Behind the champions: Sean Vard’s dedication to Martin Fuchs’ success

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In the high-stakes world of international show jumping, the spotlight often shines on the riders who expertly navigate their horses through complex courses. Yet, behind every successful rider is a dedicated team, and at the heart of this team is the groom.

For Martin Fuchs, one of the world’s top show jumpers currently ranked 6th in the FEI Longines Ranking, that crucial role is filled by Sean Vard, a seasoned professional who has devoted the last eight years to ensuring the success and well-being of Fuchs’ horses.

Early Beginnings

Born and raised in Ireland, Sean Vard’s journey into the equestrian world began on the back of a horse. “I started originally riding,” Vard recalls. Sean Vard’s family has deep roots within the equestrian sport. His father, Taylor Vard, has acted as Chef d’Equipe on several occasions for the Irish Show jumping team over the last 20 years. Sean’s mother, Liz Vard, is an FEI steward level III.

After several years of show jumping and dedication to the sport as a rider, Sean made the decision to approach the sport from a different perspective. “There came a point where I decided I wasn’t really strong enough to make it in the big sport. So I said, okay, if I cannot make it as a rider, I would like to be a groom or a manager and help someone achieve high results,” Vard tells HSJ.

Life in Switzerland

Today, Sean lives in Wängi, a small town in the province of Thurgau, about 20 km from Zürich, but his work takes him far beyond its borders. For the past eight years, he has been the backbone of Martin Fuchs’ showroom in Switzerland. His daily tasks and the dedication he brings to his role are pivotal to the team’s success. “I’m doing it because I love it and I love working with the animals,” Sean says. “I get a big kick out of seeing the horses do well and everything going in the right direction.”

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Lifelong Learning

Vard’s experience and passion are evident. He emphasizes that learning never stops in this industry. “You’re learning every day from other people, from new technologies,” he explains. “Every day is a challenge. You can learn so much from other people, from yourself, from your horses, from your rider. It’s motivating every day to try and teach yourself something new.” Vard says, “That’s what keeps me going, the fact that there is always a new challenge and something new to experience everywhere we go.”

Career Highlights

Working with one of the best riders in the world brings its own rewards. Together with Team Fuchs, Sean can look back on many prestigious wins all over the world. When we asked Sean to reflect on his career highlights, he fondly remembers the individual title at the European Championships in 2019 with Clooney 51 in Rotterdam.

“This was a massive achievement for us. He was close in a couple of championships before, and he really deserved the gold medal. This was by far one of my greatest moments as a groom,” Sean emphasizes. In fact, for Sean, this was his first gold medal at a Championship, which makes it a very special and unforgettable moment for his grooming career.

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Special Bonds

Among the many horses that have come through their stable, one holds a special place in Sean’s heart. “From the current horses, my best connection is with Leone Jei. We’ve been to some championships together, and I really know him inside out.

He’s been with us since he was six years old. Today he is double that age, so I really got the chance to get to know him through all these years,” Sean says. “He has been and still is an incredible horse for us. He has a beautiful personality, great character, so from the current horses, he is on top of the list,” Sean continues. “But no one will ever replace Clooney at the end of the day.”

The Demands of the Job

However, the life of a groom is not without its challenges. The demanding schedules and long hours on the road are significant hurdles. “It’s a very demanding job timewise. You have to sacrifice a lot to be really involved in this industry like I am,” Sean admits.

“Driving long nights is quite demanding. The show schedules are very heavy at times. But when you’re motivated, then this seems okay, and there’s always time to catch up after.”

Industry Changes and Future Vision

The grooming profession has seen significant changes in recent years, with increased recognition and support. The industry has taken drastic turns in the last few years, in all directions and divisions. Sean is optimistic about the future.

“We have been recognized much greater in the last few years, thanks to the help of the IGA, the International Grooms Association, and the FEI. It is going in a good direction, but it still needs to keep going. In ten years’ time, I hope there will be a greater standard of rights for grooms, certain regulations, and laws that ensure proper working conditions.”

Well-Being of Grooms

Sean Vard envisions a future where the well-being of grooms is prioritized. “In ten years’ time, I really hope there’s going to be a greater standard of rights for grooms. Certain regulations and laws need to come in where grooms have to obey specific hours, receive fair pay, and work under decent conditions,” he explains.

“It’s all going in the right direction, but it needs to keep progressing. With improvements in the conditions and greater respect for grooms, the industry will become a more attractive career path.” Sean specifies that there should be laws about working hours, certain standards of payments, conditions also for when it comes to the show

organizers and their schedules. There are certain show schedules that allow grooms to rest and achieve a certain amount of sleep at night. A lot still must be worked on when it comes to the well-being of grooms, but everything is starting to go in the right direction, making the industry a better place for everybody.

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Future Aspirations

Sean has already had a long and successful career within the industry; many goals can be ticked off the box. However, looking ahead, Sean’s aspirations are clear. “I’m missing one medal for my collection, and that’s an Olympic medal,” he shares. And as we all wonder what comes after achieving this ultimate goal, with a smile, Sean concludes, “After that, you’ll find me in the Bahamas.”

Sean Vard’s dedication, expertise, and love for his work make him an invaluable part of Martin Fuchs’ team, demonstrating that behind every great rider is an exceptional groom who helps make it all possible.

V. Sozzi

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