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Grooms: Integral to Success Part 2

Horse & Country highlights the importance of the grooming profession in its newly released, “Grooms: Integral to Success,” presented by MARS Equestrian. In this article, we talk to U.S. Olympian Lauren Nicholson and her longtime groom Sally Robertson of the vital role a groom plays at the top level and advice for the up-and-comers.

By Amanda Picciotto Feitosa/Jump Media

We all know that the groom is an essential part of any team, especially at the highest levels of equestrian sport. Horse & Country (H&C), the leading international equestrian sports network, recently released “Grooms: Integral to Success,” presented by MARS Equestrian, highlighting the importance of the profession. [In the first part of this blog, we caught up with esteemed professional Archie Cox and his longtime Head Groom, Carlos Soriano.] Now, read more from Lauren Nicholson and her right-hand woman Sally Robertson on what they value most about grooming.

Lauren Nicholson is a U.S. Olympic eventing athlete. For the past six years, Sally Robertson has been in charge of Lauren’s mounts at top competitions around the world.

For Nicholson, having a knowledgeable groom and recognizing the impact that person has on her program is of the utmost importance. In 2021, this belief led Nicholson to initiate the United States Eventing Association (USEA) Grooms Program in partnership with Robertson, USEA President Max Corcoran, and Pan American Games eventing gold medalist Shannon Lilley. Their goal was to create a program that offered educational resources for aspiring grooms along with a community where grooms had easy access to professional advice and information about industry standards for pay and benefits. The group has also raised a lot of money for annual grooms prizes, and they continue to develop more opportunities.

Q: What is the most important thing about being a groom?

Nicholson: It would take a novel to answer this question in full. A top groom’s knowledge and skill at their craft is obviously valuable, but I think what I value even more is the partnership. Everyone always talks about the partnership between horse and rider, but in the best situations, it’s actually a partnership between horse and groom and rider. In the ideal situation, the groom can communicate to me what they’ve noticed in the horse, and I can communicate what I felt riding. That enables us to brainstorm together and come up with any changes to bring the best out of a horse. That relationship is something that money can’t buy.

“Everyone always talks about the partnership between horse and rider, but in the best situations, it’s actually a partnership between horse and groom and rider,” said Lauren Nicholson (left) with her longtime groom, Sally Robertson. Photos courtesy of Lauren Nicholson.

Robertson: When you’re an upper-level groom, knowing your horses is of paramount importance. I like to be very quiet around the horses, keep them as calm as possible and try to maintain their schedules as close as I can to what we would do at home. You’ve got to want to be the best with the grooming just like the riders. You have to be very open to learning and just be a sponge. Take everything in from your rider, other grooms, farriers, vets and anyone you come across.

Q: Can you think of an experience you have had with a horse, at home or at a competition, in which having or being a top groom was especially important?

Nicholson: Every show! A scenario that really highlights the importance of a professional groom is any show where there is a lot of traveling involved, or when it’s a location that is particularly outside the norm or the horses’ comfort zone. For example, the trip to Pratoni del Vivaro, Italy, for the 2022 FEI Eventing World Championship required an exceptional amount of traveling for the horses, especially from the U.S. It included shipping on semi-trailers, plane rides, ferries and several days on a lorry to the venue. On trips like that, it’s more important than ever for the horses to be with someone they know and trust, and for someone who knows them inside and out to help make the journey go as smoothly and safely as possible. The groom knows how the horse is going to react in certain situations along the way, so they can also make an informed decision in the horse’s best interest if there’s an emergency. It takes an incredible amount of skill to get a horse through a trip like that, not only feeling well, but ready to perform at their highest level within a day of arriving.

Robertson: I was very lucky that I got to do Jo-Ann Wilson’s course for sports massage. Jo-Ann works on our horses anyway, so I spend a lot of time around her, and it was always something I was very interested in doing. I was with Vermiculus at the 2022 Longines Luhmühlen Horse Trials CCI5*-L and the 2022 FEI Eventing World Championship, and because of Jo-Ann’s course, I was able to do the body work on him. Obviously, being able to touch the horse on a daily basis and having that extra knowledge of Jo-Ann’s techniques was beneficial to having him feel his best so he could perform at his best. That’s the physical side, but while you’re spending time with the horse like that, you’re also seeing how he’s doing mentally. Is there something else I should be doing to make him happier, or is he really happy, and I know we’re ticking all the boxes?

Q: Do you have a special tip or piece of advice for someone starting out as a groom?

Nicholson: I’ve had the privilege of working for and with many professional grooms in my career, and a common trait they have is a constant hunger to learn. No matter how experienced and knowledgeable they are, they always actively watch for new things and don’t hesitate to ask questions. If you’re starting out, do whatever you can to work for the best grooms in the industry, even if it’s less pay, and absorb everything they have to tell you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get advice; the best grooms want to share their knowledge. Make sure to work for a rider that respects and prioritizes good horsemanship and recognizes the essential role grooms play in their success.

Lauren Nicholson and Sally Robertson have worked together for six years.

Robertson: If you’ve got the love for the horses and you want to be the best, you’ll do whatever you can to be the best. One thing I think is important as a groom – and I didn’t do it until way later in my life – is to remember ourselves. It’s really important with what we do – lots of heavy lifting, sometimes being on our feet for more than 16 hours per day – to remember to take care of ourselves. That might be eating well, chiropractic work, massage or whatever it is that keeps you feeling good and feeling like you can do the job 110%. I learned that the hard way. I’m going to be 50 this year, and I started grooming when I was 14. I didn’t really start taking care of myself with chiropractic work and regular massages until I was probably in my early 40s. For young grooms coming through, if you are going to stick with it, taking care of yourself is really important. It’ll make your life a lot easier, and you can also do your job a lot better because you feel a lot better.

To watch the full H&C feature, “Grooms: Integral to Success,” presented by MARS Equestrian, click HERE. Plus, members of the HorseGrooms Community can enjoy 20% off of an H&C+ membership to watch competition livestreams and hundreds of hours of fun horsey programming. Log onto the HorseGrooms Community to unlock the discount needed when purchasing an H&C+ membership.

June 5, 2024

Horse & Country

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