Graham Fletcher: ‘It’s time to pension off “groom” as a job description’


  • Former international showjumper Graham Fletcher, who is now a highly-respected trainer, as well as a breeder and producer of young horses, discusses the value of grooms and the importance of recognising owners

    THERE’S been much discussion lately about the value and treatment of grooms. I’ve been lucky enough to have had some top-class staff over the years and currently we have a cracking bunch. Like most businesses, a yard can rise and fall by the ability and commitment of its workforce.

    Good staff can tell immediately if a horse is off colour or starting to colic. They’ll notice any tiny swelling on horses’ legs too. And, as we all know, even if the horse is totally sound, slight inflammation can mean just a few weeks out of action – whereas if it’s not spotted early enough, they can be out for many months.

    A good groom is essential to a rider as they’re the last person you see before you go into the ring and the first one on the way out. How many times have you heard Olympic riders say they couldn’t have managed it without their groom? Indeed, top grooms have to be part confidant and part psychologist to get their horses and riders to perform at their peak.

    And that’s why it’s very important that we come up with a different title from “groom”. It’s a Victorian term that should have disappeared with “servant” and “house maid”. I’m sure many of you equestrians will wonder what I’m going on about… but that’s how non-horsey parents view the job description of “groom”.

    Working conditions and pay in most top yards have really improved. And with the responsibility, opportunities to ride and travel, plus the excitement of competitions, the job has a lot more going for it than many other roles out there. It’s why those who choose to work with horses very seldom leave the industry.

    However, we need a total revamp and to sell the profession better so non-horsey parents can be proud of the career their children have committed to. Any ideas for a new job title?

    Give owners recognition

    THEY say that what America does today, Britain does tomorrow. But I have to say that some of what’s come to these shores – like ridiculous and incredulous litigation, burger chains and chewing gum – they’re welcome to keep.

    One area in which America is still head and shoulder above us is in the way they look after and promote showjumping owners. They’re made to feel incredibly important, which they are.

    Of all the ways in which our sport has changed, one of the most striking is the value of horses. The price of top horses has gone through the roof. Although some riders are privately funded through their families, the majority of professionals rely on owners to buy them talented horses and to remain loyal if offered vast sums for them.

    The days of professional riders being able to source horses and do it on a shoestring budget have long since gone. Which is why we must give owners more recognition.

    At Spruce Meadows in Calgary, and many other shows in North America, the winning owner is invited into the arena to be presented with a trophy at the conclusion of the main competition. Compare that with every show I’ve been to in Britain this year when the commentator announces the name of the horse, the rider and then goes into the horse’s breeding. Of course, the breeding is interesting – but not to the exclusion of the owner!

    The livestream from the FEI World Cup Final in Leipzig was a great step forward as on-screen captions told viewers about the horse, rider, owner and groom.

    In this highly commercial world, we need all the good owners we can get. Without their support it would be impossible to compete for major championships and Olympic medals.

    Somebody asked me recently why so many Irish riders have such good support from many owners. It’s because they’re naturally gifted salesmen, I replied, and the owners are much better looked after than they are in this country.

    I rest my case.

    • Do you agree with Graham that grooms need a new job title? Let us know your thoughts via hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name and nearest town, and your views may be published in a future issue of Horse & Hound magazine

    This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 12 May

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