Super groom Alan Davies is the man with the enviable job of keeping the world’s most famous horses looking so stunning around the globe. His partnership with Valegro began 4 years ago and he has been instrumental in ensuring the record-breaking World, European and Olympic champion looks so pristine for each memorable performance.
With 2 new world records achieved at Olympia last week, it has certainly been a year to remember for Alan and the dream team.
2014 has been another phenomenal year for you and the team. How was the atmosphere at Olympia and does it get any better?
The atmosphere at Olympia is unique. Back at the stables, I try and keep everything as quiet as possible, so that the horses can rest but then when you cross over the alley way into the warm up area, you can sense the tension rising and you can hear the audience. I am always amazed with how well Blueberry copes with it all, especially when I walk down the tunnel towards to the arena with him. As soon as the crowds see him, they just erupt and it is like a wall of sound hitting you. My heart always leaps but Blueberry just pricks his ears and off he goes like the Pro he is.
Back at home, we are always looking to improve things with the horses, and there is always something to improve on in dressage. We have the young horses coming on, who we look to back up Valegro but 2014 has been really amazing. We have the best horse in the world in our yard, but we are always looking for the next champion and looking for the next one to win a medal.
How did your role with Carl, Charlotte and Valegro come about? Did you always want to be a groom?
I have always been a groom, I’ve groomed since I left school and have a fascination with taking care of horses. I have been lucky to work with top vets, and when I was in my 20s, top show jumpers in America.
Before becoming a groom I had done showing and eventing and had always looked after the horses myself. I love the whole aspect of taking care of them.
I knew Charlotte from back in our showing days and knew Carl before 2000 when I flew out to Sydney and took Emile Faurie’s and Carl’s horses out to the Olympics. We had all kept in touch and in early 2011, Carl rang me to help at a few shows and I am still here!
Does Valegro have any diva tendencies or special requirements? Do you think he knows he is so special/famous?
I don’t think stardom has affected him, he’s not bothered by it all as long as he can dunk his hay and has a bucket of fresh water to make hay tea! He’s not bothered by the lights, noisy crowds etc. Luckily he has always been easy although he did get a bit upset in Florida in 2011, in the prize giving.
There was so much going on so from then on Charlotte has insisted I go in to the prize giving with him. I give him a polo to keep his attention on me or a sugar lump and now he is an angel and as good as gold. In Lyon for the World Cup finals all the other horses were going bonkers, but he just stood there with the reins over his neck and he gave me a kiss and was so chilled.
Any stand out/funny moments at a competition?
I was coming back from Norway with Blueberry and we had arrived at Calais. I normally go on the ferry so I can sleep, but had to go on the train. Unbeknown to me, when we were queueing to board, an illegal immigrant climbed on to the axel. I got pulled over and the police had sniffer dogs all over the lorry and found him underneath the lorry.
The French police handled it really well and I was so lucky that I hadn’t got to passport control or I would have been fined.
Tell us about the horses in your care.
I am very lucky as we have 5 Grand Prix horses on the yard at the moment and I am mainly in charge of those.
Utopia is Carl’s gold medal horse from London and is the perfect gentleman. He’s very easy. He has had to be the bridesmaid to Valegro but is never offended. He beat the whole lot in Rotterdam in 2011 and I have to remind people that he paved the way and is a star in his own right.
Dances with Wolves, who was ridden by Jane Gregory and her husband has given him to Carl. He is a very big horse and a bit of a hot head too so he does quite a bit of lunging to keep his mind occupied.
Nip Tuck who went to WEG and can be a bit hot headed so lives out a lot. Carl likes him out as much as possible weather permitting.
Fine Time is a stallion owned by Gemma Appleton and we have had him a couple of years while Gemma has had her children. He’s a very macho stallion and needs to be handled carefully.
The routine is pretty much the same for them as the other horses:
Carl and Charlotte school them on Mondays and Tuesdays, the grooms and I hack them on Wednesdays, Carl and Charlotte school them on Thursdays and Fridays, Saturdays we hack again and Sunday is their day off.
What have you got planned for the winter…are you getting a break?
