Many eventing grooms work for upper-level riders while also actively competing their own horses. Savannah Kilpatrick, the recipient of the 2016 Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event Groom’s Award, is no exception to this. She’s has been taking care of business at Lillian J. Heard Eventing one four-star at a time, all the while competing her own horse, a Thoroughbred gelding named Soul Blues, at Training with eyes on Preliminary this summer.
In the three years that she has been a part of Lillian’s team, Savannah has played a major role in the rise of Lillian’s career. She has groomed three times at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event, once at Le Etoiles de Pau CCI4* and countless horse trials. We caught up with Savannah to talk about her life as a groom and her goals as a groom and a rider.
EN: How long have you been working with Lillian? How did you get your start with her?
Savannah: “Before I started with Lillian, I worked for the Jon and Jennifer Holling for a while. I think when you’re in a program for a long time you get to the point when you know its time to move on, and I was there. I called my friend Ashley Adams who told me to call Lillian, so I did. I talked to her for a while and really liked that she was an up-and-coming rider, I liked that I was going to be able to go with her to all the shows and be a part of her progression as a rider. I’ve been there for about three-and-a-half years now, which seems crazy.”
EN: Did you have any previous grooming experience? Is there someone that you look to for advice?
Savannah: “Other than the Holling’s, I would groom for random local people in Tallahassee, my hometown. As far as advice goes, I would say Shannon (Kinsley), Emma (Ford), and Lizzie Olmstead.”
(Shannon Kinsley is currently the head groom for Lauren Kieffer and the 2015 recipient of the PRO Liz Cochran Memorial Groom’s Award. Emma Ford is the head groom for Phillip Dutton, and co-author of the grooming bible World Class Grooming for Horses. Lizzie Olmstead is not only a very accomplished groom, winning the USEA Groom’s Award in 2009, but also competes at the upper levels alongside her husband Courtney.)
EN: You ride as well. How do you balance riding and grooming?
Savannah: “Having your own horse and grooming full time is definitely hard, but having a good working student to share the work with makes it a lot easier. I think that having a horse of your own makes all the hard work worth it. To be able to ride at the end of the day gives me something to look forward to.”
EN: How has being in a program like Lillian’s improved your riding?
Savannah: “Tremendously. It’s not necessarily just my lessons, I learn so much just from watching her lessons with Boyd (Martin) and Jacquie (Brooks). Lillian is really good at not over doing it in my lessons, which is what I need. If I need help on the flat she will get on, which helps a lot. She lets me work on things and figure it out for myself and come to her when I need help.”
EN: What are your long term riding goals? Grooming goals?
Savannah: “I would love to do a two-star. Obviously going to Rolex is everyone’s goal but that’s more of a dream than a goal. I want to groom at Burghley. I have always wanted to go to Burghley. Going overseas anywhere with the team would be awesome though. Other than Burghley, I would love to go to Badminton. Badminton is such a big deal for eventers. And of course, I want to go to the castle.”
EN: You went to Pau in 2015 with Lillian and Share Option. From a groom’s perspective, how are events overseas different than ones in the U.S.?
Savannah: “The atmosphere is so big, and there are people everywhere. All of the top riders and grooms that you look up to are there, and they were all so nice to us. Everyone seemed really down to earth which was nice. And of course the pastries. The pastries made Pau.”
EN: You’ve groomed at multiple four-stars. Does it get less stressful?
Savannah: “Yes! Completely. The first time at Kentucky was a huge eye opener. You walk around trying to look like you know what you’re doing, but you can’t even find the bathroom. The next time you can find your way around which makes everything a lot easier. Watching other people has really helped me. I would watch what other grooms were doing with their horses and try it on mine. Once you figure out what you’re supposed to be doing it’s much easier.”
EN: What is your favorite part about going to shows?
Savannah: “My favorite part is making horses look their best; I like it when they look pretty. It’s fun as a groom because its your time to shine. I also really like organizing the tack stall.”
EN: What are you favorite events for grooming? For competing your own horses?
Savannah: “I love both Kentucky and Plantation. I like a lot of them but Chattahoochee Hills is definitely my favorite to ride at.”
EN: As far as day to day tasks, what are you favorite and least favorite?
Savannah: “I hate cleaning saddles. I don’t know why but I do. I love cleaning stalls though.”
EN: What advice would you give to people who are interested in becoming a groom and/or working student?
Savannah: “Don’t expect to show up and start riding right away, prepare to work for it. Also, don’t expect to eat or sleep. I think you should give the program a year before you decide to leave, and always do a trial period to make sure you actually like these people. It will be the best experience you will ever have. Its also important to know what you’re looking for in terms of the program; there is a huge difference between big and small programs. And remember, you’re not just there to party.”
EN: If you weren’t grooming, what would you be doing?
Savannah: “If I wasn’t doing this, I would be in college going to med school.”
EN: What do you do to keep from getting burnt out?
Savannah: “I think that going to shows and seeing all of my friends keeps me from getting burnt out. I also think having my own horse to ride every day and to compete keeps me motivated.”
A huge thank you to Savannah for taking a minute to talk, and good luck to you and team LJH!