As we leave the past weekend’s World Cup competition in Las Vegas behind and close in on Rolex Kentucky 2015 (April 23-26, 2015), it stands to reason we’d spend a little time in awe of the world’s top riders and the horses with whom they conquer massive jump courses and dance intricate dressage steps.
But there’s more to these successful partnerships than what we see in the spotlight. Outside the competitive arena, beside every great horse, stands a great groom (damp rag and hoof oil in hand). These hard-working individuals are often the earliest to rise and the last to leave the barn. They travel in the back of trailers and the underbellies of planes to keep watch over their charges. And they master the ritual, labor, and indeed, the artistry involved in ensuring healthy, happy horses that shine like the lucky side of a new dime, inside and out.
With the first jog at Rolex on the horizon (scheduled for tomorrow at 3 pm), Emma Ford, head groom to gold-medal-winning event rider Phillip Dutton’s string and co-author of the season’s must-have book WORLD-CLASS GROOMING FOR HORSES, stole a few precious minutes from her busy day to tell us what life is like on True Prospect Farm.
For those of you not familiar with eventing, every work day for the event horse varies. Day 1 might be a hack day, Day 2 jog and flat, Day 3 flat and jump… For the purpose of this blog, I am going to tell you about a gallop day. For me there is no “typical” day at True Prospect. With so many horses in work, plans can change hourly, and who knows what is waiting around the corner to surprise us. Being flexible and being able to cope with last-minute decisions is a must.
6:00 am Whilst I’m making my coffee and feeding my faithful sidekick Charlie, one of the working students feeds the barn of anywhere from 30 to 45 horses. We have a rotation for AM feedings and late-night check, that way no one person gets stuck doing it multiple times.
7:00 am Arrive at barn. Immediately I go to check the legs of the three horses heading to Rolex. For me, I feel every day is primarily about the safety and care of the horses; however, after the Rolex horses have run their last prep run at the Fork Horse Trials in North Carolina, I become ultra-paranoid about the possibility of missing a small abnormal cut or swelling that could alter the horses’ chance of getting to Kentucky.
7:15 am Horses on night turnout come in, and it is about now I start to hear, “EMMA!” called from numerous directions. The usual question: “What blankets are the horses to wear?” If I had a dollar for all the times I am asked that question, I would be a very rich groom!
7:30 am Tack up Happy (Mighty Nice) for Phillip to go galloping. Phillip reminds me that NBC is coming to film at 9:00 am. Shoot! I do a walk through the barn, getting the guys to muck a little quicker while I tidy up—have to make sure those blankets are folded just so!! [Editor’s Note: Find out how in WORLD-CLASS GROOMING FOR HORSES!]
8:00 am Need to run to buy ice. Phillip will be back by 8:45. I always wonder what the local gas station attendant thinks I am doing, buying 12 bags of ice every four to five days. He never asks, so I don’t tell!
9:00 am Phillip returns, the NBC crew arrives, the training log book has been done, so the first set of horses get tacked up for their riders. NBC wants to film in the tack room, so I grab as much tack as I think we might need in order to avoid disturbing the interview…Oh…and, “Everybody keep the noise level down!” Meantime, Happy is standing in ice for 20 minutes. He only tries to jump out once…that’s good going for him.
10:00 am I head to the feed room to make up lunches and dinners…Must remember to call in that grain order. That’s odd, Caileigh is jogging up the path. I ask what’s up and am told the neighbor’s pigs are out and Fred jumped out of his paddock.” GREAT!! Grab a bucket of grain and get everybody on the ground to put horses in stalls, grab halters, and head out to catch Fred! Luckily for us, Fred cleared the fence and stayed near the next paddock. However, I say, “Bacon anyone?!”
11:00 am Feed lunch, bring in all horses, switch those round pens…”Everybody has been out…correct?” NBC want to film Evie and Phillip galloping the other Rolex horses, so I say, “Okay girls, they need to be show-ready in 10 minutes…hoof oil please! I’ll grab the sponsor pads.”
12:00 pm I ice Happy once more and put him on the Vitafloor for half an hour, then groom him, check his legs, and turn him out to the paddock for downtime. Phillip and Evie arrive back from galloping, cameras in tow! I really want to clip their horses this afternoon, so they get full shampoo baths, and I ice twice.
1:00 pm Make up morning feeds. I then take a horse to the vet clinic to get evaluated. We are extremely lucky to have Dr. Kevin Keane’s practice located literally next door, so if I need medications, have an emergency, or have to get that passport stamped, it is all at my fingertips.
2:00 pm I check Jack’s (Fernhill Fugitive’s) legs. They feel nice and tight. So I start the clipping session. Whilst doing this I have to organize my team for the afternoon. Changes to night turnout, what horses still need grooming, and let’s not forget about soaking Jackson’s foot and re-wrapping it. I rely heavily on my team to let me know if any horse has a slight abnormality that needs attention. With the number of horses we have in the barn, I do not get a chance to personally check each of them over every day.
3:00 pm On a good day, most of the riding is done by 3:00 pm. Then everybody shares in the afternoon chore duties.
4:00 pm Jack gets his post-clip bath with apple cider vinegar to try and prevent his skin from breaking out. I get Happy in, check his legs, and they feel great, so I wrap him up for the night. I use Stayons Poultice Wraps, which have made my life so much easier. They are much more time-efficient and have put an end to clay poultice all over myself and the horse!
The barn is fed dinner around 4:00, so I let Cuba (Fernhill Cubalawn) finish his meal before starting his Rolex clipping session. It takes me over an hour to get him done. By this time the barn is hopefully cleaned, but I maybe still have to wrap, roll, fold, and put away that laundry pile!
6:00 pm Bathe Cuba, and groom and wrap Jack before turning him out for the night. I do a walk-through of the barn to ensure horses are happy and correctly blanketed. I put Cuba on the Vitafloor and this helps to dry him quicker. (It is a vibrating plate that helps with circulation.) Then, time to groom him, check his legs, and wrap him for the night.
7:00 pm I’m done for the day, so home to shower and have a little downtime with friends before heading to bed, hopefully by 9:30 to rest up for tomorrow. I wonder what that will bring? Hopefully sound, happy, healthy horses and no more escaped pigs!!
Get hundreds of grooming tips from the pros in WORLD-CLASS GROOMING FOR HORSES by Cat Hill and Emma Ford, with over 1200 color photographs!
And get find all you need to enjoy the thrilling sport of eventing in MODERN EVENTING WITH PHILLIP DUTTON by Phillip Dutton with Amber Heintzberger.
Be sure to read the other installments in the TSB “Horseworld by the Hour” blog series:
Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of horse books and DVDs, is a small, privately owned company based on a farm in rural Vermont.