Not presently ! Now that Olympia is over, our next trip is at the end of January when we take Valegro to Amsterdam.
He’s qualified for next World Cup finals but he has to do 2 of the pre-qualifiers and then hopefully go to Las Vegas in April for the Final. In between then, we get the other young ones out. There is the Addington International in March so I am not sure when I get a break really but I did go to Barcelona in September for a long weekend with 5 other dressage grooms and we had a great time.
Tell us about your own competition riding?
Years ago I did a bit of eventing and I used to hunt and team chase.
I moved on to showing and dressage… I didn’t like jumping and wasn’t very good at it. I produced show horses for Tania Nicol for a long time and produced and won at HOYS in 1996. Then Tania fell pregnant and I rode all the show horses for her, we had a light middle and heavy weight at HOYS that I qualified and rode at the last HOYS that was at Wembley in London.
Louise Bell is a great friend and I pop my bowler hat and tweed on for her sometimes. I rode 2 years ago at HOYS and also at Royal International and had a great time. I only did 2 shows that year…HOYS and Royal International !
Can you see yourself showing again?
I still show my miniature Shetlands in hand. My good mare has had a foal this year and I will be showing it next year.
If I had the time I would love to have another ridden show horse again.
What advice would you give someone wanting to become a groom?
Be very open minded and make sure you find out as much as you can about your horses and try and get as much knowledge as possible from your farrier and vet so you can give your horses the best possible care.
Can you give us your top tip for grooming?
Baby oil !
[See the Behind the Scenes piece we did where Alan shows us how he uses it.]
What or who inspires you within the equestrian world? Past and present.
When I was in America I worked for Michael Matz, the American show jumper and he was an amazing horseman. There were 30 horses in his barn including ex racehorses and stallions and I learnt an awful lot from him.
Valegro inspires me every day to get up…he loves life and he makes me smile every day. He is definitely my biggest inspiration.
Is there an all time favourite yard/stables that you’ve been too? And why?
The Fritzens show in Austria is my favourite show. It is run by the Swarovski family and it is at their private yard. They are very welcoming and they do an amazing job. It is beautiful and so stunning.
Which country in your opinion does equestrian best? And why?
I love going to Holland, to any of the yards or the Dutch shows, they are really knowledgeable and the general public are also very knowledgeable about the horse world. Their breeding system is amazing and they produce for all different disciplines.
What would you like your legacy to be?
I’d just like that people can see that grooming is a profession and that they like being a groom and that it is not a second class citizen position looking after someone’s horses. I’d like to think I have bought up the profile of grooms and everyone can see what an important job it is. To have a good groom behind you is one of the most important jobs in the sport.
Do you have an equestrian hero?
I grew up when Milton was at his hey day. I adored him and he was an incredible horse.
What is the quality that you most like in a horse?
If you weren’t a super groom, what would you be doing?
Lots of people have said I should be a hairdresser. They have seen me with manes and tails and I would listen to all the old ladies having their blue rinse!
What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given? Who gave it to you?
I can’t remember who gave me this advice but many years ago someone told me that but patience is the most important thing to have with horses and also with all the people around as well.
Tell us something about yourself that only you know?
I won a Blue Peter badge when I was a child!
What would be your message to the equestrian world?
Never underestimate the importance of your groom.
Do you have a secret superstition before an event?
I always wear white underwear !
What are your top 5 indispensable pieces of kit, for you or your horse?
– Saracen horse feeds for keeping the horses in top condition
– Nettex additives, vitamins and Daily Conditioning Shampoo
– Ariat paddock boots
– Back on Track scarf
Against The Clock…
Dick Francis or Jilly Cooper?
Hickstead or Olympia?
Sand or Snow?
Tea or G&T?
Bay or grey?
Bling or no bling?
Bling within reason !
Watch Carl’s video for Nettex here
If you are a groom, you may be interested in the British Grooms Association, which is the professional membership organisation for grooms of all levels across all disciplines. It brings together all who work hands on with horses offering support, dedicated career advice and promotes professionalism and good horsemanship. www.britishgrooms.org.uk
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