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Taleen Hanna

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Unsung Heroes: Spotlighting the Longtime Volunteer Crew at Virginia Horse Center

Eventing truly wouldn’t be possible without all the amazing volunteers who ensure the shows run smoothly for us riders. They volunteer because they love our sport and the horses. Today, we’re highlighting a few volunteers at the Virginia Horse Center! Want to sign up to help out during the VHC’s May Event next weekend (May 23-26)? There are still plenty of openings to sign up for, which you can view here.

Diane and Art as fence judges at the World Equestrian Games at Tryon in 2018. Photo courtesy of Diane and Art Bird.

Diane and Art Bird have been volunteering at the Virginia Horse Center for over 25 years. They now live and volunteer in Aiken, but continue to travel back to the center a few times a year to pitch in for certain events.

They trail ride and take care of their four horses now, but both have been involved with horses for most of their lives. “We don’t event,” Art says, “but we’re eventing groupies,” Diane says.

Most of the time, Diane works the start box on cross country, and Art can be found scoring in the office or as a fence judge on cross country. “We do whatever anybody needs when we go to volunteer at an event,” Art says.

Diane loves working the start box, trying to keep riders calm before they go out on cross country. “I really love eventers; they’re really nice people and they treat their horses well,” she says.
Diane and Art have been married for 50 years and volunteering has been a major part of their lives together. “It’s been good for both of us. It’s fun because we both get up really early in the morning and we both get home really late– we’re both really tired, so we’re in it together,” Diane says.

Dennis doing his thing at the Virginia Horse Center. Photo courtesy of Dennis Bussey

Dennis Bussey moved to Lexington, VA two years ago, discovered the Virginia Horse Center and became a frequent spectator at their events. He leads the James River Hikers group and already enjoys outdoor activities, so adding horse shows to his calendar was nothing but fitting.

“The Virginia Horse Center, to me, is a magical wonderland because almost every weekend there is some kind of an event that has to do with horses,” Dennis says.

While Dennis was asking the office staff about the following week’s events, they mentioned that they needed volunteers for an eventing show that weekend. “I thought to myself, you can promise that nobody wants Dennis Bussey to be a volunteer– and anything having to do with judging horses because I don’t know anything about it,” he says.

After being promised that he would receive training and could practice using the walkie talkie before going out to be a fence judge on cross country, Dennis decided to volunteer. “I went out and it was a real hoot to do this thing!”

Dennis was a fence judge at an event, and one horse stood out to him, so he pulled out his phone to take a video. He later learned that the rider he got on video was the one and only Phillip Dutton. After telling some of his friends that he had recorded an Olympian, he recruited them to volunteer at the Virginia Horse Center as well.

Dennis not only loves watching the horse and rider pairs on cross country, but he also has a passion for getting to know them. He frequents the stables at the Virginia Horse Center and enjoys asking people about their horses.

“These people that have horses and come here to participate in all these things – they love their horses,” Dennis says.

Dennis getting to know one of the horses stabled at the Virginia Horse Center. Photo courtesy of Dennis Bussey.
Dennis getting to know one of the horses stabled at the Virginia Horse Center. Photo courtesy of Dennis Bussey.

Dennis, Diane, and Art are just a few volunteers out of the many that make this sport go round. They understand how much goes into volunteering and how important it is to have volunteers at these events.

“If there weren’t volunteers, they couldn’t do it,” Diane says. “We love investing our time because we really like the people and beautiful horses. It’s just amazing what the horses will do for us.”

Diane and Art love the welcoming community that volunteering has provided them and says that everyone should volunteer at least once. “I think some people are a little bit afraid that they don’t know enough, but they’ll be trained at the briefings and the experienced volunteers will help them,” Diane says.

Not to mention, if you are a rider, you can learn a lot from volunteering– watching (and hearing what judges have to say if you volunteer as a dressage scribe) is one of the best ways to learn!

“I would encourage people to come and try it. I think they’ll like it,” Diane says.

Next time you’re at an event, don’t forget to thank the volunteers; we could not do this without them! Better yet, volunteer at an event yourself– you never know what you might learn!

If you would like to volunteer at the Virginia Horse Center Eventing May Recognized HT, click here.

Always Learning with #Supergroom Kate Servais

We love celebrating and learning about the #supergrooms who make this sport go around — quite literally! — so we’re on a mission to interview as many grooms as we can to learn about their journeys. Catch up on the other interviews from this series here and nominate a #supergroom of your own by emailing [email protected]! Today, we get to hear from Kate Servais.

This series is supported by Achieve Equine.

Kate Servais gives Jaguar Duende some love. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Kate Servais grew up wanting to be surrounded by animals. As a kid, she took some pony lessons, but as she got into other sports, horses went to the back burner. Think of any sport– Kate played it, at least a little!

Upon getting to high school, Kate started experiencing pain throughout her legs and joints. When multiple specialists couldn’t find an answer, she decided the best thing to do was to stop participating in running sports. So, she picked back up with riding lessons. She became a working student at Flatlands Equestrian Center, doing a little bit of everything from grooming to riding to photography. 

“The more absorbed I got into the sport, I wanted to do this full time, I wanted this to be my life,” she says. After riding with Sharon White in a few clinics and lessons, Kate inquired about becoming a working student for her and the rest is history.

After almost two years as a working student for Sharon, Kate took the position of head groom. “That progression was definitely a learning curve,” she described.

Even though mistakes have been made along the way, Kate says that experiencing it and learning from her mistakes has been helpful in the transition to head groom. “That’s all part of learning, as long as you understand what you did, accept it, and oftentimes apologizing to the people affected.”

#supergrooms: also part-time videographers. Photo by Sally Spickard.

She said that the USEA Groom’s Group Education Night at Carolina International this year was helpful in learning from grooms who’ve had more experience under their belts. “It was really helpful to have people sit down and talk to all the people who are starting out as grooms or want to become grooms and give some guidance,” she says.

Kate’s words when describing her experience working with Sharon for the past two years are nothing but positive ones. “You constantly learn so much. It’s such a wonderful environment and I’m surrounded by so many fantastic people.”

Although she is early on in her equine career, Kate has some tips and fundamental things to think about in regards to grooming:

 

  • Always have sugar in your pocket. 

 

“It’s an essential to me as a groom.”

 

  • Always be grateful. 

 

“There are some definite lows and some definite highs, but always be grateful for where you’re at and that you get to be in the sport and be surrounded by these animals because they’re just so wonderful.”

 

  • Always be thoughtful

 

“Be thoughtful to each and every horse; all horses are different, so pay attention to every single horse you put your hands on. As horses move up the levels, pay attention to what helps them have a good day and what may have fed into a bad day.”

 

  • Write everything down.

 

“Any changes in feed, any changes in exercise that may have happened, write it down! Write it down with the dates so you have it and you know.”

Kate has not only been handling the responsibilities of Sharon’s head groom, but she’s also been competing herself. She’s been leasing Life Story, aka Basil since this past December and has been gaining valuable experience from him.

Balancing grooming tasks and tending to her own horse is no easy feat. “It’s mental, in the way that if you’ve had a show all day, or you have to leave for a show in an hour but you still have to do your horse, you have to put your stress aside and focus on your horse. He’s a very sensitive horse, so if you have any semblance of a hurry or stress, he will know and he will project that.”

Kate and Rachel Dunning celebrate Sharon White’s clear cross country at Kentucky with Claus 63. Photo by JJ Sillman.

This year, Kate got to experience grooming at her first CCI5* event, the Kentucky Three-Day Event with Sharon and Claus 63.  “I’m was ecstatic for that– I’ve only been to Kentucky once and it was as a spectator. It was incredible to be able to see the behind-the-scenes and to learn from the people around me.” But, the weekend didn’t come without its share of anticipatory nerves: “This was basically my first Long format, ever, with her! So I was pretty nervous about what to expect.”

