Monday, March 11, 2013

Sarah Huntley, Equine Elite

From Brighton, United Kingdom, Sarah Huntley is the founder and director of Equine Elite, a professional equestrian recruitment agency. Traveling the world, working in top levels of eventing, showjumping and dressage, Sarah has a background in Sport and Performance Psychology as well as all-around equine performance.

When did you learn to ride?
I started to ride aged 9 – but not on horses! Instead I rode some donkeys in our village in Sussex. I learnt how to care for them and taught me the basics in riding. I worked with the donkeys every weekend for a couple of years until my parents allowed to have horse-riding lessons!

Do you have a favorite breed of horse?
I love any horse with Irish breeding – I find they have the scope, ability, level head and try-hard attitude that suits them well to eventing. I find you can also tend to rely on Irish horses to be sensible when you need them to be!

As a professional competition groom, what are your objectives?
As a groom, the welfare of the horse has to be the upmost importance. Both at home and at competition, I like to make sure all the horses are happy and healthy. I believe wherever possible, daily turnout is essential for psychological health – it often gives competition horses a chance to just relax for a few hours. At competitions, I aim to prepare the horses to the best of my ability – I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to plaiting and turnout! I want my horses to look their best for each phase. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a horse jumping clear around a tough cross-country course and then trotting up brilliant and jumping well on the next day of competition.

Which is more intense for you; eventing, showjumping or dressage?
I love the sport of eventing – as it combines all individual disciplines. I participate in triathlon myself, and I guess eventing is the equestrian equivalent – a real all-round test for horse and rider.

What has been your greatest success? 
A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to groom for William Fox-Pitt at the Burghley CCI****. It was my first three-day event as a groom and a brilliant experience. William finished both 1st and 2nd that year which was a real bonus. It ignited a passion for event grooming for me, and things have gone from there!

As a trainer, what are your training methods?
I am a big fan of Monty Roberts’ methods to train horses. I think he is truly inspirational – training horses in their own ‘language’ without physical harm and force and with maximum respect for the animal. I go and watch Monty in action whenever I can and read all I can on the subject. I hate to see horses mistreated or see people lose their temper with horses – they are such beautiful animals and deserve to be treated as so.

What is the secret to maintaining a healthy coat?
Daily grooming and good feeding. A happy, healthy horse has a healthy coat!

Where is the most interesting place you’ve been?
As a groom I have been able to travel all to lots of places in the UK, Australia and Europe which has been brilliant. One of my favorite events is Compiegne in France – it’s set in the beautiful French countryside. The food there was also exceptional – a full all-you-can-eat buffet every meal! I certainly didn’t go hungry that week!  I also was able to groom for an American event rider at a top indoor jumping derby in Stuttgart – Germany. It was a big show, with a great atmosphere, set in the centre of the city. The stables were put up in a multi-storey car-park, so it was a bit different to what we are used to going to events in the UK!

Where would you like to go that you haven’t been?
I’ve always wanted to groom at Badminton, and that is still an ambition of mine! It’s such an iconic event, and I hope to fulfill my dream in the near future!

What do you do during the off-season?
This year has been a bit different to usual – as I have been busy setting up my new equestrian recruitment agency – Equine Elite! I launched the website in October 2012, so it’s still very new. I have been placing grooms and riders in both temporary and permanent in vacancies on top event, showjump, dressage, polo and livery yards throughout the UK. It’s been a steep learning curve, but I’m relishing the challenge, and have been inundated with vacancies, so I figure I am doing something right! I have just expanded the agency to not only cover yard-based roles to office based roles too – from administration to accounts, PR to marketing for retailers, feed companies, colleges and national equestrian organizations. It’s a very exciting project, and I hope it will benefit employers and employees alike.

Any advice for novice groomers?
I would always advise novice grooms to get as much practical work experience as they can – on a reputable, professional yard. It is great to go to college and attain qualifications, but practical work experience is so valuable - in doing so, it is possible to develop a good understanding of the equestrian industry, learn from more experienced grooms and work out where your interests lie. In the UK, we have a brilliant organization – the British Grooms Association, which is run by ex-grooms for anyone working with horse providing an excellent support network for novice and experienced grooms alike. With regards to applying for jobs, I would always advise young grooms to think carefully about how they present themselves, from Resume writing to the interview preparation. It is important to be positive and professional to stand the best chance of obtaining your dream job!

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