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Saturday, September 5, 2015 • 2:00 am

Avril’s brush with the big time

The Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2015 is Avril Smith’s second CCI4* as a groom. She has been working for Andrew Hoy for just over a year now, after spending seven years at the yard of fellow event rider Richard Skelt. After a trip to Luhmuhlen earlier in the year, she made her Burghley debut this week.

“I have always dreamed of grooming at Burghley; it’s my local event and I’ve been coming for years as a spectator,” said the Spalding-born 29-year-old. “Burghley and Badminton are the most prestigious events in the world – but having said that, the actual job of grooming is pretty similar wherever you are. It’s all about keeping the horse chilled and relaxed and making him think that each day is just a normal day.

“We are really well looked after at Burghley, with lovely goodie bags and meal vouchers for the canteen down at the stables. There’s plenty of buzz and pressure, it’s a real privilege to be here.”

Avril has been keeping Rutherglen’s routine as regular as possible since they arrived at Burghley, with similar feeding times, exercise and grazing. This will even carry through for today’s cross-country test. “I’ll feed, muck out, give him a leg stretch and a pick of grass. Andrew and I will then meet up to make a plan of exact timings, working back from their start time. We run through everything, right down to where we plan to warm up and cool down, and put our equipment – the most important bits of which are the bucket, sponge and sweat scraper.

“Andrew will get on Rutherglen half an hour before the start, we’ll all go to the warm up and then I’ll be on hand to check the studs, the girth, give Andrew a drink, whatever’s needed really. At the last minute I will put on Rutherglen’s leg grease and then they are off.”

Avril admits that she finds watching Andrew’s cross country rounds really hard. “Often I’d rather not watch – I get extremely nervous, but if there’s a problem I need to know where to go to be with the horse. Those 11-plus minutes feel like a lifetime.”

Once through the finish line (hopefully) Andrew will feed back any possible knocks or bumps as the saddle and boots come off and all hands set to work to cool down Rutherglen. Once released by the FEI vet Avril will take him back to the stables for a pee and a roll, before giving him a proper shampoo, icing his legs, feeding him and leaving him to rest. “What I do depends on the day – the weather, the ground, and what happened out on course,” says Avril.

With Sunday being another day, Avril reflects on her favourite moment of any three-day event. “I think it’s the moment I have finished getting a horse ready for the dressage test. I love making them look as beautifully turned out as possible, and when people comment on how good a horse in my care looks it makes me really proud.”