The Olympics was a somewhat surreal experience, and the excitement of them has never left me and I can be found every four years since, frozen in front of the television as a sportsman or woman fights with every fibre to achieve their dreams. Having a groom’s pass is a bit like having access all areas, and a complete privilege to be able to go into the athlete’s village and sit beside some of the worlds sporting greats as we made the most of the amazing array of food!
Us grooms can eat (and drink) and we had the opportunity to make the most of three square meals a day with snacks on the side, when usually we made do with a bacon roll or a burger in between running around after 10 horses. When you only have one horse to look after, boy does it get well looked after. All of the horses were treated like kings and had the best feed, daily physio sessions, a vet on hand every night to check that all temperatures were ok and a groom that loved them from morning till night.
Every groom has their own methods based on what the riders and owners like, but they never differentiate from their unfaltering hard work and attention to detail when it comes to looking after the horse in their charge. The event grooms have a whole different set of problems than the showjumpers and having been made head groom, myself and two other showjumping grooms were asked to help out at the ten minute box on the cross country course. Now that was stressful.
We didn’t really know these horses and they were arriving to our care having been round the biggest challenge they had in four years, and for some, ever. The horses were as wound up as the riders and the dodging of hind feet became a challenge as we tried to desperately cool the horses down as quickly as possible.
The sense of responsibility knowing that the steps you took in that box could make the difference between Olympic success, or not, was very daunting. But thankfully nobody’s efforts were in vein and the eventers went on to win the gold, which as part of the team was a sensational feeling, and one which I wish I could go back and have again, as I say it was so surreal it does take a while to sink in. What those men achieved, helped by the support of their families and the quiet daily routine of their grooms was huge, and should never be underestimated.
The re-adjustment to normal life post-games was always going to be difficult, but it was a shared experience that I had with a different person and horse than I expected to, which had changed the playing field with my boss. We had all lost the thread of adrenalin that had run through us for the past 16 months of campaigning for the games, a joint vision had been taken away, but as with all equestrians you pick yourself up and carry on.
When the grooms and riders met up at various equestrian events post-olympics, the bond between those that had been at the games was palpable. We knew something that everyone else didn’t, but it was a skewed sense of reality and the hangover was going to last for more than a day.