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A Letter to Me – Max Corcoran

If you could write a letter to your younger self, what would you say? That’s the topic of an ongoing series by Equestrian Marketing Firm Athletux. Today supergroom/USEA President Max Corcoran shares her letter.

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

Photo courtesy of Max Corcoran.

Dear Max,

Wear more sunscreen, drink more water, start practicing yoga, count to ten before answering … the advice I wish I had listened to when I was your age.

Get ready for a bumpy ride girl … you will have so many opportunities and adventures, but also heartbreak and tears. You will learn from them all – maybe not at first, but you will be stronger for it.

School will continue to be hard for you – you will struggle taking tests your entire life – sorry, but it’s true. Eventually, you will be diagnosed with a learning disability which will relieve you and justify the fact that you “just don’t work hard enough” isn’t who you are. You just learn a bit differently.

Your high school experience will be ever important – the foundation of your core soul will be created there – not only because of the age that you are during that time but because of the people there who will never give up on you. You will find yourself … it will be a bit blurry at the time, but that is life. It always makes more sense after the fact. The friends you make in high school will remain your friends 30 years later. This is something incredibly rare, so be sure to cherish all of your moments with them.

Sports will help keep you focused … you will play Ice Hockey at Northeastern – four years of travel on buses, late practices, and fabulous women. They will be stronger mentally and physically than you and you will try very hard to keep up with them. You will be plagued with injuries and you will battle back – you will have scars to prove it.  You will watch your teammates go on to play, coach, and become doctors for Olympic teams … Women’s Ice Hockey in the Olympics – yup, it happens!

Through all this, horses will keep your interest. You will spend summers wanting to be at the barn ALL THE TIME – but let me tell you – that will change, LOL. Your friend and coach, Bobby Costello, will go to the Olympics … and guess what, so will you — but as a groom, not a rider. Your summer crew will continue to live in Hamilton and they will get married and have kids. They will be jealous of the fact that you get to live every little girl’s dream of going to the Olympics … even though you are there grooming – for one of the best riders in the world – more on that later….

Marriage and kids won’t seem to suit you – and that’s okay, don’t let anyone tell you differently. You will have your share of boyfriends, and your heart will be broken and you will break some hearts too … it all ends up pretty great.

You will work in Boston for five years – you won’t ride for three of those years… but you will enjoy the challenge of this job and meet some really great people. One day, you will be ready for a change … and you won’t eat, and you won’t sleep, and you won’t know why. It will be February in Boston and the daylight will be slim – and just like that you will quit your job and go back to horses.

In the summer of 2001, you will get to travel with Jim Stamets and his quirky mare Bally-Mar. You will learn a lot from Jim about being a good horseman – and the mare will have a great year. You and Jim will laugh until you can’t breathe, drink Heineken, and enjoy the journey of the summer. In the blink of an eye, he will be gone. His failing heart will finally give up and you will be left with no job, no friend, and no thought of what to do next.  This will start your biggest adventure yet.

Because you took care of that mare like she was your own (Bally-Mar) – John and Dianne Pingree will believe in you and ask you a HUGE favor. You will drive your ailing Ford Escort station wagon to Middleburg, VA, following the trailer with Bally-Mar in it after packing most of your apartment and belongings and putting them in storage for what is supposed to be six months. Those six months will turn into 11 years … here’s why –

You are going to look after Bally-Mar for Karen O’Connor (you know her as Karen Lende). You will struggle when you arrive from intimidation as you try to break into the cult. Just keep your head down and keep working. Do what the bosses tell you. Ask questions, be honest, and don’t stop learning from every horse. You will meet a lifelong friend who will be your only friend for a while there. Slowly you will be let into the group and all will be good. These people will still be your best friends 20 years later – advice on horses and life will forever be a phone call away as a result.

Make sure your passport is always up to date because you will travel the world and get to go places and meet people you have only seen in magazines. Attention to detail will become paramount and years will appear to fly by. Hours on the road, set up and take down, braids, trot ups, finding the balance – always striving to be better so your rider will be more successful.  You will know your vet and farrier’s number by heart, and they will become like family. You will all stick together in triumph and tragedy … and you will have your fair share of both.

Your family of fellow grooms – they are irreplaceable. You will call each other when you have good news or bad news – you will travel and live in bizarre places. These will become adventures for a lifetime. You will learn to cherish every sleepless, hungry hour.

Through all this, your family will remain right behind you … they will joke about not hearing from you and looking at Facebook to know what state or country you are in. They love you and are proud of you and you will know that they are what makes your heart continue to beat. They are the energy in your soul.

After 11 years, you will leave everything you know once again. You will be very sad and confused, and it will feel like all your work was unacknowledged.  It will hurt and you will be angry – but this too will pass and you will learn from it.

