We were recently lucky to catch up with Janet Willis, long term groom of 4* rider Willa Newton. Janet was recently awarded the prestigious Haddon Training British Grooms award for her hard work. Janet’s sheer dedication, commitment to the horses and to the Newton family over so many years is simply unsurpassable and her enthusiasm for the job, even at the age of sixty-one has never waned, making her a very worthy winner.
How long have you worked in the equestrian industry?
Over 40 years; can’t believe it’s been that long.
What led you first to Point to Pointing?
I think mainly through my own family. My older brother Brian point to pointed as did my sister Margaret. I have always admired the speed of horses and enjoyed riding at the gallop.
How did you find the transition from Point to Pointing to event grooming?
It happened very gradually. When the Newton family finished their point-to-pointing, I moved to working with the hunters. So, it wasn’t until Willa was a bit older that I got into the eventing.
What were the two biggest similarities and differences in horse management between the disciplines?
The care of the horse is very similar but I think that the eventers get turned out in the fields in the day more nowadays; which is a good thing.
What top tips/skills did you transfer from your Point to Pointing days which are perhaps not so common currently eventing?
Being able to ride correct canter work. It has always been very natural and something I could bring to the event horses.
Have you found the fitness levels required at top level eventing similar?
Yes. As they go up the levels, the fitness levels are very similar to the point to pointers. We now do much more interval training with the eventers and will still do a good piece of work before the big events like we did with the pointers.
How do you manage prohibited substances in the yard? Any top tips especially for amateur riders?
We are very lucky that we have the support of Team GB sponsors NAF which means we can be sure we aren’t feeding any prohibited substances. It is always important though, to know what is and what is not on the prohibited substance list. If we have to feed anything prohibited, I would use gloves when feeding and always use a separate feed bowl.
What one item could you not survive without on the yard?
A kettle!! It is very important for tea!!!!
What one tip would you give to amateur riders to improve horse management or save them time?
Know your horses legs- so you are aware of any small changes and if you’re worried seek advice – either another pair of eyes or your vet – so you get to a problem quickly before it might be too late. Also – Be organised and plan your time efficiently. It really does pay.
Did Willa’s horses have time off over winter, if so how long?
We give the older horses have 4-6 weeks off but still come in at night; while the younger ones tend to have a bit longer and are out 24-7!
How will they be prepared for this season? Firstly fitness and secondly xc schooling etc?
They have one month walking and trotting. Depending on the horse, this can be either road work or walk hacks followed by trotting in the school. They then start light schooling and harder work. Jumping normally starts after Christmas when their bodies are ready for it and the work increases in the build up to the season. Cross country schooling normally begins in February particularly as now we are lucky enough to have some all weather cross country training areas at home.
How does management differ (if at all) between the youngsters and more advanced horses?
We try to treat them all as individuals and so will depend on what works best for each horse. However, the older ones tend to have more time out the box and we try and get them out for a walk hack before their work. They also go on the walker in the afternoon, as well as having magnetic rugs on.
What are the main aims for this season if everything goes to plan?
The main aim is to get to our first Badminton but we are determined to try and keep an equilibrium about that and not change the way we do things in response to any outside pressure.
What has been your best moment as a groom?
Winning the 8/9 CIC*** at Blenheim last year. It was our first big senior eventing win and very exciting. It was also special winning the Osberton 7yrs old Championships two years running as it is a local event to us.
Do you have a favourite event to groom at and why?
Burghley, it is one of the pinnacle events of our sport and also a local event to us. I also love Buckminster it is only two miles down the road and very relaxed and friendly.
What is your ultimate ambition as a groom?
I am not getting any younger, so I reckon it would be to stay healthy and keep enjoying what I do!
Do you think grooms get enough recognition at events?
I think on the whole grooms are very well looked after particularly at the big events. At some events there are always areas that could be improved, but I realise it’s not easy as the small events don’t necessarily have the money to invest.
How did you feel having been awarded the Haddon Training Grooms award?
I feel very honoured to have won this award. It’s so nice people recognise and appreciate you. I am also humbled because there are so many equally deserving hardworking grooms out there too.
We thank Janet for her time and look forward to hopefully seeing Willa and Janet at Badminton this year.