We found time to catch up with top international groom Franki Murrell between events. Franki is head groom to Pippa Funnell and has been on the road most of the summer, with successful trips to Badminton, Bramham and Strzegom amongst others already this year. The team are currently gearing up for the European Championships at Blair in six weeks’ time, with Sandman 7 named on the squad, and Second Supreme listed as a direct reserve.
How did you get into event grooming and could you describe how you progressed through your career to become head girl to Pippa?
I got into event grooming when I was 16 and I went to help a friend at an event and loved it.
I knew nothing about eventing, even though I grew up around horses, but I got my first eventing job at 17 with Polly Williamson as 2nd groom. She took a huge risk! But I worked hard to learn and it paid off and I owe my career now to Polly.
I progressed to her head girl and stayed with her for 5 years up until she had her horrific accident. After this I ran a yard and started freelance grooming where I built up a portfolio with Canadian, French, Australian, Swedish and young British riders.
After doing 3 big 3-day-events with Swedish Young Rider Hedvig Wik, who was based with Pip, I got to know Pip who was looking for a new head girl and I jumped at the chance. After taking 6 months out of horses working in a pub and enjoying my own horse, I was ready to go back. I’ve worked hard to reach this point but you don’t get where you want without highs and lows.
Did you ever think about going down the route of becoming an eventer yourself, or have you always been more interested in the grooming side?
I’ve never thought about eventing myself as a career as I have never had the guts! I enjoy competing in dressage but my heart has always been in looking after and the turnout of the horses in my care and obviously the amazing different countries I travel to. If I had the guts and the talent then yes, I’d love to compete.
Do you think that the fame of people such as Alan Davies (Carl Hester’s supergroom) or Jackie Potts (William Fox-Pitt’s) have raised the perception of how important your role in the team is? Or do you think that grooms and yard staff are still the unsung heroes and the rider tends to get all the recognition?
Yes, I do think the likes of Jackie and Alan, who have done it for years have helped put grooms more in the limelight. You have to be made of hard stuff to be a groom but in the more recent years we now get recognised for it and competitions reward you for it too. Your rider always needs a good groom to sort them out!
What is your role in the running of the yard?
My role is to keep the yard ticking – from organising staff and bookings, to keeping all horses looking well and happy. Not forgetting keeping my rider organised!
Could you (briefly) describe what you do on a typical day at home, if there is such a thing?
Feed at 6.30/7am, morning stable duties and get Pip on her 1st horse at 7.30/8am. Start riding others at 9.30am after breakfast. Grab lunch when you can and either carry on riding, washing, tidying horses etc. Evening stables start around 3.30/4pm obviously depending on the day!
Best bits – travelling, working with some of the top horses in the world. Being able to order lots of new things! The people and friends you meet.
Bad bits – long days and rubbish weather in winter!
Do you have a favourite horse on the yard?
I know you shouldn’t have a favourite and I love them all but I do have a very soft spot for Redesigned (Red) and Second Supreme (Ed).
Definitely big events. Yes they are full on and can be stressful, although I’m quite good at staying chilled, but you get so much fun from watching your horses progress to this level, and from having your ‘’Eventing Family’’ there. They are also normally in great locations.
Which is your favourite event?
Badminton or Tattersalls are definitely my favourite.
Is there a good social scene amongst the grooms at events?
There is a brilliant social scene at most events. As a groom you get upset if you don’t go to certain events that are renowned for a good atmosphere with your ‘’Eventing Family’’.
I know Pippa does quite a lot of show-jumping. What differences do you find in your job going SJing compared to eventing?
I notice huge differences between grooming for the show-jumping and the eventing. In eventing you’re go go go from the moment you get there, and there is a huge amount of different tack and bits and bobs you use. Show-jumping is a lot of standing around in the warm-up and simple tack. I’m sure it’s not so laid back at all show-jumping competitions though. Show grooms are also super hard workers and I take my hat off to them – I couldn’t do it!
Your horses are always immaculately turned out. Do you have any top tips?
Ah, thank you! Pride and attention to detail are my top tips, if you don’t have these then it’s a lot harder! And give yourself enough time to get your horse ready.
Do you have any top bits of kit, or things you couldn’t cope without at a 3-day?
Talcum powder for Billy The Biz’s legs! Super black hoof stain, and my tack trunk to keep all my random beauty products in. Oh, and lots of pairs of scissors.
What would your horses’ routine be on the Sunday morning before the final trot-up?
You want to keep your horses chilled ahead of final phase, show-jumping. So I take them for a nice graze and walk before trot-up then do any bathing, plaiting etc. that needs to be done.
At a normal one day event what do you do with the horses legs post XC? And does this change at a three day?
I always, whether BE 100 or 4*, shampoo and Hibiscrub their legs, then put ice packs with jay cloths under a boot on – either just front or all around dependent on level, ground etc. Then I towel dry and bandage. I don’t use any clay or gel on their legs.
Any grooming confessions you want to share?
At my first event for Pip we left really early and I fell asleep and woke myself up by thinking I’d forgotten something… cross country boots!! I had some but neither enough, nor good enough, so I managed to go buy some more while I was there and not tell Pip as I was too scared to admit to it at my first event for her! Lesson… never wash boots and leave them to dry round the back out of sight!!