A new year, a new #1 in the Longines Rankings, and even the most casual fans of show jumping can probably guess who that is: Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs, 27, who will officially take over the reins from his countryman Steve Guerdat to begin 2020 as the best rider in the world (what have you done today?).
Fuchs would be the first to tell you that his success is due, in large part, to the talented team of horses and humans behind him, and heading up that list are none other than his top mount/real-life unicorn, Clooney, and Clooney’s groom of three years, Sean Vard.
Sean, a Dublin, Ireland native, came up through the ranks first as a rider, then as a top-level groom. Last fall, we caught up with him to get the scoop on Clooney’s pre-class routine, letting horses be horses, and the very real dangers of purple stain-removing shampoo. Here are six truths Sean shared along the way.
Truth #1: The ever-humble Sean hates being called a “top groom.”
“I’m just a driver who can brush a horse,” Sean jokes. “Don’t call me a top groom, because my head is about to go out the window! [laughs] I was a rider, and failed at that, but I loved grooming at the lower levels. I kind of fancied a shot at the really big sport to see if I could hack it… Things escalated quickly, and it’s been non-stop since then, but I have no regrets.”
Truth #2: Clooney might be one of the best horses in the world, but he’s no treat snob.
“Clooney is just a pig, in general! It doesn’t matter if I spend $100 on those fancy American cookies, or just buy a box of sugar [cubes] for three euros at the supermarket. Clooney doesn’t care, so long as he gets something when you walk up to him, then it’s all good.”
Truth #3: Sean’s horse care philosophy is totally “old school”—and he’s proud of it.
“At the end of the day, I have a little motto, and that’s that ‘horses need to be horses.’ Sometimes less is more, and I have this pet hate of seeing horses tied up for hours and hours before a class under blankets and [getting] massage this and massage that.
“I’m really old-school — I don’t even use a massage blanket — I use my hands. I like to keep the horses really relaxed, but they’re always moving around, so they’re not getting stiff. I let them think they’re going out on a hack, and they usually pull it out of the bag for me. It works for our system… Clooney is allowed to be a horse, which is the #1 rule for him.”
“We don’t go there to make up numbers, we’re there to win medals, which is actually a really cocky thing to say, but I can say that when I have a horse like Clooney in my stable.“
Truth #4: If Martin needs a tissue at the ring, he has to bring his own.
“Hey, I’m not the kind of groom that’s going to run after my rider and give him a chewing gum, or a tissue, or something — I’m going to tell him to get on with it,” Sean jokes. “I think [Martin] gets confident when he sees I’m confident, and at the end of the day, if you get to the championship with a horse like Clooney, and you don’t come away with a medal, then you’re disappointed, you know?
“We don’t go there to make up numbers, we’re there to win medals, which is actually a really cocky thing to say, but I can say that when I have a horse like Clooney in my stable.”
Truth #5: Getting to the top as a groom requires a lot of skill… and also luck.
“Somebody who really wants to make it to the top, they need to start at the bottom, and grind their way up, and make an impression. You also need a lot of luck to land yourself a job with a rider who is equally as motivated and determined to make it. You’ve got to get your hands dirty, yeah?”
“I’m not the kind of groom that’s going to run after my rider and give him a chewing gum or a tissue or something — I’m going to tell him to get on with it.“
Truth #6: Even Sean makes a grooming faux pas every once and a while.
“Baby powder [is great for manure] stains, [as is purple stain-removing shampoo]. But you’ve got to be careful with that stuff! Once, at the World Cup Final, I left [purple shampoo] in Clooney’s mane, and I turned around to talk to someone, and when I looked back, the shampoo had stained his mane! It was a good 6–7 inches of purple in his mane, and I could not get it out [laughs]. It stayed for the whole week.”
Want to learn more about the amazing Sean Vard and Clooney? Click here for more from Equnews.