The Groom Boom: Who’s at the Core of Equestrian Sports?

Wordless video focuses on an international dressage groom's hard work

Meet Sara. She’s been around the world. She’s the woman behind one of the most well-known horses in the sport of dressage. Her work is visible to millions and can easily translate to added –or subtracted — zeroes on the value of a sport horse.

She’s a professional dressage groom.

No words explain what she is doing in this video, and yet we all know and understand it. She drives the van, she grooms the horse, she prepares the tack, she threads a needle to sew on a competitor number, she loads the stallion in a flight container, she even helps groom the rider by braiding her hair as well as the horse’s tail.

Musical freestyle producer Cees Slings pulled these snippets of Sara’s work from footage for a larger project. Sara Lord is groom for Swedish dressage star Tinne Vilhelmson Silfvén and her top horse, Don Aurelio. Cees Slings produced the spectacular freestyle for Tinne and Don Aurelio based on the music of The Who’s 1960s rock opera, Tommy.

Shot between December 2012 and December 2013, the video includes Sara caring for Don Aurelio in the United States, where they competed at Wellington, Florida.

Cees Slings compares the work of Sara Lord and grooms like her with the professionals in the music industry: “It’s kind of like the composers and producers; the artists and musicians are in the spotlights. The ones who create, arrange, produce (and also play and program instruments and all kind of other stuff) are never seen. We don’t mind, not at all. But I thought it might be a refreshing idea to give Sara a place, too.”

Slings continued, “It’s a tribute to all the grooms.”

What the video doesn’t do is drown the viewer in narrative that details the groom’s hard work. Its light touch shows Sara Lord simply doing what she does–and never the same thing twice. The video might have no beginning and no end, just as the groom’s work is a continuous cycle of checklists and errands and tasks, all culminating in the competition performance.

Sara Lord won’t be in Las Vegas this week for the FEI World Cup Championships but a cadre of international professional grooms will be there doing what she does. Their work will be critical, as each groom intimately knows the strengths and weaknesses of their horses and riders in this final event of the indoor season.

Grooms are most visible in the sport of eventing, when they spring into action at the end of each horse’s cross-country round. These grooms were working at Great Britain’s Burghley Horse Trials in 2012. (Sunchild57 photo)

Cees Slings’ touching patchwork tribute to Sara Lord is the latest addition to the list of recognitions for the contribution of professional grooms in international equestrian sports.

  • In December, event groom Jackie Potts received the FEI’s annual groom award for her work behind the scenes for British rider William Fox-Pitt.
  • Eventing grooms Cat Hill and Emma Ford have written a book, World-Class Grooming for Horses, due for publication this month.
  • When the FEI profiled the European horses’ flight to Las Vegas last weekend, their photo featured defending World Cup champion Valegro and his groom, Alan Davies.
  • The British Grooms Association is growing and recently welcomed a new director; the association publishes a 24-page magazine helping member grooms manage their careers and develop their skills.
Many horse shows offer a class for grooms, or a “best turned out” prize. Here’s judge Sarah Booker at a hunter/jumper show in the Midwest inspecting a horse and its groom in such a class. (Photo by Sara Carter)

In the USA, former international dressage groom Liv Gude spearheads the lively website and social media activities of Professional Equine Grooms, an educational and professional alliance that has helped raise awareness of the role of grooms in the top levels of sport, as well as disseminating groom-savvy information on horsecare to the public.

Where will grooms be five or ten years from now? Will horsecare–and the people responsible for providing it–receive more recognition in the future? It seems that the public is genuinely interested in the welfare of the horses and also in the intricacies of their care and health. It’s possible that the position of the professional groom for a competition horse could evolve into a more fluid role that could add so much dimension to horse sports and provide greater understanding for the audience on the care given to the horses.

With this little video, Sara Lord has taken a stride in that direction. Thanks, Cees Slings, for recognizing the wizard behind the stall drapes, and the magic created in the arena when her work is done.

The video was filmed by Bram Cranen. It was edited by Martin Bieleman at Shepherd Studio Leersum and produced by Cees Slings for Slings Music Cast. Click on the “Vimeo” logo at the lower right corner of the video box to see more videos from Cees Slings.






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