It will be time to recreate you – it is scary and lonely and humbling and tough on the bank account.

The man that you fall in love with will have supported your journey for several years, and it will be your turn to support his. His new business will flourish and even though you will both travel in different directions; you will always be there for each other. People may not always understand him as he is fantastically unique – his heart is so good.

The good people in your life will give you opportunities. The not so good people will let you down. This is how the world works. It’s up to you to figure out who those people are… sorry – can’t make it too easy for you! You will find your balance.

Suddenly, with no warning at all, you will be standing in front of 400 people in Boston making a speech, sweating in nerves. Everyone will be staring at you. You are supposed to be saying something smart and thought-provoking … and of course, your family will be there.

You will be on this stage, with all eyes on you because you are now the president of what you know as the USCTA – it becomes the USEA a few years ago now. Somehow, you will make your way up in the governance world, which you may never understand because I still don’t. I guess your New England honesty is a curse and a blessing.  You will have great people around you – lean on them – it’s OK. The conference calls will get easier … and one day you will get one completely right!

Keep stretching – mentally and physically.

Wear a hat – cold or hot weather – they will serve you well in different capacities.

You will go grey early.

Coffee is your friend.

Be kind even when it’s hard.





Take a deep breath – it’s an amazing ride.




Equestrian Marketing Firm Athletux is proud to be one of the longest running agencies in the business, working exclusively with equestrian brands, athletes and events. Athletux understands your audience, utilizing innovative and creative ideas to build your brand and image. By integrating a passion for all things equine with drive and knowledge, you will achieve unparalleled results. Think of Athletux as an extension of your team, providing highly specialized tools to take your business to the next level. Learn more about how Athletux can help you revolutionize your business today. Visit for more information, or follow along via social @athletux. 

Fear of Caring Too Much

If you're not already following Max Corcoran's blog, you need to bookmark this link so you can keep reading great posts like this one. You can also follow her Sporthorse Consulting - Max Corcoran Horse Care Facebook page at this link. Many thanks to Max for allowing us to re-print this post.

The horses board Air Horse One for the flight to Galway Downs. Photo courtesy of Emma Ford.

The horses board Air Horse One for the flight to Galway Downs. Photo courtesy of Emma Ford.

I found myself in the desert last week for a horse show. To get there I had to drive from Ocala to Lexington, Kentucky with Katy Long (who grooms for Jon Holling) to meet the Tex Sutton plane with Emma Ford (who runs Phillip Dutton’s life), and one of my favorite Canadians, Jessie Phoenix, who was coming in from Allentown, Pennsylvania with Shannon Kinsley (who runs Lauren Kieffer’s barn) … Air Horse One — no frequent flyer miles getting collected on this flight!

My job was working for PRO; making sure the flights were organized and helping PRO members with whatever odds and ends I could to make sure their trip to Galway Downs was successful. Basically, I played cruise director … We had a pretty quiet week compared to what most of us are used to. Only one or two horses and all day to get them done!

When I groomed full time and ran the barn, I loved these trips — it gave me time to be one-on-one with the horses and give them all the time in the world. I loved and still love “my horses” … each had their own unique personality. They may not all be famous, but they were all very important to me.

I watched my friends all weekend, a bit envious of how much they cared for “their horses.” The pride they had in them when they were so good, the nerves while they were on course, the elation when they came home successfully and the sighs when it didn’t go as planned, but they were still home safe … an emotional rollercoaster. Now that I freelance, I don’t get that connection.

Grooms are way more invested than people give them credit for. We give our heart and souls to these horses. We love them like they are our children, we want them to be safe and sound. Being successful is a bonus.

This team of grooms out there are some of the best in the world. They are like family — no one can understand why we do this better then they do. We all sadly have had horses die on us, and people send condolences to the riders and the owners — but no one will miss that horse like the groom does. We know their winny versus a nicker, their fear versus stubbornness. We know what it’s like to touch their ears, and the way their breath feels when we snuggle their muzzle. And when that is gone — there is a hole in your heart.

On Sunday, I happily sighed as I saw Shannon — so proud of “Scarlett” even though she had one rail down. The mare has had an unbelievable year, finishing second and third in two CCI3* and helping the Pan American Games team secure a gold medal, and she is only 8. I smiled for my friend Emma as “Jack” cleared the last show jump to win the CCI3*. She was so nervous; she couldn’t watch from the in-gate …

Maybe these women have souls stronger than mine — we all have the fear … maybe I just cared too much?

