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Karlswood’s Head Groom Johanna Berg Took a Gap Year that Never Ended 

From a gap year in Austria to over a decade grooming, Johanna Berg details her journey to Cian O’Connor’s stable, her grooming methods and her observations on the sport.

HorseGrooms is excited to welcome O’Connor as our first Stable Supporter. Follow his suit by supporting us. When you partner with HorseGrooms through our “Stable Support” program, you’re not just backing a cause; you’re fueling the success of your team and the grooming industry overall. 

For Cian O’Connor’s head groom, Sweden’s Johanna Berg, a gap year turned into a lot more than 12 months. Leaving school without a concrete plan for the future, she turned to the thing she knew most about  – horses – and took a grooming job in Austria before going to Wellington, Florida – a destination that was on her bucket list. “It was always meant to be horses,” Berg said of her inadvertent career choice.  

Berg’s childhood was spent riding – eventing, show jumping, dressage – and looking after horses was second nature as she was inspired by her mother’s role as a high school equestrian teacher. “Being around horses, stable management and horsemanship was always part of everything growing up,” she said.  

One More Gap Year….

After a year in Austria, Berg fulfilled a longstanding dream to visit Wellington, Florida – and from that point her destiny was set. 

“I decided to take one more [gap] year,” she said. “We had a lot of contacts, and there was a rider from Peru, Alonso Valdez Prado, that needed someone to come over and do a bit of riding and manage his small operation. I ended up being with him for four years. With Alonso, I was included in the Pan Am Games, the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina.”

Even with showing at these top international events, which she really enjoyed over the four years, after Tryon in October 2018, the opportunity arose to join the Karlswood Team and work alongside O’Connor. And she has not looked back since.  


Coming from Europe, Berg chalked up the differences in being in Wellington. “The heat first and foremost,” she said. “Also the mix of both amateurs and professionals showing at the same show. But what I liked about it was that even though you’re showing, you’re still at home. The fact that you can do your laundry on a Wednesday evening during show week! You don’t have to pack everything up. You might have a week away here and there – Ocala maybe – but otherwise you’re home. It’s great for us [grooms] – it’s easier on us, and it’s easier on the horses.”  

Johanna Berg has worked for Irish show jumper Cian O’Connor since 2018. Photos courtesy of Karlswood.

Karlswood, whose base is in County Meath, Ireland, brings European values to Florida, according to Berg. “We’re still a European company, and so we still stick with our European system.”  

Adequate staffing is a mainstay of Karlswood’s system. “The way we have it here is very good. We are always well staffed; we always have enough people,” said Berg. “Typically, I would never go to the show by myself with three or more horses. I would always have one more person with me, so we can actually take our time and do the horses properly.”  

Stable Management Florida vs. Ireland

Stable management in Florida does require a rethink from Europe when it comes to ailments. “In a place that’s hot, things like bacteria never die,” said Berg. “We would never be as cautious with general horse care as we are in Florida. The tiniest little nick, we would straight away wash it, put cream on, put Animalintex on and protect it. Unless you do that straight away, you can have the possibility of infection. Europe is a bit more forgiving. Of course, you look after it, but you don’t have to be as vigilant.” 

The heat also makes turnout a limited option. “We would always try and put our horses out in the paddock, but what’s hard in Florida is that you have the heat especially towards the last month of the season.”  

First aid and climate aside, Berg and the Karlswood team try to keep their stable management as consistent as possible. “We’re trying to stay as similar as we possibly can. We try whenever we’re traveling to do the same as we do at home.”  

Feeding Regimen

Hay requires some preparation. “We are always very aware of the quality of the hay,” said Berg. “A lot of our horses would be getting steamed hay, or we always make sure that we soak it to minimize the dust intake of the horses. Regardless of the quality of hay, there is always dust present. To ensure a natural feeding consumption, at Karlswood we feed our horses hay off the ground, to simulate natural grazing.  

“We feed hard feed three times a day and hay four times a day,” she added. “And we try to stick with the routine of feeding on a daily basis; we start around 6.30 every day. The horses get hay straight away, and then we start making hard feed so they are fed maybe 20 minutes later. Lunch is around 12, and dinner around 5. We stick with approximately five hours between each meal to spread it out. Additionally, we do night check around 9:30 o’clock, where they get fed another portion of hay, so their bellies aren’t empty, and they constantly have something to chew on. We do not have long gaps without feed content in their digestive tract, which provides a healthy digestive system.’’  

On The Road

Traveling on the road in summertime to shows across Europe brings its own set of challenges. “Most of the time we travel through the night when we travel through Europe,” Berg said. “The horses wouldn’t be fed hard feed during the night anyway, and so we wouldn’t feed them on the truck. We plan our trips so there would be a stopover at the time of lunch and dinner so they still stick with their feeding schedule.”  

Having the horses travel in planes also requires planning to try to keep the horses on track. “If we’re flying, we have hay and their water buckets filled up all the time. Depending what the flight is, we will add one feed so they can have one meal on the plane. We always give them a bran mash so that they are getting enough fluids, and they are getting something into the system. We feed the bran mash as an additional meal, aside from what their usual feed is. We keep it simple, to not over complicate our trips unnecessarily.

