We love celebrating and learning about the #supergrooms who make this sport go around — quite literally! — so we’re on a mission to interview as many grooms as we can to learn about their journeys. Catch up on the other interviews from this series here and nominate a #supergroom of your own by emailing [email protected]! Today, we get to hear from Sophie Hulme.
Sophie Hulme was based in California with James Alliston for a few years before making a jump and moving to the UK to study equine science at Hartpury University. “I geared my degree toward competition horses and I specialized in performance and therapy rehab because I knew I wanted to manage performance horses and event horses,” Sophie said.
While at Hartpury, Sophie took nutrition courses, learned about equine performance, and studied how to keep horses maintained instead of always trying to treat an injury after the fact. “I loved it because I was really struggling when I was in high school with what to study. All my friends were doing history and English, and I wanted to do something that is going to allow me to do the horses but I need something that’s going to help pay for the horses.”
Sophie’s parents are English, so they were able to help her find Hartpury. Growing up, Sophie visited the UK to see her grandparents often, so moving there at 19 years old wasn’t a huge adjustment for her. “You’re not going to move countries often in your life, in theory. I thought I might as well come and do it while I’ve got the opportunity.”
Her studies have helped her in running her own business in the UK, training her own horses as well as teaching. She still grooms for James when she gets the chance, and grooms for friends from time to time.
James asked if she could help him out at Boekelo this past September. “Obviously I’m a lot closer to the Netherlands than California, so I said yes!”
Sophie hasn’t competed abroad herself, so grooming for James for the FEI Eventing Nation’s Cup was a valuable opportunity. “Getting to know the other grooms and that side of having a team aspect as well was quite fun and different. Everyone rallied together, which was really quite nice, to support every member on the team.”
On the way to Blair Horse Trials in 2021, Sophie lost her top three horses in a trailer accident. She had planned to run them in the 2* at Blair and then look toward competing in a 3* in Europe. As things were loosening up after COVID, Sophie was looking forward to finally getting out again at Blair.
“It was really hard for a while, getting used to [the fact that] we lost them,” she recalled. At the time, Sophie had two other horses at home — five and six years old. “We’ve rebuilt the yard in terms of horse power, and rebuilt myself up in terms of it affecting me a lot more than I expected to, in terms of getting back into competing.”
Her first event getting back out there was difficult, especially getting used to the changes in her line-up of horses. “We’re not all three-star again yet, but we will get there hopefully in the next year or two with some of the new ones.”
Sophie was eager to groom for James at Boekelo since she was still rebuilding her yard after the accident.
“It was really nice for James to let me groom for him at an upper level like that because, at some point, I would love to be at that level,” she said. “You get to be a part of everything in a different capacity when you’re grooming, which I think is really fun and really cool because you’re still a part of the team at the end of the day.”
Sophie is “definitely a mare person,” having six mares in her yard at the moment– all at different levels. She’ll be gearing them up to compete regularly and hopefully run some 2* and 3* next year.
“The thing that frustrated me when we lost the ones at the crashes, I’d had two of those for years and I’d built the relationship and I knew them inside and out. It’s hard; you can’t just build that relationship, you can’t speed it along.”
Sophie hasn’t been rushing her newbies up the levels. Instead, she’s taking the time to get to know them and strengthen their relationships. She is a jack of all trades: riding at the upper levels, grooming, and teaching too! She’s certified at a Level 2 UK Coaching Certificate (UKCC) and is working on becoming Level 3 certified.
“One of the positives out of the crash was it gave me the time I didn’t have before the crash to teach and coach,” she said. As she’s done more coaching in the past two years, she’s learned that she really enjoys it.
“I really enjoy seeing clients progress and then the excitement they get from progressing. I find it contagious and it pushes both of you to work harder and make it better. I find a lot of satisfaction seeing my clients get that enjoyment out of actually reaching a goal, which it’s sometimes small and sometimes it’s big.”
Go Sophie and Go Eventing.
The EN #Supergroom series is brought to you thanks to support from Achieve Equine, providers of FLAIR Equine Nasal Strips, VIP Equestrian, and Iconic Equestrian.