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Emma Ford

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A Letter to Me — Emma Ford

We’re pleased to share the latest in Athletux’s series, A Letter To Me, featuring the perspectives of equestrian professionals we look up to. To learn more about Athletux, click here. You can read other editions of this series on the Athletux blog here.

Previous letters: Tamie Smith | Jennifer Wooten | Katy Robinson | Natalia Gurmankin | Joanie MorrisWill Faudree | Jan Byyny | Sara Kozumplik Murphy | Max Corcoran | Jacquie Brooks

Super groom Emma Ford and Mighty Nice. Photo by Jenni Autry.

A Letter to my younger self…

So much to see, so much to do, so much to learn, make up your mind Emma…you don’t have to figure it all out at once…. be flexible and let life guide you to the next step. “Turn off the radio station in your head that points out your failures” (Gerry Laybourne). You know Mum and Dad have brought you up to work hard for what you want in life. Knowing school would not be easy for you, they made available every opportunity for you to succeed. You will always struggle to express your thoughts and emotions in person and on paper but don’t let that hold you back.

The close friends you make on this journey will always be there to listen and understand. Going to university was not originally in the cards but with encouragement from teachers, friends, and family you made that step that has set you on this roller coaster of life. University has set you up with friends for life but also a thirst for travel and the need to see what the world has to offer. You know you always have a home full of love to go to when needed. Take that first step outside the box and see where it leads you…..

The USA… that’s where you will head.. Your mum and dad will worry for you, and even expect to see you home within 6 months but what you experience in the first year will set you on a path filled with travel, meeting idols, and working for and with the top equestrians in the sport. You will experience some amazing highs but there will be lows that you couldn’t imagine you would ever have to navigate. But you know what girl….you will get through them, you will learn from them and you will be a stronger and wiser person because of them.

You will arrive in Boston, Mass after taking the first flight of your life. It will be very turbulent due to storms, all your luggage is lost and you will land wondering what on earth you have done…. No cell phone, you call home,.. as in the UK… and yes your mum is there to fix things. This is your first dose of the reality of moving through problems in life momentarily feeling very alone. You are a common sense, logical thinker Emma, always have been. You try not to stress and keep repeating to yourself ‘things will work out”! They do…. the Iorios find you at Logon Airport and take you to their farm which you will come to love as your second home. By the way, life lesson: always pack spare underwear, a jumper, sorry “sweater”, and jeans in your carry-on. Mucking stalls in a long skirt on your first day is not quite the look you need to go for!

Apple Knoll Farm and the Iorio family will look after you and become your second family. Adrienne will encourage you to take in every aspect of a working horse farm life, from horse care, riding school ponies, teaching, driving the horse van, and running around your first preliminary course.

You get to meet many amazing people that will remain friends for life, but Sarah, another Brit, of course, will be the one who pushes your interest in grooming. True friendship takes time, but her level of knowledge and attention to detail with the horses will make you want to better yourself more and more. Don’t be afraid to ask questions Emma….if Sarah doesn’t have the answer she will help find one. This Sarah, she will introduce you to a new hobby that will take hold of your life. Dancing of course!

Z get’s some congratulatpry ear rubs from Emma Ford. Photo by Abby Powell.

In early 1999, you will make a very hard phone call to your parents, you will be given an offer to stay in the States that you just can’t refuse. Calling your parents will be upsetting because at first, they won’t understand why you don’t want to return home. They will come around Emma, well sort of….they want the best for you….they will be very proud of what you achieve over the years. Remember to stay in contact, don’t let life get so busy you forget to call home!

In 2000 you get to go to Australia with Adrienne. You get to watch the Sydney Olympics in person. The atmosphere is something you have never witnessed. You won’t know who to cheer for as the British take the team silver and the Americans the team bronze-oh and by the way your future boss is on the gold medal team! This is when you start to wonder what it would be like to be down in that parade of medalists. How can you be part of that team?

By the time you fly to Blenheim in 2002 with Show of Heart and Adrienne, you will have figured out that grooming at the top level is the way to go. You know you have the dedication to your horses, do you have the stamina? Your back will be starting to give you trouble, especially when riding. You need to start making decisions for longevity here Emma, you can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over and think it will fix itself.

In 2005, Adrienne brings a black lab puppy into your life that you will love like no other. Charlie will make you smile when you are down and sometimes mad at his antics, like chasing cyclists, but no matter your life choices he is a constant unconditional love in your life. The day he passes will be a very hard one but yet again, you will have a dear friend holding your hand.

A job opportunity will appear in front of you that on one hand seems like a no brainer, but on the other hand, you will wonder how you can possibly move away from Adrienne, Apple Knoll Farm, and all they have done for you in your 7 years there. Remember Emma, there are always going to be times in life when what’s right for you will hurt people or cause conflict, and those close to you will support you. Those that don’t understand your decision will eventually come around. Believe in yourself, you are the only one who can decide what makes you happy. It does sound selfish…but you have goals as well……go after them!

So that guy who you watched in Sydney, Phillip Dutton, well you will get to be on his payroll. Now you’re an English, working in America for an Australian. Make sure your passport is up to date because girl, you are in for a wild ride. You will make the decision that riding is off the cards, but you will get to take part in medal ceremonies!

Along the way, the family of grooms that you become a part of will be who you lean on when the extreme lows of losing horses or the unmentionable barn fire occur in your career. The grooms will also be the ones you celebrate with and make the best memories throughout your travels. From Carol Ann needing to feed horses at 3 in the morning to Marie Ann dancing away the night at Burghley Horse Trials, Joanie not killing you after your heavy 40th birthday celebration in Germany, Sally and Lindsey at Barbary Horse Trials and the mini micra adventures, partying around Hong Kong with Max, to Shannon, Lizzie, and Kelley sharing in the fun of Kentucky 2010 and the antics of hitting deer, bad directions, tornado warnings and much more!

