In the closing months of the year, ostensibly the holiday season for eventers, Kerryn Edmans isn’t taking a break from the travel that’s seen her criss-crossing Europe and the Atlantic all year. Instead, the Cavalor FEI Groom of the Year and head groom for U.K.-based New Zealanders Tim and Jonelle Price, the husband-and-wife duo currently leading the FEI World Eventing Rankings, is helping to harvest canola, beans, barley and wheat in rural Australia.
“I’m in the Australian Outback, so the signal’s a bit dodgy,” she says with a laugh, explaining that her boyfriend likes “chasing the harvest,” and so there she is, once again getting stuck into a job and enjoying every moment of it.
It’s hard to say whether that’s an Edmans thing specifically or, more broadly, an enviably Kiwi quality, the innate ability to go where the wind takes you, roll your sleeves up, and do what needs doing while making it all seem like good fun. Certainly, she’s got it in spades, as do her employers the Prices, for whom she’s worked, on and off, since 2012.
Even that, the dream job of most eventing fanatics, came about as the result of a bit of an ongoing joke in the Edmans’ household when she was growing up.
“My mum actually worked for Tim when he was still based in New Zealand,” Edmans says of her mother, Michelle Faulks, “and that’s how I met the Prices. It was always a bit of a running joke when I was growing up that I’d end up going to England and working for them one day—and then in 2012 I finished school and I was like, ‘Um, actually, I have no idea what I want to do, so I think I will go work for them for a bit!’ That turned into seven years.”
Though Edmans grew up surrounded by horses, eventing wasn’t her childhood focus.
“My mother used to muster wild horses and then break them in and sell them on, so she learned horsemanship very early on and passed that on to me,” she says. “I did a little bit of Pony Club and inter-school stuff, and a little bit in the show ring, but I wasn’t overly competitive. It was much more broad, just having horses in my life—but I did always have an enjoyment of watching eventing since I was a kid, which is probably what led me to working for Tim and Jonelle instead of going to work for any other riders or in another discipline.”
Once she’d made the enormous journey from New Zealand to the United Kingdom, her broad experience was put straight to the test.
“I was a deer in the headlights for the first year,” she recalls, laughing. “When I first went to work for them, they didn’t have much structure in the yard. There wasn’t a head groom or a main traveling groom or anything like that, and they were still pretty green themselves.”
Over the following year, though, the bones of the operation began to set into place.
“Lucy Miles came in as head girl, and then I became her second in command—and working under her for a year or two meant that I got a feel for how everything worked and the eventing scene and culture. But that first year I was an absolute stargazer. Everywhere I went, I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m mixing with the best in the world!’ ”
Now, she and Lucy split management responsibilities, with Edmans working as the head traveling groom while Lucy, who now is raising her young son, takes on more home-based tasks. The division of responsibilities was a natural fit for Edmans to step into after 3.5 years away from grooming. She left Tim and Jonelle’s in late 2016, after the Rio Olympics, to work as a veterinary technician for Christiana Ober, the team veterinarian for the New Zealand eventing squad, who’s based near Tim and Jonelle in the Wiltshire, England, countryside.
“I decided I’d done everything I wanted to and was content with what I’d achieved as a groom, and I wanted to have a bit more of a structured lifestyle,” Edmans says. “So I went to work for Christiana for three and a bit years. And then, going into 2020, I was actually going to do a sports massage course for humans, but then COVID happened, so that had to take a back seat.”
Instead, she cut her hours with Christiana down to part-time and picked up further part-time work running the water treadmill at Tim and Jonelle’s yard.
“That’s when Jonelle offered me a job back. It was meant to be through Tokyo, which has now become through [the 2022 FEI Eventing World Championships in Pratoni, Italy], and now I haven’t really got a set plan or a date in mind,” she says, adding that she plans to stay through the 2024 Paris Olympics, at least. “After that, I might need to think about a life outside of grooming, but for now it’s year by year.”
Because of the number of horses that the Prices run, competition grooming roles are divided among the staff. As the team’s most senior traveling groom, Edmans takes on the bulk of the top-end responsibilities, including most four-stars, five-stars and championships, while also training less experienced staff members.
“I do the bigger shows because I can oversee the whole thing when the pressure’s really on—and when we have eight horses out at a three-day, it’s easier for me to run it than it might be for some of the other staff to take it on,” she says.
During her tenure at the Prices, Edmans has seen some of the riders’ greatest accomplishments, including Tim’s first CCI5* win in 2014 with Wesko, and a spate of five-star victories for both riders across the past 12 months that have helped them take the No. 1 (Tim) and 2 (Jonelle) world ranking spots. That makes it particularly tricky for her to pick out a high point in her career.
“To have a five-star win with each of the bosses this year was amazing,” she said. “I won Pau [France] with Tim last year, and so to come back and win it with Jonelle and get another win with Tim [at the Mars Maryland 5 Star] was special. And as a team, leading into the Paris Olympics, it was so nice to see New Zealand get up onto the podium at Pratoni. They’ve worked bloody hard over the last few years, and it’s always been just on the edge of not quite being there, but being really close. To finally get them on there was really cool.”
But for Edmans, whose approach is a wholly horse-first one, more than any one result, she is most proud of the longevity of her favorite charges’ careers. The Prices retired three of their top horses at the end of this season after exceptionally long careers: Jonelle’s 2018 Badminton winner Classic Moet, Jonelle’s 2018 Luhmühlen winner Faerie Dianimo and Tim’s 2018 Burghley winner Ringwood Sky Boy.
“It was really nice to see out Faerie Dianimo and Classic Moet’s careers, because I’ve looked after them since 2013, and they’ve been a very special part of my grooming. That’s a really proud moment of my career,” she says.