If you’re considering becoming a groom, take this advice from Kate: “Definitely weigh your options. It’s not for everyone, it’s very intense; you have to really love the sport and the horses and be 100% all in. And it’s okay if you’re not, it’s okay if it’s not the right option for you, it’s not going to make you any less of a horse rider.”

Go Kate and Go Eventing.

Her Love of Thoroughbreds Runs Deep: Kendahl Holden Launches ABW Sporthorses in Honor of Avery Whisman

Kendahl and her first event horse and OTTB, Levitate. Photo courtesy of JJ Sillman.

Kendahl Holden’s love for Thoroughbreds started at a young age and it only continued to grow as she flourished in the eventing world with her first event horse and Thoroughbred, Levitate.

Avery Whisman came from a family of horse people and he was riding a horse by the age of two. From riding in the eventing world to becoming a jockey, he always also cultivated a deep love for Thoroughbreds.

Avery and his horse Stonewall Jackson had been partners since Avery was around 13 years old. They went up the levels together. The pair competed at the FEI North American Youth Championships (NAYC), formerly known as the North American Junior and Young Riders Championships (NAJYRC) in 2017.

“Avery had multiple event horses that were Thoroughbreds in his career, but Jackson was the most special to him,” Kendahl says. Jackson is now happily retired in Versailles, KY with Avery’s parents.

As Avery moved from eventing to racing, he became an apprentice jockey, and later began his professional career. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith mentored Avery as he was starting his career. “From there, he never missed. He was so good at what he did,” Kendahl says.

Avery as a jockey at Del Mar Racetrack in California. Photo courtesy of Del Mar Racetrack.

In his racing career, Avery rode 810 horses through the starting gate, totaled 90 wins, and earned over $2.7 million.

On January 11, 2023, Avery passed away at the age of 23.

Kendahl, his fiancée, has been preserving his legacy since, launching ABW Sporthorses in January of this year. “We always wanted to start a business together and this is most definitely an honor to him,” she says.

Kendahl focuses on restarting Thoroughbreds — whether they’ve only been race trained or have had an entire racing career. Since Avery loved Thoroughbreds over other breeds, she wanted to honor him and focus on Thoroughbreds specifically.

“He is by far the most talented horseman I’ve ever met in my life. He had such a way with them that always captivated me. I could never understand how someone could be so deeply connected to an animal,” Kendahl says.

One of the horses that Avery raced was Stay Out, or as he called her, Mi Amor. “Out of all the horses that he sat on, she was one of his favorites. He loved her and would always send me videos and pictures of her,” Kendahl says.

At Avery’s tribute race in February 2023 at Laurel Park, Kendahl was able to get in contact with the owner of Mi Amor and paid the horse a visit. “I did a little kissy sound and I said ‘Mi Amor!’ and she perked her head up and she came over. Instantly, she put her head in my chest and closed her eyes. I have never in my life had such a quick and powerful connection with a horse before.”

Avery always told Kendahl he would love to bring Mi Amor home when it came time for her to retire from the track. So, she wanted to do just that. After a month-long process, she was able to follow through on Avery’s plan, buying Mi Amor and bringing her home.

Avery and Mi Amor. Photo courtesy of Jodi Murphy.

Kendahl’s mom came up with Mi Amor’s barn name: Mia for short. They knew that Mi Amor would be her competition name, but it was missing something. “I really wanted to honor Avery here and she is Avery’s love, so why don’t I put his initials in front of it and tell everyone that she’s ABW’s love? And that was the birth of the prefix ABW.”

Kendahl will have each client sign a contract in order to keep the ABW prefix tacked on each horse’s name. “It’s respect to him and it’s respect to the business. I can follow the horses and it shares his legacy.”

This was the start of ABW Sporthorses.

Kendahl’s love and passion for Thoroughbreds is evident in her training practices. She takes her time restarting them, understanding that they deserve a grace period after they get off the track. They deserve to be just a horse before learning an entirely new way of life.

“They’re just so intelligent; they’re level-headed. They have sense to them and they have heart like no other. The Thoroughbreds are just incredible; I love everything about them.”

Although she specializes in eventing, Kendahl recognizes that some horses that go through her program will end up in another discipline. “My main goal is to keep them happy inside their homes, and if that means it’s in another discipline, then that is fine with me.”

So far, connecting with the horses but not getting too attached has been a bit difficult for Kendahl. ABW Anath came to her at three years old just after she ran her last race. Kendahl knew she wanted to take as much time as needed to build a connection with her.

“I understand that having a quick turnaround is more financially responsible, but at the same time, I think that when we put in the time and effort into something, people gravitate toward that. I enjoy the process more than anything, so I’m happy to say that ABW Anath and I have definitely connected,” she says.

Good things take time, and Kendahl has been and will continue to channel this approach in her training with all the ABW Sporthorses.

Kendahl and Mi Amor. Photo courtesy of Mady Hsue with Tid Bits Media.

“You can’t expect them to listen to you and communicate with you if they don’t trust you. I want all my horses that come through my program to learn how to trust me,” she says.

Kendahl originally planned to become a nurse, but after Avery’s passing, she decided to not pursue that path. She turned to what has always kept her going: horses. “They’ve saved my life in the past when I’ve gone through tragedy and hard times. They keep me motivated and they make my heart full.”

Although ABW Sporthorses is still a fairly new business, Kendahl’s passion for her program and the meaning behind it shines through. For her, seeing the small wins and small progress each day keeps her going.

“You can never stop learning and I think that’s my favorite part about this business so far. Everyday I’m learning something new, whether it be about my horses, people, this business, or this community,” she says.

The support that Kendahl has received already from potential clients and her community keeps fueling her passion for the industry. This year, she plans to get the ABW Sporthorses name out there and build some clientele. Long-term, Kendahl hopes to see ABW Sporthorses all around the country.

“I want to be able to go on the USEA Horse Search, look up ABW, see all of the horses competing, and feel Avery’s legacy.”

Kendahl and Avery. Photo courtesy of JJ Sillman.

Continuing to keep Avery’s legacy alive motivates Kendahl to continue to develop her business. The main reason for ABW Sporthorses is Avery and he will continue to be the driving force behind it.

“To see his initials in front of horses that he loves, that he was passionate about, to see them grow in this community and this sport that we love, it’s vital.”

Kendahl cherishes her memories of being in the winner’s circle with Avery as well as celebrating his wins at eventing competitions. “He’s just the best horseman I’ll ever know and I strive to be even half the horseman he was.”

Catch Up with This Winter’s Achieve Equine #Supergroom Award Winner Danielle Platt

We can never pass up an opportunity to highlight a #Supergroom, especially this one! Congratulations to Danielle Platt, head groom for New Zealand Olympian Joe Meyer, for winning our Achieve Equine #Supergroom award for the winter season! Stay tuned for the opening of our nomination form for our next winner. Catch up on the other interviews from this series here and nominate a #Supergroom of your own by emailing [email protected]! Now, let’s hear from the #Supergroom herself:

Danielle and Joe at Blenheim. Photo by Libby Law Photography.

What’s involved in being a #Supergroom of the winter season?

It feels really awesome to be acknowledged for the hard work that we put in. I really love that there’s an award for it, actually. It’s great and it probably brings a lot of highlights to the grooms that are out there and also something to work for!

What led you to work with Joe and Ruthie Meyer?

When I was 17, I started as a working student for different people and I actually got really burnt out. Three years ago, I was coming to the Meyer’s farm to sell a horse that I had; I wanted to quit riding completely.

I started boarding the horse with him and I would work for them a couple days a week to help pay the board. The horse eventually sold six months later and I had really formed a good bond with the girls in the barn and with Joe and Ruthie and I felt like I could trust them.

