Grooms are going to become a recognised stakeholder group within the FEI family in a move seen as long overdue ‒ the FEI is 100 years old in 2021.
The soon-to-be-formed International Grooms Association (IGA) will sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the FEI, giving members the same status as the various recognised riders, owner and officials’ clubs.
“I wish it had not taken this long,” said FEI president Ingmar de Vos, opening a debate on IGA’s priorities during last week’s online FEI Sports Forum. “Although we cannot make up for the lost time, we can lay the foundations and set a new course for our grooms.
“We as a governing body have to wholeheartedly embrace the role of grooms and provide them with the conditions and the tools they need to fulfil their remit and focus their attention on their horses. This is our responsibility. It’s the right thing to do and it’s long overdue.
“I have never understood why this essential role has never been officially recognised by the FEI as a specific stakeholder group. I really believe now is the time to rectify this huge oversight and to officially recognise and integrate grooms in our organisation and community.”
Robin Parsky, Kent Farrington’s owner, said that the grooms are the lifelines to their dearest animals. The IGA would give grooms the respect and status they deserve.
Jackie Potts, long-time groom for eventer William Fox-Pitt, welcomed the FEI’s move. She was keen that grooms need to stay in the industry ‒ for some, grooming seems to be a “gap year” option.
“I do feel we could have improvements at events. I’m very keen on having a grooms’ representative who can be involved, not only with the FEI stewards and delegates, but also with the veterinary team, to advise on improvements or suggestions.”
Elite rider representative Pedro Veniss asked organisers to consider grooms when drawing up timetables. “We forget that the grooms finish two or three hours later than us, and then they start two hours earlier than us,” he said. He hoped grands prix could start at 2 p.m. at the latest on the final day, bearing in mind that grooms often have a long drive home.
Jumping organisers president Peter Bollen said grooms provide valuable information from behind the scenes. “Things are not so bad for grooms at the top level events in Europe and North America. If they are not treated that well we know the rider will not come back the next year ‒ that is the influence that the grooms have.”
The biggest challenge will be communicating the existence of IGA to potential members, based on the sketchy information professional grooms seem to have so far about the FEI’s educational support and its groom’s app. Only 180 grooms from around the world to date have signed up for bespoke groom’s courses on FEI campus.
Lucy Katan, chief executive of the British Grooms Association (founded in 2007, and with Charlotte Dujardin as patron) has been involved in the planning for IGA. In conjunction with Show Grooms International she conducted a survey which drew 780 responses. It showed that 79% top level competition grooms felt they had no mechanism to be heard, that 90% wanted a formal organization recognised by the FEI, and they would be willing to pay around $30 a year to belong.
The only salaried executive at IGA will be the administrator. Much of the work will be done voluntarily by representatives from the disciplines, with a focus on recruiting people who are an active presence on the scene, even if recently retired.