Loss of a Legend

Max Corcoran shared a touching tribute to the great Giltedge, who died last week at age 29, on her blog and has kindly allowed us to re-print it on EN. If you haven't already, be sure to like Sporthorse Consulting — Max Corcoran Horse Care on Facebook to stay up to date with her latest blog posts.

David O'Connor and Giltedge on their way to winning the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in 2001. Photo used with permission from Shannon Brinkman. David O'Connor and Giltedge on their way to winning the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in 2001. Photo used with permission from Shannon Brinkman.

Here I am in Holland helping my other half with his jumping horse playing girlfriend/groom. It’s a new adventure for sure — it felt a bit odd not being at Burghley; in the middle of it all, the intensity, the nerves, the chilly air, the excitement, the bacon baps and the Pimms.

My phone rang around midnight, and I woke up in my still jetlagged state to see a missed call from the old boss, Karen — ah, she forgot I was in Holland, will call her tomorrow. But when I had a missed call today from my good friend and Stonehall manager, Sue Clarke, I knew something was up … something was not quite right. I listened to the message — another one of the Fab Four had died.

Giltedge was a fascinating horse. What most people saw was a plain brown horse with astonishing eyes. He won Rolex, he won actually almost every event he went in … he has won more medals for the U.S. than any other horse … so he is a hero to our country and eventing fans around the world.

He is a hero too to all that were lucky enough to work around him and know him. Not just for his accolades, but also for everything else that he was — I’ll explain, plain brown horse was anything but.

I started working for the O’Connor Event Team in the fall of 2001 — Karen and David were winning everything. I came into the barn and there was Tex across from Taylor (Custom Made) down the aisle from Prince Panache (seriously, is this the eventing hall of fame?) and without the nameplate on the stall door, you would have walked right by him. I was intimidated by all the greats there and was so worried about touching them, let alone leading them.

David was his best friend — their oddities challenged each other.

Sue Clarke was his wife of sorts — she made sure he had whatever he needed to keep him healthy and well throughout his career and retirement. If that meant waking up every four hours to administer eye medication in the middle of winter or cold-hosing a cut on a leg three times a day — Tex had what Tex needed, always. He was grateful, and she made sure he had dignity until his last breath.

Tex was not the fastest, the scopiest or the fanciest mover, but the guy had heart.

Sam Burton was his groom at the time — and she quickly told me what he likes and, more importantly, what he doesn’t like. “He runs hot, so he always wears one layer less than everyone else. He gets rubs on his legs and everywhere else, so polos and fuzzy whatever we have. He doesn’t cross tie, so don’t try it; just clip the cross ties in front of him and loop the lead rope around it.” Right — check — remember all this now. “Oh — and don’t touch his ears”.

He was tough to look after and I would watch Sam work around him — tricky eater, special saddles, no cross ties, special way to put his bridle on — none of it took more time, just a constant heads up — a very valuable lesson that I am lucky to have learned. It kept the horse and the staff happy.

Everyone worked around him with these rules and sometimes you would swear he had a bit of a sassy look on his face; “this is how I like it …” very regal and perhaps a bit judgy.

I got to ride Tex a bit — he taught me to sit very still — he had buttons that David had put there that were very specific — sit just the wrong way and you would get flying changes not half pass — and you had to be very soft and elastic with your hands or the head went straight up in the air.

He taught me a ton as far as looking after horses … how taking your time was critical, how there are many ways to accomplish something, how to listen to the horse; it actually helped me to work around a young Mandiba as he was tough and very quirky too! Tex wouldn’t cross tie — just would slowly back up until the cross tie broke and then stood there as to say, “You silly silly person, I don’t cross tie …” so clipping the cross ties together was a compromise, and he would stand that way for hours. Mandiba had the same quirk — and the same solution.

So, I thank Tex for all he did for the U.S. and for David, and for teaching so many of us valuable lessons about horsemanship; that not all horses are the same, and reminding us to be patient.

‘That Girl’: Lauren Kieffer

Max Corcoran has kindly written a blog for the Team Lauren Kieffer Eventing newsletter series, powered by Athletux, allowing us to learn more about each person that contributes so much to Lauren's success, and how they feel about being a part of it all.

Lauren Kieffer and Veronica. Photo by Jenni Autry. Lauren Kieffer and Veronica. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Lauren sent a group email around a few weeks ago asking if we would all write a blog for Lauren Kieffer Equestrian and her program and how we fit into it … I started thinking about when Lauren first came to us at The O’Connor Event Team and the years since — I sent an email back asking if she REALLY wanted me to discuss ALL the details??? Her mom asked if I would send her the unedited version — Jo, it’s on its way!

SO — That girl — first arrived to us at the Virginia Horse Center in June 2005. She had just finished high school, which couldn’t end soon enough for her — not to say Lauren isn’t educated, she is, in ways of life, not geometry, etc.