I had entered the horse that sold in a competition that weekend, so they offered me to ride a horse that was for sale in the barn. I took it to the show and we did really well. They offered me the position of general barn manager– with that comes grooming and I ride all the sales horses as well.

What advice do you have for other grooms facing burnout?

There’s a lot of places that you can go to that you might not fit in 100% or feel like you’re appreciated at all. In this industry, it is six days a week and some days can be 14 hours long. To go from somewhere that doesn’t make you feel appreciated for those days to somewhere that does make you feel appreciated for even being there for a regular easy work day is something that really stands out.

It was the environment that made it something that I wanted to continue doing. I had lost faith in working for people and not getting back what I was giving. Honestly, to keep looking for something that does give back is what I would suggest to other people in the same situation.

I don’t think the first situation that someone goes to is going to be something that works for them for the rest of their career. You have to find the place that makes you feel welcome and makes you want to get up every day and go work for 14 hours if you have to.

Danielle and Joe at TerraNova. Photo courtesy of Danielle Platt.

What has it been like working with the Meyers?

Ruthie is included in a lot of it too; she does a lot of the planning and behind-the-scenes with sales horses. Even though it might look like it’s just Joe and I on social media, it’s not, she’s so much a part of it. She’s always at the big shows too, supporting and she’s really been an amazing mentor.

Working for Joe, everyday is like a comedy show. He’s hilarious and we both get along really well. That’s important too, for people looking to find a place that they want to stay longer term is getting along and feeling welcome– like you want to go out to the barn every day and enjoy it; you don’t want to feel like you’re going to do something wrong and the whole world is going to end.

We’ve got a good group of girls and we’re always looking for more working students. I spend a lot of time teaching them attention to detail. It’s really important to teach the younger riders coming up the importance of grooming and that it’s not just the job at the bottom before you start being a professional rider. It’s all really important and it’s things that you need to know just for dealing with horses in general.

Danielle and Harbin before the flight to the UK. Photo courtesy of Danielle Platt.

What has been your favorite experience so far?

Last August, we went overseas to Blenheim to do the 4*-L, so I was over there with Harbin for six weeks. It was a really fun experience– I grew up in England, so all of my family is there and so I got to be with them and I got to see a different level of the international eventing than what we do in America. It was very cool to see the environment and see how different it is being in America versus competing in England.

I learned so much on that trip and I made a ton of friends in the barn. The grooms over there were so nice and I still talk to some of them. In grooming, I felt so welcome and it was probably one of the best experiences I could have gotten.

Ballygriffin Chacoa Power and Danielle. Photo courtesy of Alex Scribner of MIPSY Media.

What are your plans going into the future?

I am currently in the process of syndicating my first upper level horse, Ballygriffin Chacoa Power, aka Squishy; Joe and Ruthie are helping me. We’ve had one come into the barn recently that went 3* in France at the Young Event Horse Championships. She came to us to sell and she’s a little bit spicy and a little bit opinionated– and I just fell in love with her.

Feeling like the luckiest person in the world to be given an opportunity to start my own syndicate for this amazing mare.
Ballygriffin Chacoa Power came to us last month to find her new home, but I believe everything happens for a reason and I’m so excited for the future. I have big goals and they’re already too easy for this mare.
Full syndicate video will be on facebook 💞

I owe so much to @mipsymedia Mipsy Media LLC for making my vision come to life with this video. There’s truly no one I would trust more and I’m beyond grateful to know someone so talented and creative.

Please reach out for more information and opportunities within this syndicate!
Dplatteventing@gmail.com or danielleplatt4@gmail.com

@vrequestrianathletics
@arrohelmets
@bifidsupplements

Posted by Danielle Platt on Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Joe and Ruthie are showing me the ropes of the whole syndication process and everything that you have to do in order to be a rider who’s supported by owners. That’s another thing about them that’s just so amazing and humble of them because they don’t have to do that at all and they’re trying their hardest to help me.

Grooming for Joe at Kentucky will be my first time grooming at the 5* level. Depending on what horses sell, the goal is for me to ride in the young horse classes at Maryland, so I will be there grooming for the 5* but also hoping to ride in the young event horse classes as well.

The goal with Squishy would be to start doing some preliminary/ 2* events by the end of this year, and then move up to 3* and finish next year with the Maryland 3*-L.

I would love to groom for Harbin until he’s done and he is 14 now, so he’s still got a lot of time left to go. I love that horse so much, so I would love to be there to support him wherever he goes.

Go Eventing, Go #Supergrooms, and Go Danielle!

Behind the Performance: Riders from Bruce Duchossois’ Alma Mater Perform at 2024 Grand-Prix Eventing Showcase

There was so much to see at the $100,000 Conceal #GPE2024 at #BrucesField presented by @taylorharrisinsurance 🎉❤️🇺🇸 We…

Posted by Conceal Grand-Prix Eventing Showcase at Bruce's Field on Monday, March 11, 2024

The Culver Academies Lancers Platoon & Equestriennes has been in existence since 1897, taking up the honor of performing at each U.S. presidential inauguration parade since 1957. These groups are some of the honors organizations within the equestrian program at Culver Academies. One of the group’s alumni and longtime eventing supporter, Bruce Duchossois, purchased what is now known as Bruce’s Field in Aiken, SC.

Bruce was inducted into the Culver Academies Horsemanship Hall of Fame in 2004 and leaves a legacy throughout the equine world. Everything came full circle when the Lancers Platoon & Equestriennes appeared at Bruce’s Field for the first time ever to do their mounted display at the 2024 Conceal Grand-Prix Eventing Showcase earlier this month.

Craig (Bruce’s brother) and Janet Duchossois funded the team’s trip to perform at the venue named after Bruce.

Skip Nicholls, the group’s captain, says that he came from an eventing background himself, but wasn’t sure how the students would react to watching a three-day event for the first time. He says that they were somewhat interested in dressage and show jumping, but when it came to watching cross country, they were amazed.

“The inspiration of the power, the control, the planning. And then to see top level event riders -– gold medalists out there, Olympians out there -– and it can still go wrong, that was a great leveling moment for the kids to go ‘Yeah, even the top’s still have incidents and fall off.’”

The group choreographed a new routine for the showcase and students were able to design the music for this specific routine.

“We sort of stood away from that for the first time and let them do it, so for them it provided good leadership models,” Skip says.

The original stables at the Culver Academy can be seen in the background of this photo from 1897. Photo courtesy of Culver Academies.

The team trained twice a week for six weeks before Christmas break and twice a week six weeks after break, leading up to the event. In the weeks leading up to break, they practiced the mounted display with only bridles and neck straps.

“I did it initially for a joke, just to help deepen their seat; we did it without saddles. I just wanted to work on their riding positions, just deepen their seat, get their leg a little bit longer,” Skip says.

One session turned into around 12 sessions bareback, and after around 12 more sessions (with saddles this time!) leading up to the Showcase, the team was ready.

“It’s just a great experience for the kids to go and show off their equitation skills, practice for it, that dedication, preparation, and then the execution of the plan itself when you go out to the event. It all comes together, the hard work all becomes justified.”

Some students are part of other athletic teams at Culver and some are involved in the other horsemanship disciplines that are offered such as quadrille riding, polo, and show jumping.

Skip has been the captain for two years and moved from England to the U.S. for the position. He continues to lead the team because of his love for the horse.

“It’s a pure equitation piece as well as blended with the learning because it’s a college preparation school.” He says that being able to ride while getting an education teaches empathy, problem solving, and communication.

“And then it’s that little break. We put so much pressure on kids when they go through school, sometimes it gives them that mental break,” Skip says.

The Lancers Platoon & Equestriennes gave the eventing community the chance to watch some remarkable horsemanship skills in action. Likewise, the students were able to watch horsemanship skills of a different kind throughout the weekend as well.

