and so on.

    “Nowadays it’s not just a girl down the road loving horses; things have moved on. Our responsibilities are much more, especially say showjumping grooms – they are entering horses, they are travelling by themselves, so I think we need the support of the FEI now as a professional career.”

    Brazilian Olympic showjumper Pedro Veniss urged the FEI and organisers to consider grooms in show timetables.

    “There are a few times I’ve seen at shows that some classes start at 10pm, then the next is 8am [the following morning]; we forget that the grooms finish two or three hours later than us, and then they start two hours earlier than us,” he said. “When I see grooms finish at 1am and then they have to start at 5am… it’s really hard for them.”

    He urged organisers to start the grand prix “no later than 2pm”, given that grooms often have a long drive ahead, said facilities could also be improved at some shows and added that a grooms’ body and representation is a good idea not just for grooms, but for the sport.

    “They know a lot about the welfare of horses and our sport, so they really can help everyone,” he said.

    Equestrian Organisers president Peter Bollen agreed with the points raised and said he would welcome an official grooms’ feedback report after a show.

    “Organisers most of the time are concerned about the front part of the event, and the grooms are passing most of the time in the ‘back part’,” he said, adding that grooms give him “very valuable information” about what is happening behind the scenes.

    “We are also very aware that when a groom is not happy in our show, we know there is a good chance the next year that the rider will not come to the show.”

    Mr de Vos concluded the meeting by announcing the formation of a grooms’ consultative group, made up of IGA representatives, owners, riders, organising committee members, stewards and national federations. This will set out a “road map” on exactly what the FEI support and recognition involves, plus the creation of a charter of rights and obligations for grooms.

    “Today we have set in motion the wheels for the future of the grooms’ community,” Mr de Vos said.

    “It was long overdue and we do not only now formally recognise them, but we have a very clear way forward.”

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