In our second behind the scenes look at our wonderful grooms we talk to the four women who will be accompanying the showjumpers to the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Donning their own silver ferns for the Olympic Games will be Emelie Folkesson (Bruce Goodin and Backatorps Danny V), Steffi Whittaker (Daniel Meech and Cinca 3), Jorge Ramirez (Uma O’Neill and Clockwise of Greenhill Z) and Emilia Schmidt (Tom Tarver and Fiber Fresh Popeye).
For each of the grooms, Tokyo will be their first Olympic Games and with each from a different country, there is certainly a real international flare to the team.
Emelie Folkesson has been working for Bruce since the latter part of 2018. She grew up in Munka-Ljungby, a small village in the south of Sweden. She grew up riding horses and playing football but at 14 got her own pony and that became her priority.
Nahla was an Arabian horse with just one eye. “She was very special and the most kind horse I have ever met,” says 21-year-old Emelie. She spent all her free time with her pony, biking as fast as she could to the stables after school.
Her teenage years were at an equestrian high school where they did three days of ‘normal’ school and two days with the horses. On graduation she worked for a summer production company and then applied for a job with Bruce. “I thought it sounded interesting,” she says. The rest is history.
“I really like the relationships you get with the horses. I spend so much time with them and it is so cool to know everything about them. If not for this job, I would not have met so many friends all around the world and seen all the beautiful places I have visited.”
She adores Danny. “He is such a cool horse. I love everything about him. He has so much personality and for sure knows he is the best! Wherever we are, he always makes me feel safe,” says Emelie. “He will always be special to me because he has been with me since I started as a groom. It is him I have done all by big adventures with and not to get the chance to go to the Olympic Games in Tokyo with him just means everything to me.”
Steffi Whittaker has been bouncing in and out of Europe for the Northern Hemisphere months over the past three years to train and groom with Daniel.
The 21-year-old is from Canterbury where she runs her showjumping team alongside the family harness racing crew. She has competed to World Cup level and has her own dream of making an Olympic team . . . as a rider.
“This is a fantastic start to my dream,” she said. “This is a one in a million chance and I feel very lucky. I think it will be mind-blowing but a lot different to the normal Olympic Games. We are lucky to have this one. I am super excited to be a part of the team.”
She adores her job and looking after “the beautiful” Cinca. “She is just to die for – she is gorgeous and such a tryer. She is a lovely horse to be around.”
Steffi is hugely appreciative of all the opportunities that come her way through her work with Daniel, as well as the experiences gained. “There is a lot of learning for my future ahead in this sport,” she says.
In preparation for the heat, Team Meech has been heading to shows in warmer climates and Steffi has also been doing a lot of running.
Twenty-nine-year-old Jorge Ramirez, who hails from Oaxaca in Mexico, has known his rider Uma for many years and while he only in 2021 started working for her, he has been a professional groom for 11 years. “I have had the good fortune of growing up with horses,” he says. “They are my passion. I spent my childhood vacations at horse farms in Mexico and fell in love with them. For me, this is a dream come true.”
It will be his first Olympic Games. “I don’t know any groom who would not want to be on a team heading to the Games,” he says.
He adores his job, and his four hooved charge. “I have been making sure to keep Clockwise extra happy by taking him on long hand walks and giving him some extra treats,” he says. “He has such a great personality and makes me laugh a lot. He makes my job a lot of fun and I think it is very exciting to watch him go out and perform.”
Jorge knows the protocols in place in Japan will be tough. “We will have to be so careful to follow them all to keep everyone safe and healthy,” he says.
Jorge was hugely grateful to the Japanese people for hosting the Games. “Their willingness to continue with the Games when faced with so many uncertainties is positively commendable. I believe I speak for many when I say that the graciousness of the Japanese people will never be forgotten.”
Two years ago Emilia Schmidt joked to Tom and Lucia that if they were successful in their Olympic bid, to give her a call to be groom. This week the Popeye team got a late call-up. “It is really happening,” says 27-year-old Emilia. “It is unbelievable.”
She and her horse were based with Tom and Lucia over Christmas, with a plan to go back to their home in Berlin after New Year. All good plans are made to be changed, and in January she took up a full time job with the couple.
For the two years previous, Emilia, who hails from Hamburg in Germany, had worked as an art director at a Berlin advertising agency. In November she went freelance and also did some film production work. “It was all a lot of fun.”
But horses are a passion for her and Popeye is the centre of it all. “Sometimes it feels like he is half horse, half human. He really does know when it counts. He is the most special horse I even met. He goes straight to your heart and give you the feeling that he really needs you.” Her focus has been to ensure everything is perfect. “There is not really a second chance. The most important thing is to keep Popeye as comfortable as possible.”
By Diana Dobson – HP Media Liaison