Horse is a universal language that transcends all around– whatever religion, creed, background you come from. To see something new and something different can inspire people in different ways as to why horses are so unique and so crucial to our life and how much influence they’ve had in shaping the world that we now live in,” Skip says.

Skip and the Culver Academies riders reminded everyone at Bruce’s Field that our love of horses runs deep.

“It reminds us that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a professional or an aspiring professional, or an amateur, or a leisure rider, we all get the same joy and frustrations from horses in whatever discipline we do. We can all sit and have a conversation about the horse irrelevant, whether you’re an Olympic rider or you’re a weekend hacker.”

Looking Ahead to the SRF Carolina International & H.T.: Stacked 4*S Entry List Promises Full Slate of Action

Will Faudree’s experienced campaigner Pfun takes third in the 4*S at Carolina in 2023. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

37 horse and rider pairs currently entered in the CCI4*-S are sure to make for an exciting year at the 2024 Setters’ Run Farm Carolina International, happening at at the Carolina Horse Park on March 14-17.

Starting off strong, we’ll get to see the entire Pan American Games team, which includes Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire, Liz Halliday and Miks Master C, Sharon White and Claus 63, and Caroline Pamukcu and HSH Blake. Caroline and HSH Blake took the gold at the Pan Ams on a final score of 30.8, so they will be a pair to watch out for!

Liz will certainly have her plate full with four rides in the 4*– Cooley Moonshine (owned by Ocala Horse Properties), Cooley Quicksilver (owned by the Monster Partnership and Ocala Horse Properties), Cooley Nutcracker (owned by the Nutcracker Syndicate and Ocala Horse Properties) and of course Miks Master C (owned by Ocala Horse Properties and Debbie Palmer). As always, Liz and her horses will be ones to keep your eyes on.

Andrew McConnon, who received this year’s Rebecca Broussard International Developing Rider Grant, is bringing two mounts for the 4*– Wakita 54 and Ferrie’s Cello.

Other entries that stand to be competitive include Lauren Nicholson and Ms. Mars’ Landmark’s Jungle’s Gold as well as Will Coleman and Diabolo, owned by the Diabolo Group. Two very exciting horses for Phillip Dutton will also compete: Quasi Cool and Possante, who are both coming off of competing at Grand-Prix Eventing.

FE Lifestyle, ridden by Jennie Brannigan, was actually bred to be a show jumper, but has found his home in the sport of eventing under Jennie’s tutelage. “Foxy” finished 12th at Burghley last year, leading Jennie to win the highest-placed Burghley first-timer. This pair will be an exciting one to keep up with during this competition!

Rachel Lawson and High Tide will be another pair to watch out for, as they have truly made it through many ups and downs to get to this point. As Rachel’s first OTTB, their origin story makes them a pair you don’t want to miss.

Cassie Sanger, one of the US Equestrian U25 Emerging Athletes, is entered with Fernhill Zoro. She’ll be riding as a part of the USEF Futures Challenge as well, and you can view more on that exciting event running alongside the 4*S here.

A small– but mighty – one to watch out for will be Corture, ridden by Briggs Surratt. The Holsteiner cross mare who was bred by Elisa Wallace is just 14.2 hands!

View the full entry list here. Whether you’ll be watching in person or from home (click here to access the live stream on Horse & Country, this will not be an event to miss, as we’re getting our Olympic year underway!

Eventing Nation is pleased to work with Carolina International as the press team. If you’re interested in attending this year’s event as a member of the media, click here to fill out the credential request form.

Top Grooming Tips From This Year’s #SuperGrooms

Here at EN we have been highlighting some amazing grooms that truly make this sport go round. All season long we’ve worked together with Achieve Equine to highlight these hard-working grooms both at events and at home. Now, as we wrap up the year, we’re looking for one more nomination for The One #Supergroom to Rule Them All.

Nominating a groom is easy. Head over to the nomination page here before December 27th. The winner will be announced on December 29th! You can also click here to fill out the form in your browser.

Make sure to get those nominations in by December 27th! In the meantime, here are some of the best grooming tips from the best in the business to keep your horses happy and healthy!

Debbie Carpenter

Last time we caught up with Debbie, she told us all about her life as a freelance groom. You can learn more about her life as a #supergroom here.

“Buy a decent quarter mark brush for making your marks pop at a show. I use the Hass Mustang and a good show sparkle!”

Meredith Ferraris

When we caught up with Meredith earlier this year, she said Ariel Grald’s Leamore Master Plan always needs his favorite treat– Mrs. Pastures cookies– wherever he goes! Learn more about her story here.

“Make sure to wash and disinfect your brushes regularly to keep your horse’s skin and coat healthy.”

Alyssa Dobrotin

Alyssa was Tamie Smith’s right hand gal for the FEI World Championships last year. Read about her story here.

“Rinse your horse’s mouth out with water before bridling so you don’t have green saliva and foam. Use a big syringe and make sure to have one for each horse.”

Sophie Hulme

We caught up with Sophie earlier this year and she made a jump over the pond to study equine science at Hartpury University. You can learn more about her story here!

“We wash the horses tails with shampoo and conditioner and then immediately with detangler and mane and tail spray. We don’t brush it until we do that so you don’t break or damage the tail! We also use equi shave, razors to help trim and shape them and make them nice and pretty. We also use baby powder to help whiten socks for shows and we always do that first then apply hoof oil so it looks nice and sharp.”

Sam Cuomo

Sam grooms for Doug Payne and won “Fastest Braider” for EN’s Maryland Groom Superlatives.

“For competition, my best friend is baby oil! Baby oil really helps to enhance the horse’s shine and it’s super easy which is a plus. I take a clean towel and put a few drops of baby oil on it, then use it on all the areas of the horse that I want to accentuate: hip, shoulder, hock, nose, down the front legs, etc. I also love to use it on the tail– a quick and easy way to make it glisten in the sun!”

Sarah Tompkins

Booli Selmayr and Millfield Lancando. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Sarah groomed for Booli Selmayr at the Maryland Five Star and won “Most Likely to Have Purple-Stained Hands” for EN’s Maryland Groom Superlatives.

“When bathing your horse, scrape them off after scrubbing them, before rinsing them. I like the old cheap aluminum scrapers because of the blunt edge they have. I find that scraping them while they’re still soapy helps pull up the dirt from underneath so it can be rinsed away, leaving a cleaner horse for clipping or showing.”

Go #supergrooms and Go Eventing.

The EN #Supergroom series is brought to you thanks to support from Achieve Equine, providers of FLAIR Equine Nasal Strips, VIP Equestrian, and Iconic Equestrian.

Grooming at Boekelo Helped #SuperGroom Sophie Hulme Bounce Back

We love celebrating and learning about the #supergrooms who make this sport go around — quite literally! — so we’re on a mission to interview as many grooms as we can to learn about their journeys. Catch up on the other interviews from this series here and nominate a #supergroom of your own by emailing [email protected]! Today, we get to hear from Sophie Hulme.

Sophie and the Alliston team supporters at Boekelo. Photo courtesy of Libby Law.

Sophie Hulme was based in California with James Alliston for a few years before making a jump and moving to the UK to study equine science at Hartpury University. “I geared my degree toward competition horses and I specialized in performance and therapy rehab because I knew I wanted to manage performance horses and event horses,” Sophie said.

While at Hartpury, Sophie took nutrition courses, learned about equine performance, and studied how to keep horses maintained instead of always trying to treat an injury after the fact. “I loved it because I was really struggling when I was in high school with what to study. All my friends were doing history and English, and I wanted to do something that is going to allow me to do the horses but I need something that’s going to help pay for the horses.”

Sophie’s parents are English, so they were able to help her find Hartpury. Growing up, Sophie visited the UK to see her grandparents often, so moving there at 19 years old wasn’t a huge adjustment for her. “You’re not going to move countries often in your life, in theory. I thought I might as well come and do it while I’ve got the opportunity.”

