Grooms: A profession finds its voice

Grooms play a vital role in equestrian sports. It‘s a 24/7 job being responsible for making sure that all the horses’ needs are met. Keeping the horses in peak condition, physically and mentally, so they are ready to perform at all times, the grooms are key to any equestrian’s success. However, like many caretakers, grooms carry out their important work in the background, and their contributions are often underrecognized.

Lucy Katan in a stable with a horse

That’s why we were excited to be one of four founding members when the International Grooms Association (IGA) was formed in early 2022 to advocate on behalf of equestrian grooms. We caught up with Lucy Katan, Founding Director of the International Grooms Association, to learn more about the lives of performance horse grooms and how the IGA can make a difference.

Lucy, thank you so much for taking the time. Could you share what inspired you to work as a groom?

Even back when I was a kid, I used to skip school and go and watch the horses warming up at the Horse of the Year Show, which used to be held just outside the iconic Wembley Stadium in London. I watched the grooms working all day (while I should have been in math and English lessons!). All I wanted to do was have a towel in my back pocket and the accreditation band on my wrist!

What does an international groom do? General horse care like making sure the stable is clean and comfy, choosing suitable feed, brushing the horse down and other forms of grooming. Organizing travel for the horses to the various events, including logistics, packing, unpacking and so on. Preparing the horse for a show. This includes coat care, trimming, detangling as well as plaiting and braiding. Looking out for the overall well-being of the horse by looking out for signs of stress or illness.

What are the best and the worst aspects of the job?

For me, the best bit was wearing the team kit and representing my country in international competitions – this made me so proud. The worst aspect was the poor conditions we had to endure at some shows – cold showers, inedible food, and miles to walk to get a cup of coffee. I am sad to learn that at some shows, this hasn’t improved since I was a groom over 20 years ago – we must, urgently, do better. 

Why do you personally believe that international grooms need the IGA? 

To have a voice and be represented as a stakeholder within the Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI), which, among its many functions, governs international standards in equestrian sports. For many years, grooms have not had this voice. Now, with the formation of the IGA, the change has come, endorsed by the FEI, and the grooms need to join and support it. 

What will the IGA offer to grooms that they didn’t have before? In short: why should a groom sign up?

Did you know? International grooms have a unique lifestyle. They travel the world to support their teams, being on the road more often than at home.It’s not unusual for grooms to work in large teams. It takes years of experience to become Head Groom of a team. Grooms have exceptional stamina, working long hours during equestrian events

This is a chance for grooms to come together and claim their voice and right to be heard. Honestly, some changes will take time to bring about. Still, by coming together as one collaborative and progressive voice – well, this is the starting point. Membership is purposefully priced affordably, and we hope that all grooms that work at FEI level join the IGA.

Based on your personal experience as a groom, how can private companies like us support grooms better? 

Grooms are eager to have education, information, and career support sources. There are many opportunities to highlight and recognize the grooms’ work. Having the support of companies like Boehringer Ingelheim can help us do this more effectively. Companies like yours can provide resources to help us build leadership and business development skills and programs that can better equip grooms to manage their careers as industry professionals.

You could also help grooms by offering educational materials and even workshops about horse health. Grooms need to have a firm understanding of a wide range of topics, including equine healthcare. They spend most of their time with the horses, which is why they are often the first to notice possible symptoms. By sharing insights about important diseases and injury care, you could make a real difference to both grooms, for whom this can be an important professional development opportunity, and performance horses.


Why we support the International Grooms Association

“As the global leader in equine health, many of our team members are equestrian sports enthusiasts, riders, and equine veterinarians; we care deeply about horses – and about their caretakers,” shares Liz Barrett, Global Head of Equine at Boehringer Ingelheim. To recognize grooms, Boehringer Ingelheim is hosting a “Boehringer Ingelheim Stable Day” at CHIO Aachen 2022, for example. There, the company is interacting with grooms, offering support on any horse health-related topics, and discovering key ways to work in collaboration with the FEI to foster a stronger community for grooms that will optimize their ability to do their job at major competitions.

Liz concludes: “The world of equestrianism is unique. It thrives on excitement, dedication, and – more so than many other sports – the strong relationship between the horse and the people who safeguard them. Only when we ensure that every one of these people, from the riders to horse owners, veterinarians, and grooms, receive meaningful support can we truly make a difference.”