Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How I Became A Professional Groom by Pamela Nunn

From being a keen but not exceptionally talented amateur rider all my adult life, I made the transition in 2000 from a successful career in sales to training and working with horses professionally. I trained in England, close to childhood home at the renowned Yorkshire Riding Centre, under the watchful eye of Olympian and Badminton winner Christopher Bartle and his team. A well structured working student programme and a wide variety of horses to ride enabled me to obtain my British Horse Society Groom’s Certificate and Preliminary Teaching Qualification. This experience gave me a taste for working at professional stables and a particular interest in the care and management of upper level Event horses.

Meeting up with Morag and Selena O’Hanlon in 2004, was the start of a match made in heaven. I started working for them as a working student. I was rapidly promoted to barn manager and competition groom. My first experience grooming for Selena was a hectic day at a horse trials, where we had four horses in two trailers parked miles apart with Selena having to do all three phases with all the horses in one day.
Surviving that was like a light bulb moment. Hurrah!  I had found my new niche. I could use all my organisational skills to care for the horses and ensure my rider had only to worry about riding.
Luckily for us all, at about the same time as this great revelation, Colombo came into our lives. 

Mr. and Mrs. Davies, who owned the farm where we were based brought back a horse that was recovering from surgery. He came to Hawkridge with the understanding he was to be rehabbed and then sold once he was fit and going again. He had competed at the higher levels, but had developed issues with water and so it was felt that he wasn’t cut out for the upper levels. Colombo seemed to be a rather grumpy sort of horse who could be a bit awkward with people working with him. Selena started by hacking him all over the property and would walk him through the water every time they went out. Eventually, they started schooling and jumping. Gradually his attitude towards work changed, flying changes were no longer a source of anxiety and he would happily jump in and out of the water. As Selena was without an advanced horse at this time it was fun for her to work with Colombo and when she did take him out to compete he did well. The Davies changed their mind about selling him and agreed that Selena would compete him and see how far they could go.

Colombo showed us he had a long way to go. I had the thrill of grooming at Rolex for the first time. What a blast! I was now more than ever convinced that this was what I wanted to do. Unlike the majority of young working students who see the experience as a stepping stone in their own riding career, I was totally focussed on grooming as a way of fulfilling my desire to be involved in top level eventing.
When Selena and Colombo were named to the Canadian Team with me to go as their groom our excitement knew no bounds.

Training camp and going to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics were an amazing experience. I learnt so much about the care and preparation for a major competition, especially the treatments and therapies for maintaining optimal fitness, as well as the travel including flying across the world. Being part of the support team for a rider representing their country was a thrill. It was also interesting to realise just how much the huge support team of grooms, vets, farriers, physiotherapists, masseurs, stable manager, and the coaches and national federation people all contribute behind the scenes to a rider's success. After years of  packing for the horses to go to Florida and other big competitions, I thought I had packing down to a fine art, but I was sorely challenged trying to get all the tack, equipment and supplies into two trunks to be flown to Hong Kong.

Standing on the podium inside the big ring wearing my team uniform, watching Selena and Colombo do their best dressage test ever, at their first Olympic Games brought tears of pride to my eyes. Cross country day was tough as they has some mistakes, but they were able to complete all three phases which was a great achievement. As a groom, I have seen serious accidents were riders have been hurt, or sad times where horses have died or been injured whilst competing, so my measure of success is simple, that both horse and rider finish the day sound and well - placings are a bonus.

Pamela Nunn is a freelance groom, who worked for Selena O'Hanlon during both the 2008 Olympic Games and the 2010 World Equestrian Games. Pamela is BHS trained and certified, an experienced barn manager and is available as a freelance competition groom or for full time short term contracts to provide emergency barn staffing.

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