Can you introduce yourself, tell us who you work for, and what your role is?
My name is Melina, but most people call me Mel. I have been Marcus Ehning’s groom for the last seven years, both at shows and at home – I do everything!
What is he like to work for?
Great! He is very easy going and he trusts me a lot. Everyone at our stables are like family – Marcus’ sister manages the stables now, she used to groom for him before. I really enjoy working with Marcus, he is helpful, never late – in fact, he is often too early! When you need help, he is generous with his time. He is quite rightly, strict in the warm-up, but overall, he is friendly to everyone, including all of the grooms.
Can you explain the role that you have as a groom to coordinate the wider team, for example vets, physios, etc.
Between four and six weeks before the shows, we as a team, decide which horses we are going to send where, and manage together how we organize their physiotherapy, vet checks and everything else. We tend to leave Marcus slightly out of it, so he can concentrate on the riding. With the help of the management team at home, we organize all the health certificates, stabling, packing of the lorry etc.
How special was it being part of Marcus’ team when he won at CHIO Aachen?
It’s still a bit unbelievable, no one expected it. Stargold is so amazing for what he achieved at Aachen! He had already got so many good results previously in the year, but this was the first time he had jumped the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHIO Aachen. Everything came together this year, and it was just brilliant. It was the second time since I have been a groom for Marcus that he won the Rolex Grand Prix at Aachen, it was an incredible day!
How special is Stargold, and what is it about him that makes him so successful?
He’s really simple. He is a stallion, but he behaves like he is not a stallion! He is not difficult to work with at all, and is very easy to figure out. He loves food and being in the field, although he doesn’t like hand walks – he prefers the crazy stuff! When I am with him at the shows, often in the mornings I’ll put a saddle on him and take him out for a hack, sometimes with other horses too.
As a groom you travel a lot with your horses, how do you ensure that they travel well?
You know your horses very well after working with them every day. You can see when they aren’t drinking well, or when they aren’t happy, so you know when to try and change things. For example, when to give them mash or water, and when to watch them to check they are eating enough and feeling happy.
Every horse is different. Some of them are super with drinking and eating, some of them don’t touch it. While some love to have their food buckets on the ground, others love to hang them up. Some love to eat hay, others don’t touch it – they are all different. However, because I know them so well, I know what they like and don’t like.
You can train horses to travel, or, if it’s a new horse, then ask their previous grooms how they were with travelling to make life easier.
Some horses are very excited when they come off the lorry, others are ready for bed! They are all unique characters, which makes it more fun!
How much do you enjoy coming to the Majors – The Dutch Masters, CHIO Aachen, the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament, and CHI Geneva? In your opinion, what sets them apart from the other shows?
All the four Majors are different. I have been to all of them, and had the luck to already win at two of them – CHI Geneva and CHIO Aachen. The stadiums are different, but the atmosphere is always great. The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors are different to other shows, there is just something so unique about the four Majors coming together. At the Majors, you always see the best competition and the greatest riders all vying to win.
This atmosphere is particularly special for Marcus at Aachen. He loves to do it, with him being German and Aachen being his home show, he loves to compete there. There is never any discussion about whether we are going to Aachen or not!
It’s the same for other riders too – for Martin Fuchs it’s Geneva because he has the home crowd there. For Dutch riders like Harry Smolders, it’s the Dutch Masters, and for riders such as Eric Lamaze it’s Spruce Meadows.
For the riders, the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is not only an opportunity to win a lot of money, but a title that stays with you forever. For example, Scott Brash’s Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping win is something that everyone will always remember – his three wins, across three different Majors that are all unique is something remarkable.
It is the 10-year anniversary of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping – how do you think the initiative has changed the sport over the past 10 years?
The Rolex Grand Slam has helped more and more money get invested into the sport, which pushes and motivates the riders. For everyone, even non-horsey people, achieving the Rolex Grand Slam is something remarked as phenomenal. I have friends who know nothing about horses, but they know the Rolex Grand Slam.
What has been your proudest moment as a groom?
There have been a few! I was so proud of Misanto Pret A Tout the year that he won the FEI Jumping World CupTM in Madrid in 2019, having come back from an injury. The German Championships were also amazing this year, with Marcus having last won the title 21 years ago, when he won this year, I thought ‘wow, I made it with him!’
Also, I have been lucky to win a few of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors with Marcus– we have won Aachen and Geneva together, which makes me really proud.
There are other things, like nominations for FEI Championships, that we work really hard for, and it makes me feel proud when we get selected. I also feel incredibly proud to see horses retiring – obviously you are both happy and sad, but proud to know what they achieved, and excited to see the new generation up and coming.
What is your favourite and least favourite part of the job?
I love to travel; I am probably one of the only grooms left to say this! In the lorry, on flights, everywhere – I don’t mind! I love to travel around the world and face new challenges. It doesn’t feel like work to me, it feels like I am doing my hobby as a job, which I still love, even twenty years on. I couldn’t imagine stopping. When you travel, you meet your friends, new people, see new shows and everything in between.
What advice would give to someone who would like to get into this career?
Being a groom is not easy, it is hard work. If you really love horses, and travelling to shows with them, you will love it. Sometimes you have to forget about yourself, because it is not an eight-hour job, but sometimes more like 24 hours! Although being a groom is a job that you can get a lot out of, and you will have some incredible moments throughout your career.
Every job has good and bad things, some people might get to head home when it hits 5pm, but as a groom it never stops! You are constantly thinking about the horses! You have the opportunity to meet a lot of people, horses and owners, which is fascinating.
What is the grooms’ community like? Do grooms support one another?
I have made some incredible friends, and at shows we try to all get together with barbeques and drinks. My friends are from all over the world. We also sometimes do other things together away from the horses, like going to festivals or concerts, which really strengthens the friendships.
Then there are also the times when you need help, and it’s great to know you have friends on the showground that you can ask for help from. For example, one time I was stuck at the airport because my visa was incorrect. I was two days late to a show, and my friends did my horses, without me even asking. If something is going wrong, my friends will help, because they know that I would do the same for them!
Source: Press Release from Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping
Photo: © Jenny Abrahamsson / World of Show Jumping