That’s right you get to fulfill going to those events that as a kid you were glued to the TV, watching every horse fly over massive fences. There will be one on your bucket list, that for some unknown reason the universe doesn’t want you to attend. God will throw a Volcano and even a pandemic in your path of Badminton Horse Trials. I should mention here, that you will experience that Olympic medal ceremony with a horse that completely steals your heart from the moment you meet him. Rio 2016 will get forever engraved into your soul.

So how’s that life-work balance thing going to work out for you? Well to be honest you will struggle with it for a long time. You will leave the Dutton family only to return once…or twice! Rest assured thou Emma, you will have your “American sister” Amy as a sounding board when you feel conflicted and confused.

Emma Ford and Z. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

A surprising offer to be a co-author for a grooming book with Cat (Hill) might shine some light on how to live a less strenuous life. You will both start a business that feeds your thirst for encouraging people to want to know and love their horses on the ground as much as they do when riding. Don’t accept the attitude that it’s all in the riding. You know deep down that without good horse management skills you will not be part of this elite team. This will be your turn to share your knowledge. You need to focus on horse health management and longevity will start to be the main focus of your future.

You might need to start saying NO to things at some stage so you can move onto the next phase of living. Your body will complain, your work ethic will keep you moving forward, and your love for the horses and that trust and bond you work every day towards will lead you in the right direction. Above all Emma, believe in yourself, remember who you are as a person, and where you came from. You will come to call the USA home but England will always stay close in your heart.

Your parents are extremely proud of you, they do wish you would connect more often thou! You will have created a life for yourself that you never imagined as an 18-year-old. Be thankful, be kind, never stop listening, keep your chin up, keep dancing and when that chance to travel to Africa comes, jump in feet first… who knows where that trip will lead.

Love, Emma

Grooming with Emma Ford: The Winter Survival Guide

Emma Ford needs little introduction. As head groom for Phillip Dutton, she’s groomed at almost every five-star event in the world, and has been a crucial part of the US Eventing Team at Pan-Ams, World Championships, and Olympics. She’s also worked in the showjumping industry, the dressage world, and the hunt field. There’s not an awful lot she doesn’t know how to do – and we’re very excited that she’s sharing some of her formidable back-catalogue of knowledge as an Andis Animal Educator. First up? Her advice on how to get your horse looking his best in these tricky winter months.

A little bit of bad weather doesn’t stop a super groom! Emma Ford grazes Mr. Candyman. Photo by Jenni Autry.

During winter, depending on the state you live in, taking care of your horse’s coat can mean a routine consisting of a lot of mud removal from fully-grown coats, or a lot of currying for the clipped horse starting its competition season early.

I say it time and time again that effective grooming, after good nutrition, is the number one skill required to maintain a healthy coat. Scheduling time before or after riding to actively use some ‘elbow grease’ to curry, brush and repeat is a must in your daily horse care routine. Grooming is a great way to bond with your horse. Actively look at their expression as you work over their body; ears and eyes are a great tell if you are hitting a spot that may be sore or if they have a particular area that they really like being rubbed down.

Make sure you also spend time with your bare hands feeling over your horse’s entire body for any lumps, scratches, swellings or cuts that may have appeared since the last time you were in contact with them. Touch is your best guide for catching early signs of issues that could become problematic if not dealt with early on. The following are my three must-haves for the winter season to keep my competition horses looking their best, whilst defending some of the issues that come from moving from Pennsylvania to South Carolina to Florida and back during the beginning part of the season.

Emma Ford and Z. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

First are the Andis Pulse ZRII Clippers. These are my go-to clippers for any job that needs doing in the winter. By attaching a T84 blade, you can do the perfect body, blanket or trace clip regardless of the coat type. If you need to do some trimming use the Andis Ceramic 10, trimming at 1.5mm. This blade will give you neat and tidy ears, muzzles and jawline that blends in well with a winter coat, rather than taking too much hair off. These clippers are very efficient when you need to trim around wounds as they are cordless and allow you to reach all the hard to reach or moving target areas!

For show clips, I might use the Andis T10 blades to do the whole body. For heads I would change to the smaller regular 10 blade to maneuver around the eye sockets and facial crevices.

Next, Witch Hazel is a must have in all barns. It is a mild antiseptic that is great to apply as a final rub down to lift off that last layer of dust. It does not dry out the horse’s skin and can also aid in reducing skin irritations such as hives and bug bites, due to its natural astringent properties. If you are clipping with no time for a bath afterwards you can use this to wipe over their bodies and remove excess clipper oil. It can be used to clean minor wounds and is safe to use under bandages. I also apply it to legs as a liniment after a hard workout to aid in circulation and reduce swelling. A lot of store brands contain isopropyl alcohol so I suggest removing the lid and letting it sit for a while to help this evaporate before using.

Finally, I always have Shapley’s MTG on hand. From helping to grow and thicken manes and tails, to applying as a skin protectant, this product is my go to for the early start of skin funk. It can be applied to any areas of hair loss, like blanket rubs. It can be applied to healed wounds to aid in preventing scars and can be rubbed into legs that are susceptible to cannon crud. It will act as a barrier against moisture and therefore reduce the fungal build-up. If you already have a bad case of rain rot or leg crud, rub a healthy amount into the area to aid in softening and removing the scabs and getting back down to healthy skin. Like with any new product, always do a small test area to ensure your horse doesn’t react to it.

Want more expert grooming tips from Emma? Pick up a copy of her book, World Class Grooming for Horses: The English Rider’s Complete Guide to Daily Care and Competition, published by Trafalgar Square Books.