Her parents came with her — salt of the earth people — straight up and down and no BS. She was too cool as most people are at that age, talking about her Anglo-Arab of her moms and how she had trouble jumping up banks … Another one of those, I thought — I was wrong…

She was a big fish in the small pond of Southern Illinois eventing circuit — the next rising star … uh huh, heard that before too … But day one in the first session we all were all talking about her — David, naturally, was a little late to the party and told us at the end of day two to “keep an eye out for the girl on the chestnut, she is really good and we need to challenge her.” Thanks David, we are already on it!

During camp, Lauren asked about being a working student and Karen and David said, “Sure, when do you want to come?” “Tomorrow,” she answered. We sent her home for a few weeks and she arrived with her two horses ready to conquer the JYOP on the east coast … yup, heard that before too…

Lauren’s first year was a HUGE learning curve for her — she had the intellect and the drive and now was the time to learn patience and discipline. I made her come to events to groom with me — that didn’t go over very well to begin with — but she had to see all sides of upper level eventing; she learned that “rain gear” wasn’t a windbreaker, how to use the washer and dryer and how to cook something more than toast or microwave a frozen meal.

I had seen quite a few working students come and go, but that girl was sticking around for a bit … right — better train this one.

That girl — did a CC* that first fall and David told her to “go fast and be smart.” She missed the second part of that and had 2 stops and still made the time. Her parents watched as David “spoke sternly” to her and nodded along and hugged her as she was upset, but told her “David told you to be smart and you weren’t” … I liked these people!

That girl — watched, learned and worked very hard and only 1 day in the 8 years she worked for me was she late.

That girl — was lucky enough to lease Tigger Too and was going to do her first CCI3* at Fair Hill and he hit the last jump wrong at Morven two weeks prior. Fair Hill, gone; and her CCI2* horse had a lung bleed in his final gallop. Radnor, gone … she stayed home while I was off grooming and rode a horse for me so I could do the Training Three Day at Waradaca and never complained…

That girl — Stayed home and rode our horses while Karen and I were at World Championships, Pan Ams, Olympics, Burghleys, Blenheims, etc – and we always came home to fit, sound horses that were going well….

That girl — is terrible at cleaning tack and couldn’t carry a tune if it were strapped to her back … but she can see a distance to a jump and has some of the softest hands in the country, and she can make a damn good pancake.

That girl — got her heart broken when Tigger Too died on cross country at Jersey Fresh. She was pinned underneath him, she was brave enough to come out the next day and cheer on her friends that had finished the event … the weeks following we stayed up late and found things to do and got her on another horse as soon as opossible; tried to make the sting not burn so much…

That girl — two weeks later sat with me as we put Teddy down — she hugged me as I sobbed and apologized for not being able to hold onto him…

That girl — used to tack horses up for me and now I tack horses up for her…

That girl — tortured the other working students that didn’t quite make the cut. She was right 90% of the time. We saw many come and go — the stories are endless and we still laugh to this day…

That girl — got good at breaking young horses — fell off, got back on, fell off again, learned the trick, asked the questions, studied, disciplined, rewarded, and now has a fabulous string of horses she has produced from day one … a rare gift in U.S. Eventing

That girl — is the little sister I never had.

That girl — loves to read, loves to go to bed early and loves her dog.

That girl — set up her own business, got her own clients, and made people believe in her. Ms. Mars has certainly been one of her biggest supporters, but she has laid the foundation of that relationship: honesty.

That girl — has the best parents in eventing … Momma Kieffs has busted her hump grooming when Lauren didn’t have a groom and was riding 4 horses at a one day, and makes the best damn “Bang Bang Shrimp” on every event Saturday night. And Papa Kieffs — in his traditional red cross country day shirt, the man that does studs and is great in the finish area — I loved hugging them on the kiss and cry booth at Rolex when she jumped a clear round to finish 2nd in 2014 and again this summer when their kid won a gold medal. They have been there every step of the way — in good and bad — they have wiped my tears and celebrated with me too … I smile every time I see them.

That girl — made the U.S. Team this summer — she earned it. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t a bit speechless when I saw her appear in her pinque coat on Sunday — and was swallowing back the tears as she jumped a clear round on the same day to help secure that gold medal.

The stories could go on and on — I am lucky to be part of her career and honored she asked me to write for her. I have just finished my latest adventure with Lauren Kieffer Equestrian helping her get settled in the UK at Ann and Nigel Taylor’s fabulous facility for the next three months. She has built up a fabulous team around her — I was very sad to leave.

Heres to many more years of friendship, sisterhood, laughs, tears, celebrations, smiles and hopefully more time on the podium.