Her studies have helped her in running her own business in the UK, training her own horses as well as teaching. She still grooms for James when she gets the chance, and grooms for friends from time to time.

James asked if she could help him out at Boekelo this past September. “Obviously I’m a lot closer to the Netherlands than California, so I said yes!”

Sophie hasn’t competed abroad herself, so grooming for James for the FEI Eventing Nation’s Cup was a valuable opportunity. “Getting to know the other grooms and that side of having a team aspect as well was quite fun and different. Everyone rallied together, which was really quite nice, to support every member on the team.”

On the way to Blair Horse Trials in 2021, Sophie lost her top three horses in a trailer accident. She had planned to run them in the 2* at Blair and then look toward competing in a 3* in Europe. As things were loosening up after COVID, Sophie was looking forward to finally getting out again at Blair.

“It was really hard for a while, getting used to [the fact that] we lost them,” she recalled. At the time, Sophie had two other horses at home — five and six years old. “We’ve rebuilt the yard in terms of horse power, and rebuilt myself up in terms of it affecting me a lot more than I expected to, in terms of getting back into competing.”

Her first event getting back out there was difficult, especially getting used to the changes in her line-up of horses. “We’re not all three-star again yet, but we will get there hopefully in the next year or two with some of the new ones.”

Sophie was eager to groom for James at Boekelo since she was still rebuilding her yard after the accident.

Sophie and Ice Cool Cooley at Gatcombe Park in 2018. Photo courtesy of Matt Nuttall Photography.

“It was really nice for James to let me groom for him at an upper level like that because, at some point, I would love to be at that level,” she said. “You get to be a part of everything in a different capacity when you’re grooming, which I think is really fun and really cool because you’re still a part of the team at the end of the day.”

Sophie is “definitely a mare person,” having six mares in her yard at the moment– all at different levels. She’ll be gearing them up to compete regularly and hopefully run some 2* and 3* next year.

“The thing that frustrated me when we lost the ones at the crashes, I’d had two of those for years and I’d built the relationship and I knew them inside and out. It’s hard; you can’t just build that relationship, you can’t speed it along.”

Sophie hasn’t been rushing her newbies up the levels. Instead, she’s taking the time to get to know them and strengthen their relationships. She is a jack of all trades: riding at the upper levels, grooming, and teaching too! She’s certified at a Level 2 UK Coaching Certificate (UKCC) and is working on becoming Level 3 certified.

Sophie and the rest of the Alliston team at Boekelo. Photo courtesy of Libby Law.

“One of the positives out of the crash was it gave me the time I didn’t have before the crash to teach and coach,” she said. As she’s done more coaching in the past two years, she’s learned that she really enjoys it.

“I really enjoy seeing clients progress and then the excitement they get from progressing. I find it contagious and it pushes both of you to work harder and make it better. I find a lot of satisfaction seeing my clients get that enjoyment out of actually reaching a goal, which it’s sometimes small and sometimes it’s big.”

Go Sophie and Go Eventing.

The EN #Supergroom series is brought to you thanks to support from Achieve Equine, providers of FLAIR Equine Nasal Strips, VIP Equestrian, and Iconic Equestrian.

Becoming an “r” Licensed Cross Country Course Designer with Genevieve Faith

Setting jumps before the event. Photo courtesy of Genevieve Faith.

Genevieve Faith is a rider and trainer who has gone a step further to learn all about cross country course designing. While Genevieve manages her training business, she has been working on getting her cross country course designer license.

Genevieve’s curiosity got the best of her when she started wondering why exactly certain jumps are set in certain places out on course. She wanted to learn more, so she set out to get her cross country course designer license. “Our sport needs to continue to provide a safe environment for the horses and riders and a fun environment,” she said.

“I had an amazing mare that brought me up through the intermediate level and I started to pay attention a lot more to why my coaches were setting up certain terrain questions.” Genevieve’s natural instinct to gain more knowledge has served her well in this process. “Once I do something, I want to learn more and that was really interesting. So then, I just kept pursuing more education on it.”

The best part about the process to get your cross country course designer license is that you can go through all the training just for the educational aspect of it — you aren’t required to sit for the test. First, you go to the USEA Training Program for Licensed Officials (TPEO), which is hosted twice a year where “you go for two days and you work exclusively with a top designer and you go through and you walk courses.” At the training, the designers give you feedback on what you need to improve on and which rules you should review in the rulebook.

Genevieve and Burned You Too at the 3* at Chatt Hills. Photo courtesy of JJ Sillman.

“You don’t have to want to become a course designer to go and do these two days of training. It does help everybody understand different concepts that designers use and why they do certain things. I think a lot of trainers should actually go do it because it gives a really good perspective.”

Once you get certified at the training, you apprentice with at least two upper level designers for a minimum of eight hours each. “I want more hours working with people, so I’m continuously still pursuing more work, more apprenticeship, more time, making sure I understand it before I go and essentially say I’m comfortable with putting out a course and these riders can go out and ride it,” Genevieve said.

When working on your apprenticeships, most of the time, you’re helping them before an event. “They’ve used their course maps and they have a general idea of where each jump is going to go for each level.” The first day or so, you’re moving jumps around on the course.

“You learn firstly, communication: how to communicate with someone on a tractor who can’t hear you and they’re moving these thousand pound jumps. You have to be able to do some hand signals and show them where you want a jump to be lowered, how you want it to be lowered, if it should be tilted just slightly.”

Once you’ve completed your apprenticeship hours, you can sit for the exam, which includes a paper exam as well as setting courses for a panel of judges. “You want to go into it with your best approach and obviously that means you have to take time and study the art of course designing.”

The certification levels for a course designer are as follows: r, R, S, and FEI Levels. A certification is required for each level. Most of the time, it is preferred if designers have competed at the upper levels so they have an understanding of course design concepts at most of the levels.

A lot goes into course designing, and it doesn’t all just look like designing a course and making course maps. “At a horse show, especially the designers, they spend a minimum of a week out there moving jumps, changing them, leveling them, checking distances. I mean there’s so much that goes into it.”

Understanding things like the fact that the jump decorations are there for the horse to see where the jump is and how terrain affects striding are important aspects to becoming a course designer. “There is actually a why behind every single fence out there, the course designer has not just thrown in a fence out there in the middle of nowhere just to give you a speed bump. Every single fence out there is placed meticulously to help the rider.”

Course designing is all about educating the rider as well as the horse at each level. “Having a horse understand a question is the other half of it. You always want the horse to get rewarded throughout the course for doing a good job, and that’s tricky too, doing a course like that,” she said.


Making sure all the final touches are in order. Photo courtesy of Genevieve Faith.

Genevieve recognizes the need for course designers, especially if we want to keep our sport going. “We’re taking lives into our hands, essentially. And we’re making this safe for the horses and the riders.”

As much as we may think it, course designers aren’t putting a jump by the water because they know you absolutely despise jumps by the water. “They’re out to help teach the horse, train the horse continuously, help the horse’s education,” Genevieve said.

She said that if anyone has any questions about a course they’ve ridden, they should definitely reach out to the designer to ask what their theory was or why they set a question up a certain way.

Genevieve originally planned to take her official license test at Morven Park in October, but realized she wanted to take the test again later in February. “It was one of those moments, I said ‘Wait, I felt super prepared coming into this and I still feel prepared, but at the same time I want to be 100% sure.’ I admitted to myself when I was there, I don’t have enough experience going out and setting fences.”

Genevieve went through the motions of setting a course and explaining to the course designers why certain decisions were made at Morven Park, but she wanted more hands-on experience with putting the questions in place. Since she is inherently booksmart, she was confident in course planning and measuring, and was also confident in executing the set-up of the course, but ultimately wanted more experience under her belt.