Ringwood Sky Boy and Classic Moet (“Molly”) both capped their careers with a successful 2022 season, looking in their prime at 19 years old. The secret to this, Edmans reckons, is the horses’ own tenacity.
“I think there’s some horses that wouldn’t cope with how much they’ve done, but Ringwood Sky Boy and Classic Moet are similar, in a way, in that if you looked at them in a line-up of 100 other horses, you wouldn’t pick them out as five-star winners. But I think their heart and their determination to be the best they can be is probably why they’ve got as far as they have and for as long as they have,” she says. “I’m sure ‘Molly’ is currently in the field wondering why she’s not being brought in for Badminton—she’s going to have a rude awakening when her shoes don’t go back on!”
The retirement of Edmans’ two favorite mares was a bittersweet and special moment, but already, there are young guns waiting in the wings to be her next star charges. Under her auspices, all three—Grappa Nera, who won the Pau CCI5* in October with Jonelle; Coup De Coeur Dudevin, who won the Mars Maryland 5 Star earlier that month with Tim; and Falco, who with Tim won Pau in 2021 and double bronze at the world championships in Pratoni, Italy, in September—had extraordinary 2022 seasons.
“My three have always been Bango, Classic Moet and Faerie Dianimo, but there are some up-and-coming ones that will fill their shoes,” she says. “Grappa Nera is like a combination of Molly and ‘Maggie’ [Faerie Dianimo]: She’s got Maggie’s ability and extravagance and maybe that tendency to become a little tense, but she’s got a bit more of Molly’s heart. She’s quite a cool mare that I’ve grown close to.”
Each of the horses in the Prices’ yard is given the space and the grace to let their character bloom, which is one of the parts of the job Edmans finds most rewarding—and most important.
“We’re so lucky; there’s such a broad range of personalities, but they’re all very nice to deal with,” she said. “I think it does come down to being able to be a normal horse. They’re turned out for part of the day all year round, and they never lose that unless they’re in Spain, which is a bit different. I think allowing them to be as much of a normal horse as possible as well as being an athlete creates a good horse that’s motivated to do the job.”
Like their horses, the Prices themselves are very different from one another, even down to their grooming pet peeves and preferences, which can be found on a huge white board in the yard. Where one might want their horses’ tails brushed before each ride, for example, the other may have a strict no-brushing rule unless at a competition.
“They’re literally opposite; it’s hilarious,” says Edmans. “They have to have their set rules, and everyone understands, but it’s the poor new staff who have to learn which horse and which rules go with which rider!
“They’re very different to work for, but I really enjoying working for both of them,” Edmans adds. “Jonelle is very structured, which you can see it in her personality—she’s disciplined, and she comes across tough, but she’s actually pretty soft. Tim’s the nice, casual, happy-go-lucky guy, but he’s got his secret little quirks under there! He probably gets more tense than most people realize, but he takes it all on very well.
“He makes me more nervous than Jonelle does when they go cross-country, funnily enough—I don’t know why,” she adds. “I’m never nervous watching Jonelle.
Despite their differences, both Prices are conscious of the enormous role their team plays, and each works hard to ensure that life for the grooms isn’t a slog—a huge boon in a career Edmans concedes isn’t an easy one.
“It’s a lot of hard work and it’s long hours and, you know, they’re very good eventing riders, but unfortunately in this industry, there’s not a lot of financial benefit coming back,” she says. “I think that’s the hardest thing to start getting people into the job, as they want this big pay package and they want this and that, and the reality is it’s not there.
“If you want to be a hard-working groom, then you’re going to have to take that sacrifice to get up at 2 a.m. every now and then and then drive four hours up the road to event four to 10 horses and then drive all the way back and sort them out when you get home,” she continues. “But they’re very good to us—on a random Friday they’ll just put a barbecue on for us off their own backs; it’s not requested or anything like that. So I think they very much appreciate how much hard work goes into everything, and they give back as much as they can.”
Tim and Jonelle are also staunch believers in the power of balance: when they’re abroad for shows, they make sure to find time to explore the local area and enjoy the perks of life on the road, and they want their staff members to enjoy the same quality of life that they do.
“When the off-season comes around they’re like, ‘Go off and have fun!’ and they’re like that at the shows, too,” Edmans said. “They’re almost disappointed if the younger grooms aren’t out having drinks in the evening, like, ‘Why aren’t they out at the party?!’ They’re good at trying to manage as much of a work/life balance as much as they can, which is so important, because you can get so consumed by this industry.”
Perhaps because of her positive experiences in a progressive yard, Edmans—who took the Cavalor Groom of the Year prize at the recent FEI Awards in Cape Town, South Africa—takes a keen interest in industry-wide proactivity for better representation for grooms. This, she explains, was at its best at this year’s FEI Eventing World Championships in Pratoni.
“It’s definitely going in the right direction,” she says. “At Pratoni, any productive feedback we provided, they really took on board. Like, they gave us these amazing lunch vouchers, and we said, ‘These are great, but can we have them so we can use them at the quick stand at the other end of the venue, so if we need to grab a quick panini or a salad when we’re busy, we can?’ They took that on board and said yes straight away.”
While in South Africa for the FEI Awards, she also took the time to chat to the folks at the forefront of the organization, including Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez.
“It was really interesting going to the gala and talking to some of the people higher up in the FEI,” she says. “All they want to do is continue making sure there’s a good basis for grooms at every show—that they’re well looked after and listened to—so it can continue to get better and become a more appealing job. Maybe not one you’d get into long-term, sure, but I think it’s a great way to spend your twenties. You get to travel to some amazing places, see the world, and work with some great horses.”
With a renewed interest in the career from horse-mad high school graduates, Edmans says with a laugh, “We can hire some youngsters, and I can retire again!”