“You can never stop learning. You have to have an open mind,” said Johanna Berg.

“When it comes to supplements, less is more,” she added. “Every horse has an individual menu in regard to supplements. We carefully plan their menus according to their needs, their routine and their show schedule. This is something Cian is very involved with himself.  We only feed the supplements that each horse needs, again, keeping their feeding routine simple.’’  

The Workflow

While Berg is not planning to retire any time soon, she knows that grooming may not be a long-term option. It is a physical job. “I’m very happy with my job,” she said. “I’ve done this for over a decade now. I think I will always be involved with horses, but eventually, I might step away from the grooming part. Not because I don’t like it, but it is a little bit harder on your body. At Karlswood, the operation allows for many roles after grooming. It is already something that Cian and I have spoken about; there will be another role for me which gives me security.”  

At Karlswood all the grooms muck out and carry out all the chores with the horses they oversee to ensure the maximum well-being of each individual horse. “If you’re overseeing and are being part of each horse’s full daily routine, you learn a lot about them and their character,” said Berg. “It is easier to understand each horse and how they are feeling every day, which is very important to us, especially during competition. We want them to be looking and feeling their best both physically and mentally.”  

Top Class Facilities

Karlswood grooms are in the enviable position of having top class facilities, making it easier to ensure consistency at home in Wellington and at home in Ireland, as well as giving their horses the spice of life.  

“We are very lucky at Karlswood to have world class facilities and amenities for our horses and staff. We have a water treadmill, multiple lunging opportunities on different surfaces, indoor and outdoor sand arenas and an excellent grass arena,” Berg said. “This gives us the opportunity to have variety in our horses’ training. Our horses typically get worked twice a day, one of those times our horses might go on the water treadmill in the afternoon, go for a hack, be lunged or go on the gallops to try to relax and free their mind a little bit. We keep variety in their training, to keep them happy, body and soul.”  


Show jumping yards can be something of a revolving door. “We have a few horses that are coming and going – as in every yard. Florida requires more people because you have many different horses showing every day. You might have horses showing in the amateur classes, we might have horses showing in the FEI classes, and we might still have horses at home. This past season in Florida, we had 10 horses for Cian. We divided them into three groups: horses jumping nationally, horses jumping internationally, and horses having a week off from competition. It’s always a big operation, and there is no doubt you need a team to do it. At Karlswood, we are constantly evolving and growing in number of horses and students, but again, we are lucky to be well-staffed, so we always have time to do everything properly, ensuring the best care for our athletes and horses.”  

Witnessing the Change

Berg has been in the industry arguably all her life – first growing up in Sweden in the horse world there and now at the forefront of the sport, working for O’Connor, ranked 57th in the world and a stalwart of the Irish team, having competed in over 140 Nations Cups for Team Ireland. She is in a position to see the evolution of grooming in show jumping.  

“The whole grooming world is changing,” she said. “And it has to change because the sport is evolving. I would say that our system hasn’t changed much over the years. Cian has always been at the front of looking after the horses and his team. Cian’s very keen for things to be done well and the horses to be well looked after and that’s why we are here. It’s a big operation, but Cian always ensures that we are well looked after. He provides us with good working conditions, great housing (both at shows and at home), and the fact that we, as a team, have a very open and honest relationship, we can always count on him and communicate with him. There is a lot expected from us, but we are well looked after in return.”  

“At Karlswood, our motto is ‘Success is Reward for Effort,’ ” said Johanna Berg. Photo courtesy of Sportfot.

Good Grooms Are Hard To Come By

Good horse grooms, while being looked after well in most cases, are hard to come by and not due to the nature of the job as much as due to the work ethic required.  

“It’s always hard to find people who are willing to do the job and actually have a genuine interest in the job,” said Berg. “There’s nothing as satisfying as when you actually see the results, but you do have to put in the time and effort. You need to have an interest in it and not just be there for a paycheck. The work ethic is sometimes lacking and has gone away a little bit. It’s not exclusive to the horse world; it’s a common thing.”  

“You Can Never Stop Learning”

Being able to communicate and share advice with peers is something Berg has done organically in the past. She will always chat with her friends at horse shows and ask if she sees someone doing something that she has not seen to learn more. “You can never stop learning. You have to have an open mind,” she said. The advent of HorseGrooms has given a new platform to explore further afield and give a sense of camaraderie to a community that is often scattered across the globe while working in the same field.  

“It brings up a good feeling,” she said and referring to a new phenomenon at the Winter Equestrian Festival this winter: “It’s nice that after every grand prix they were showcasing who the groom is. It’s a nice addition because sometimes you don’t actually know who the faces are. I see them [HorseGrooms] popping up and bringing a lot of informative articles, and I would always stop and look at my Instagram feed. Even if you know something, it might just showcase a different angle or point of view from their story. It’s always interesting. At Karlswood, our motto is ‘Success is Reward for Effort’. There are no shortcuts in this business, and you get back what you put in.” 

May 26, 2024

Sarah Eakin 🇬🇧

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