Jumps on jumps on jumps! Photo courtesy of Genevieve Faith.

“I don’t want someone to get seriously injured because I didn’t take an extra month or two going out and doing more apprentice work. I was really glad we discussed how I can do that more,” she said.

In preparation for her test in February, Genevieve plans on volunteering for jump decorating at events. “I never thought I’d do [that] before. I didn’t realize how much those little things play an important role if you don’t always have to do it.”

She’s getting her hands on any experience she can, offering to design full show jump courses for her friends. At the end of the day, Genevieve wants to make sure she feels more than ready to have riders compete on her courses.

“Am I comfortable sending a horse and rider that’s not me? Am I super confident in this? Realizing you might have 100 people going through your course, knowing that you feel like it’s safe, that’s a lot of big things to think about. I think that’s important for anybody thinking about course designing in the future -– how much responsibility it is but also how rewarding it is.”

Go Eventing.

What Goes into Planning a Competition? Behind the Scenes with Stable View Organizer Molly Bull

Photo by Shelby Allen.

For us as riders, we prepare for events ahead of time: making sure our horse is fit, sending in our entry, and fine-tuning our dressage test. For all the people who make our competitions go ’round, it’s no different! There is a lot of preparation and moving parts to an event — more than most people realize. I caught up with event organizer Molly Bull to learn about what goes on behind the scenes of an event.

Molly organizes various events on the east coast, Stable View’s full roster of National and FEI Horse Trials being one of them. She lives outside of Charlottesville, VA and makes the seven-hour commute to Stable View for all of their recognized events and some of their unrecognized events.

Molly rode at the Advanced level for many years but took a break when she had her son. “I knew I didn’t want to ride at the upper levels anymore, but I still wanted to be involved in eventing. So, when he was little, that’s when I started doing a bit of secretary work,” she explained.

Eventually, she switched to being an organizer and now Molly makes sure all the moving parts are moving where they need to be. In order to do that, planning is a multi-step (more like a million-step) operation.

The process of planning and executing an event starts just as soon as the event ends. “When an event ends, I usually write up a debriefing email with notes, that for Stable View, it would go to Barry and Cindy [Oliff], the owners and then anybody else who might be affected by whatever is in the notes.”

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z. Photo by Shelby Allen.

Molly ensures that people like the show jump designer, Technical Delegate, president of the Ground Jury, dressage and show jump judges, and cross country designers and builders are able to work the event the next year. “I allow my thoughts to settle after the event ends and then start thinking about who I want to hire for the next year,” she said.

Some event officials stay consistent throughout the season, so at the end of the year Molly will send them the event dates to make sure they can work all of them. For the officials that rotate between events, Molly assembles a team in her head and contacts them to see who can commit.

Next step: getting the event on all the calendars. “You have to renew the competition through your USEF dashboard and pay the fees for that. Closer to the event, you have to register it with US Eventing and pay a fee for that. Then, as you get closer still, you have to do your omnibus page and submit that, plus a bunch of prize list materials to the USEF and then that has to get approved.”

Since Stable View hosts so many events throughout the year, they own things like golf carts, radios, manure dumpsters, and Porta Johns. “They’re a little bit of a unique venue because they own so much that you don’t need to order; at some events that I organize, I have to order radios, order Porta Johns, order ribbons.”

Depending on the size of the event and how many levels are competing, Molly will make the drive to Stable View a few days before the course opens. For smaller events, this means driving down on Wednesday or Thursday of that week, but for larger events, she arrives on Monday or Tuesday.

“When I get on site, usually there’s no competitors there yet, so I like that process of getting everything ready for them and putting up tents and getting everything set out — posting maps on the start box once they’ve been approved.”

Photo by Christine Quinn Photography.

Molly enjoys her job and once everything comes together on the day of the event, she finds it thrilling. “It’s always exciting when dressage starts. But for me, the most exciting is when the first horse leaves the box for cross country. That’s the moment that I’m like ‘Ok, I’ve put all this work into it and now it’s really happening.’”

Inevitably, some things are bound to go wrong, but that’s no worry for Molly. “My job isn’t to make sure nothing ever goes wrong but to react and handle it when things do go wrong– make good decisions, be calm, just come up with a way to solve the problem.”

So, what can we as competitors do to help people like Molly and the rest of the crew? “I think speaking for the secretary, they can get their paperwork in and have complete entries.”

Another thing we can do to help is not waiting until the closing date — or after — to enter an event. “It makes it really hard to plan the schedule, as an organizer, that’s hard because if you think you only have 100 entries, but then between closing and the event, you get 100 additional entries, it completely changes the makeup of the day and how many officials you need.”

Molly, along with all the other show organizers, officials, and volunteers work insanely hard to make it all happen. We are so lucky to enjoy so many beautiful venues and well-run events that keep our sport running.

Next time you’re at an event, be sure to thank all those wonderful people who make it all happen!

Go Eventing.

Caroline Pamukcu and King’s Especiale Win MARS Great Meadow International CCI4*-S

Caroline Pamukcu and King’s Especiale. Photo by Erin Gilmore Photography.

After yesterday’s many withdrawals at the MARS Great Meadow International, seven pairs out of 22 were left to tackle the 4* cross country course today, designed by David O’Connor.

Caroline Pamukcu stayed in the lead with the 8-year-old King’s Especiale (Connect – Cha Cha Special, owned by HX Group Redfield Kings), picking up only 10.8 time penalties to finish on a score of 44.2. Caroline also won the 3*-S with HSH Vamonos (owned by Sherrie Martin RAH Resources LLC), ending on their dressage score of 28.9.

“They’re the best horses I’ve ever had; this is the best string I could ever think of and there’s so much work that goes into them and we have such good owners,” she said.

King’s Especiale, although only eight, stands at a tall 18 hands. “Because I’ve had him since he was a five-year-old and I’ve done every single cross country jump on him, he makes it feel so easy. I know him inside and out, he knows me inside and out. It really makes a difference when you have them from babies.”

Overall, the course ran smoothly for the pair, with some combinations needing extra preparation because some of the distances were on the shorter side.

Next on the calendar for the pair is the 4*-L at Morven in October. “You just take it show by show and week by week. They’re eight and they’re getting stronger in their body and they’re growing a little bit, so if I feel like maybe they don’t need to, they don’t have to go [to Morven].”

Lillian Heard Wood and Dassett Olympus. Photo by Erin Gilmore Photography.

Lillian Heard Wood took second place with Dassett Olympus (Lancelot – Cruising, owned by Debby Greenspan), adding 19.2 time penalties to end with a score of 55.6.

“I thought all these people are withdrawing, should I not run? I don’t want to hurt my horse, the ground is hard. And then I just said to myself, ‘Ok, I’m just not going to go fast, I’ll run, I can get to do all the combinatons. It would be really good education for him, but I just won’t hustle him really hard between the jumps.’”

You’ll see this pair at Morven in the 4*-L, but up until then, Lillian will continue working on lowering their dressage scores and keeping Dassett Olympus fit so he’ll be ready for the 10 minute course at Morven in October.

Tim Bourke and Monbeg Libertine (Womanizer – Chill Lady, owned by Lisa Takada) moved into third, picking up the least amount of time out of the top three, 10.4 penalties, and finished on a score of 61.1. Tim said that the cross country course was straightforward and ran well considering the conditions. “They did a good job in the back half of the course aerating it and having it ready,” he said.

Tim took some time off for a little over a year and a half with a broken leg last year, so he’s getting back into the swing of things. Because of the new FEI categorization rules, he’s working on getting back to being an A categorized rider, so the rest of the fall will be spent on getting more 4*-S under Tim and Monbeg Libertine’s belts to hopefully go 4*-L by the end of the year.

“The organizers did a great job for the conditions that were put to them. And I think us, as riders, we’ve got to do everything we can to support these shows so they don’t disappear off our schedule.”

