What horsemanship means to me: Jackie Potts

31. May 2023 / Category: News

New for this year, the EEF are launching a Horsemanship series, delving into what the term means to different people. Throughout the series we will be speaking to equestrian professionals from a variety of sectors and disciplines across the industry - from grooms to Chef d’Equipes, vets to athletes and beyond, we’ll dive into their thoughts on what Horsemanship means to them.

Our first guest needs no introduction. Regularly referred to as the “Super Groom”, Jackie Potts is widely renowned to be the authority on the profession of Eventing grooming, with decades of experience and countless championships under her belt as groom of Team GBR stalwart, William Fox-Pitt.

“I suppose from a groom’s view, on a basic level it’s getting to know the horse. We can become quite clinical with horses but developing that horsemanship eye is what it’s all about.” Jackie says about her interpretation of the definition. “I’ll go into the barn at night and if I see that a horse isn’t quite right, I try to work out why. To me, that’s horsemanship - trying to get them to perform at the best of their ability physically and mentally”.  
“As a groom, horsemanship should be backed up by science and knowledge. Always wanting to learn is important but I want to accompany that with my intuition - that and your instinct makes you a good horseperson,” she tells me, philosophically.
Horsemanship will, of course, impact the day-to-day life and role of any equestrian professional, but for grooms in particular, it is vital. “First happy horse, then happy groom and happy rider – it’s a triangle,” Jackie says, “It’s not only working with a horse and knowing it, it’s working with the rider as well - giving them insight on the horse’s personality and feelings that day helps them to work them in accordingly. It helps the rider that you know the horses better and helps the horse to perform at it’s best.”
“When running a yard, you’re looking at the welfare of all the horses and I always want to feel like I’ve gotten to the bottom of a horse – their likes, dislikes, how they perform at their best. Does it like a stable at the end, with a window, what suits them?”
Naturally, ‘horsemanship’ is a term that might not only have different connotations for individual professionals, but it can also differ across borders. “I think everyone has an amount of horsemanship in them. It can vary by culture, but in our industry, I feel that grooms aren’t used to their best advantage for sharing knowledge.” Jackie says of the profession on the whole, “it’s not a lack of want or care for some individuals and teams, it’s a lack of experience and a lot of the experience in professional grooming could be shared more between nations to the overall improvement of horse sport and welfare.”  

“I took this job because I love horses and want them to be my friend, and strengthening bonds with horses is the crux of horsemanship,” she expresses, “if they are on your side and enjoy you being with them, they might just try a bit harder for you in a competition or be prepared to cope with something that they would have otherwise found stressful, perhaps like flying.”

As a horseperson, Jackie tells me that consistency is key, “you should never move the goalpost – your boundaries should always be the same regardless of whether you’re tired or maybe feel like you’re not up to it.” She says avidly, “We do the same thing every time and that’s really important in developing your horsemanship, your feel and your instinct.”

Lastly, in every feature within this Horsemanship series, we will be asking our subjects what they want to see more or less of – either in their profession specifically, or the equestrian industry as a whole. “We always want to see people utilising horsemanship knowledge in grooming” Jackie says emphatically, “I try and encourage staff on our yard to use their instinct and initiative. But we also have to make our sports as good and as safe as they can be, it’s not just about winning prizes and getting medals, we have to constantly think about how we can improve horsemanship globally and universally.”  

And how does the super groom propose we start on this mission? “I don’t care that the tack isn’t cleaned, or the floors aren’t swept, I want to make sure that the horses have had everything that makes that horse happy. What’s the priority? It’s the horse every time.”

Jackie Potts is a founding member of the International Grooms Association, the professional association for grooms and close stakeholder of the EEF. To find out more about the IGA, their work, or become a supporter, please visit their website.