Everyone knows what a fabulous season event rider Piggy French has had winning 15 Internationals this year, including Badminton, but it’s great to see that a very key member of her team, travelling head groom Amy Phillips, has won recognition for her part in the success by winning the prestigious Groom of the Year award sponsored by NAF 5 Star at the Horse & Hound awards 2019.
27 year old Amy was born and brought up in Sutton St Nicholas and later on in Tupsley and comes from a non-horsey family. She was obsessed by ponies from a very early age and when 4 or 5, her Grandma bought her a riding lesson as a birthday present and she started to learn to ride at Mill Farm Riding School. From there Amy rode some ponies with a friend and then went to Putley Riding School and livery yard near Ledbury, where she rode and worked for the best part of 10 years! She was a member of the North Hereford Pony Club but didn’t have her own pony until she was 16 so didn’t do much, just Pony Club camp a few times.
After finishing 6th form college Amy did 2 seasons teaching and leading trail rides at a summer riding camp in America, where there were about 70 horses and 80 campers, before returning to work at a racing yard near Leominster for a few years. But then she saw a job for an event groom advertised which turned out to be for Oliver Townend so her journey as an event groom began. Amy worked for Oliver for 2 seasons, 2016 and 2017 and was enjoying a well earned holiday in Lanzarote when Piggy French got in touch. Piggy had happened to ring up a friend of Amy’s asking if she knew anyone looking for a travelling groom job and Amy was recommended. She started working for Piggy in January 2018.
Asked about her hopes for the next few years, Amy replied “Well if we can try and do half as well as this year that would be a good start! 2020 is obviously the Olympics, so it would be amazing if we could get there, if all goes well and we have a bit of luck! And I guess just trying to win another 5* is always the dream. And seeing what happens with the lovely younger horses we have coming through.” Piggy won 38 events in total this year, 15 of which were Internationals, so ‘half as well‘ would still be many more than most rider’s achieve!
It’s a well known fact that being a groom is a labour of love with no such thing as regular hours. You have to have a real passion for the horses and also for the sport and there’s no doubt Amy has both of these in abundance. While a normal day begins at 7am and finishes at 5pm, an event day can start as early as 1.30am with the latest finishes being the ones involving an over-night drive home, such as the events abroad including the Europeans and Kentucky this year, getting home at 7 in the morning. And of course she does quite a lot of the driving. Especially tiring are the back to back International 3 day events such as Kentucky in the USA which is the week before Badminton. At one day events, Piggy will often ride 5 horses in a day and if there are working pupils or resident riders competing too, there will be a couple more.
When asked about her spare time during the event season, not surprisingly Amy says she likes to eat and sleep mostly. She’s not the first person who works with horses to say that! But she also loves going to the cinema and hanging out with her friends and boyfriend Charlie. There’s no holiday planned this winter, but a week in Mallorca with friends at the end of June gave her a short break this year.
As we all know, the horses still have to be done on Christmas day, so at Piggy’s yard the Christmas day routine only differs slightly depending on who’s around and how many horses are in! The horses aren’t ridden but all either go out or on the walker. ‘It’s like a normal day but we all have breakfast together and then whoever works has lunch with Piggy, husband Thomas and their son Max as well as whoever else is over for the day!’ This year Amy will work in the morning and then drive home to Hereford to have lunch with her family.
It sounds like they are a great team and have a lot of fun. 5 people live on site plus Piggy, Thomas and their son Max. They’re such good friends that they all socialise together. Amy clearly loves her job and especially the horses… “all Piggy’s horses are my horses. I love them like my own.” and before I even asked about her employer, Amy said…: “And ‘Pigs’ is awesome!“
Horse and Hound asked Piggy for a few words about Amy and she said…“Amy’s dedication is second to none. She has a passion for the sport and the horses, and without her my dreams wouldn’t have come true.” And on Twitter she said: “Her dedication and drive is second to none and exactly the model that the horse industry needs: passion for a sport and love for the horses.” Here here! Congratulations Amy
All photos by Sally Newcomb.