That wraps up the action from MARS Great Meadow International, and now we’ll kick on for the upcoming action at American Eventing Championships as well as Burghley this coming week.

EN’s coverage of MARS Great Meadow International is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products. Click here to learn about just one of their science-backed nutritional supplements, Equi-Jewel, for the hard keeper in your barn who needs the calories but not the extra grain.

MARS Great Meadow International: [Website] [Entries] [Tickets] [Schedule/Ride Times] [Scoring] [Live Stream] [Volunteer] [EN’s Coverage]

The ‘Round the World Diaries of Freelance #SuperGroom Debbie Carpenter

We love celebrating and learning about the #supergrooms who make this sport go around — quite literally! — so we’re on a mission to interview as many grooms as we can to learn about their journeys. Catch up on the other interviews from this series here and nominate a #supergroom of your own by emailing [email protected]! Today, we get to hear from Debbie Carpenter, a freelance groom based in the UK.

Debbie Carpenter with Liz Halliday-Sharp and Miks Master C at the Aachen prizegiving. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Debbie Carpenter has nearly grown up with the horse bug, but the grooming bug bit her later on.

She grew up going to a riding school in Oxford, England and later went to agriculture college for two years. At 18, Debbie went right for the industry she loves and began working with Julie Tew.

After taking a year or two of a break in 2007-2008, Debbie got the bug again. “I came back into it and again realized I loved it and ended up working for Andrew Nicholson for a year or two.” After working for Izzy Taylor for around four years, Debbie went freelance and has now been at it for eight years.

“I just decided that I wanted a bit more time to myself, which turns out it doesn’t really happen!” she said. As a freelancer, Debbie is out helping at events almost every weekend, usually keeping Mondays and Tuesdays as her days off to recover from events. In 2019 alone, she groomed for 32 international 3-day events!

When she’s not traveling all around for events, she has some local clients that she works for if they need it — “It’s not stressful, it’s easy going and we just get the job done,” she described.

Since she jumps around from client to client, she doesn’t get to see their horses every single day as a full-time groom would. This is a unique aspect of a freelance groom’s life, and Debbie said the biggest difference between a full-time and a freelance groom is the relationship with the horse.

“I do miss waking up in the morning, walking out onto the yard and having all your horses that you look after everyday whinnying at you for breakfast,” she said. But even though she doesn’t care for them every day, she still manages to get to know her clients’ horses as well as she can while she works with them. “I work for a lot of the same clients as a freelancer, so I do have that relationship with a few of my horses now,” she said.

To make up for any gaps between the home groom and the freelance groom at an event, Debbie tries to keep the horse’s routine the same as their routine at home. She plans the day out with the rider the night before to make sure their horse gets all the TLC needed and isn’t afraid to call in support from the troops at home.

“I would quite often contact the grooms at home and say, ‘Is this normal? What does he like? What doesn’t he like?’”

Debbie said that grooms in the UK often aren’t able to come to every event because some of them don’t have the HGV license to drive the trailer, so the use of freelance grooms particularly in Europe is quite popular. Other times, American riders who are traveling sans groom will pick up her services at competitions. In this way, Debbie becomes a vital, albeit temporary, part of the team. “I always try and thank the team at home — and make sure that they don’t feel that I’m stealing their horses away and not including them in what’s going on!”

Since Debbie values keeping in contact with the horses’ grooms at home, this makes for a more successful way to care for them at the event.

“My role as a freelance groom, especially at the higher level is that the riders know that I would look after their horse and they don’t have to sort of tell me how to do it. They just know that I’ll get up in the morning, muck out the stall, feed, take the horse out for a hand walk and a graze. So the responsibility is that they don’t have to keep an eye on me all the time.”

But of course, this can still be a job that brings pressure with it — as does any grooming gig. “There is pressure, when you don’t know the horse -– it’s quite a lot especially at the big competitions when you don’t know them,” Debbie says. “But, that’s when you have to keep checking with the rider and making sure that, for feeling legs and stuff, that that’s normal for how the legs feel.”

Most recently, Debbie groomed for Liz Halliday-Sharp and Miks Master C at Aachen, where the pair finished fifth individually and second in team competition. “I have worked with her previously on and off for a good few years, so that was just really nice to be asked back again to work with Miks Master C, which was pretty cool because I hadn’t actually met him,” she recalled.

In working with so many horses, surely there have been a few favorites that have arisen — and Debbie does have one, though she admits it’s difficult to pick. “At the moment I’ve got a favorite horse; I shouldn’t have favorites!” Her current favorite horse is Bill Levett’s RNH Tom Tom R — “He’s a bit of a character.” — with whom she worked at Millstreet last year and has seen grow from a young horse into a professional athlete. “He just went around double clear at Bramham and hopefully we’ll finish the season at Boekelo.”

Debbie credits her knowledge and experience to working full time for three or fours years with a few different riders. “It’s invaluable, seeing horses’ legs every day, looking at their skin, assessing their weight, looking at their fitness, and gaining all that knowledge from being on a yard every day, with a professional rider.”

Debbie’s advice to anyone seeking to be a professional groom? “Surround yourself with good people and enjoy it because it’s one hell of a ride.”

Even though Debbie originally made the switch to freelance to free up more time for herself, but ended up with a busier plate she wouldn’t trade the job for anything else. “It’s quite a treat, really, doing it all.”

Go Debbie. Go Eventing.

EN’s #supergroom series is proudly sponsored by Achieve Equine, home to FLAIR Equine Nasal Strips, VIP Equestrian, and Iconic Equestrian. At Achieve Equine, it’s All About the Horse — and who better to trust with putting horses first than the incredible grooms who care for them? Keep an eye out for more #supergroom initiatives happening here on EN all. year round.

Catching Up with #Supergroom Meredith Ferraris after Pratoni

We love celebrating and learning about the #supergrooms who make this sport go around — quite literally! — so we’re on a mission to interview as many grooms as we can to learn about their journeys. Catch up on the other interviews from this series here and nominate a #supergroom of your own by emailing [email protected]!

Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Now that the (volcanic) dust has just about settled from the 2022 FEI World Championships of Eventing in Pratoni, we want to know everything about the experience from the folks who were at the heart of it. We caught up with Meredith Ferraris, travelling groom to Ariel Grald and chief caretaker to Leamore Master Plan (also known as Simon), to ask her some of our burning questions about her experience preparing for the biggest event of her rider and horse’s careers.

EN: How did you get into grooming?

MF: I was managing a barn after college and it just didn’t feel like the right fit. I wanted to move back to North Carolina to be closer to my family so I looked on Yard and Groom in early 2018. The only job in this location was working for Ariel and although I didn’t have any previous grooming experience, we both decided to take a chance and the rest is history!

EN: How did you prepare for Pratoni?

MF: I have several detailed packing lists depending on the type of horse show and time of year, so I was able to create one for Pratoni based off of those. Preparing was particularly challenging because I had to be completely packed for Europe before we left for Great Meadow. Simon and I didn’t return home before shipping overseas — I had to make sure we brought everything we would need for the following month so that definitely made it a little trickier!

Horse kisses are the best! Photo courtesy of Taylor Pence.

EN: What are some essential items to pack for a trip like this?

MF: The number one packing priority is always Mrs. Pastures cookies — we don’t go anywhere without Simon’s favorite treat! Simon is a big horse and traveling isn’t easy on his body, so I always make sure to bring therapy tools that will keep him feeling his best. For this trip I brought his Bemer blanket and boots, a handheld laser, and his nebulizer to help him recover from all the lorry and airplane rides.

EN: What’s your favorite thing about Simon?

MF: Simon has a very big personality and likes to express himself at all times, making him one of my favorites in the barn. Most of the time he’s very polite (unless he gets a little fresh!) and he’s just a lot of fun to spend time with on the ground. He’s always down for a good face hug and a cuddle in the stall.

Cuddles and hugs with Simon. Photo courtesy of Ariel Grald.

EN: What was your favorite thing about going to Pratoni?

MF: One of my favorite parts of traveling overseas is getting to know the grooms and competitors better. You end up spending a lot of time together and it usually ends up forming some very lasting friendships. Pratoni was exciting because it had the team dynamic to add to the international championship experience and everyone was rooting just as much for other U.S. riders as they were for the ones they worked for.

EN: What was challenging about the trip?

MF: It’s challenging to keep enough weight on a fit 5* horse and traveling only makes that more difficult, so helping Simon maintain weight throughout his travels and competing was my biggest priority. He’s already a very picky eater and tends to lose a little bit of weight while traveling. It was such a long trek to get over to Pratoni, but luckily I’m used to catering to his changing needs and was able to keep his weight up.

#Supergroom Alyssa Dobrotin and “His Highness” Mai Baum are Preparing for Pratoni

Tamie and Mai Baum with Alyssa at Aachen. Photo by Libby Law.

We love celebrating and learning about the #supergrooms who make this sport go around — quite literally! — so we’re on a mission to interview as many grooms as we can to learn about their journeys. Catch up on the other interviews from this series here and nominate a #supergroom of your own by emailing [email protected]! This one is a special one because Alyssa Dobrotin will be joining Tamie Smith and Team USA in Pratoni for the FEI World Championships.

Alyssa Dobrotin, Tamie Smith’s groom for FEI World Championships for Eventing it Italy this month, grew up riding and competing as well as working for Tamie throughout her childhood. “I wasn’t going to ride at the upper levels, so grooming was my opportunity to be a part of the sport,” she says.

She works for Tamie on a part-time basis, helping her with events like Pratoni — which is especially fun for Alyssa, since she’s known Tamie for 16 years.

Alyssa and Tamie have been working hard to prepare Mai Baum for Pratoni. Alyssa said that Tamie has been “really focusing on the flat, doing a few jump schools, and just trying to keep him fit and ready to go.”

In addition to typical fitness preparation like water treadmill workouts and gallops, Alyssa said that Tamie has been working hard on their already formidable dressage. “After Badminton, she really wanted to improve on that score, so that’s been a big focus, just working on the flatwork and how to get those extra points and be as competitive as possible,” she says.

Mai Baum and Tamie are fresh off of a second-place finish at Great Meadows with their final score of 26.9, only adding some time faults on cross country. Great Meadows, along with Badminton earlier this year, have prepared him for Pratoni and Alyssa says that “now he’s ready to go.”

Going from the West Coast here in the U.S., where it’s very dry, to the east coast in Europe requires thoughtful preparation on Alyssa’s part. “It’s really important we manage their coats and their feet,” she says. This care requires various products like Sound hoof conditioner and Keratex hoof hardener for his feet as well as pink spray and witch hazel for his coat. After using the pink spray and witch hazel, Alyssa curries him well to help his coat with the transition from dry to wet climates.

Of course, Mai Baum comes with a load of other items to keep him at his peak comfort. “I always like to have everything that he needs like all of his boots, all of his fly sheets and magnetic blanket, Professional’s Choice theramics– all of those products just to keep him as comfortable as can be for whatever the weather is,” Alyssa says.

The U.S. team left for France on Saturday. After spending a week training there, they’ll head on to Pratoni, which is just south-east of Rome in Italy — which means another long road trip is on the cards.

Alyssa says that the team of grooms and support staff will “be keeping them happy and eating through the travel” and “keeping an eye on how they’re acclimatising and changing over to the hay.”

Mai Baum has a sweet, yet quirky, personality, which makes him a joy to look after — as long as you pay attention to his likes and dislikes. “He doesn’t like to be sprayed, but he loves to be pampered,” says Alyssa. “He likes to be the center of attention. He’s very sweet, he’s very opinionated. He’s just a really good guy; he’s a total gentleman.”

Because Mai Baum likes to “feel like he’s the king,” Alyssa calls him “His Highness.” She says that “he definitely has a royal kind of persona. We actually call him the Queen of England often because he is royalty but he’s also very kind.”

Alyssa has a special appreciation for Mai Baum. “He’s my best friend. He knows what’s going on. He knows when we’re traveling for something big. He can be a little cheeky, but when it’s time to perform, he’s all business and he’s such a competitor himself,” she says.

Tamie and Mai Baum were named Team USA’s first alternate for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which was an honor, but Alyssa is excited for the pair to be competing on the team this time around.

“I’m honestly excited for him to have this opportunity to take his shot at it. Being the reserve for Tokyo was a great experience, but him being able to go and compete and really show what he’s got – I’m just excited for that,” she says.

There is a lot to look forward to with an experience like this and Alyssa is excited to work with the rest of Team USA’s grooms over the next couple of weeks.

“I think we have a really good team; I think it’s a really good group of grooms. Everybody’s experienced, everybody gets along great, so I’m looking forward to that,” she says.

Alyssa, along with the rest of the team’s grooms have been working extra hard to prepare for an event like this, and EN wishes them luck and safe travels!

Go Alyssa. Go Eventing.

#Supergroom Sally Robertson’s 6 Pieces of Advice for Professional Grooms

We love celebrating and learning about the #supergrooms who make this sport go around — quite literally! — so we’re on a mission to interview as many grooms as we can to learn about their journeys. Catch up on the other interviews from this series here and nominate a #supergroom of your own by emailing [email protected]!

Sally Robertson and Vermiculus. Photo by JJ Sillman.

Sally Robertson, from Coromandel, New Zealand, has been working in the equine industry for decades. Having worked for riders like Chris Chugg, Clark Montgomery, and Lauren Nicholson, it’s safe to say Sally has learned quite a bit — and so, ahead of next month’s FEI World Championships for Eventing, where Sally will be caring for Team USA member Lauren Nicholson’s partner, Vermiculus, we wanted to pick her brain and learn a few things from this top pro. So, without further ado, here are Sally’s six pieces of advice for aspiring professional grooms!

1. Be patient and stick with it.

Sally has experienced various programs and their atmospheres, but says it may take time to find one that really fits you. “Lauren and I, we just work really well together. I probably wouldn’t want to work for anyone else; she has a great program. She not only respects her horses, but she really respects the staff. It’s taken me a long time to find a position that I feel extremely valued in.”

Being a professional groom is not an easy journey, and the tough days can be as frequent as the exciting ones. But if you stick with it, it’s worth it. “In the early years you have to be prepared that it’s going to be a lot of hard work. You might not get to where you want as quickly as you want. But if you can stick with it, and you find the right place, it’s incredibly rewarding.”

“There are a lot of sacrifices. So it’s up to the individual whether those sacrifices are worth making. Personally, I find that they are.”

Sally and Lauren Nicholson at Kentucky. Photo courtesy of Sally Robertson.

2. Take care of yourself.

It’s typical for anyone in this line of work to ignore minor injuries or pains. No pain, no gain, right? Although that mindset is shifting and becoming less common, it’s still important to be conscious of taking care of yourself, especially when the job is taxing on your body.

“If you get into the profession and you want to stay with it long term, don’t make the mistake I did. Start looking after yourself from the get-go. If you need to see a chiropractor, if you need to have a massage, if you need to take that day off and not leave the house and lay on the couch and reboot yourself, you need to take care of yourself from the get-go. And then, you’ll make your life easier in the long run.”

3. You’ll learn something from everyone that you work for – people you like and people you don’t like. Learn something from each person and keep those lessons in your toolbox.

“To be honest, I’ve learned something from everyone I’ve worked for. And whether that be right or wrong, I think each program has its ups and its downs. If you can take away what they’re trying to teach you whether you agree with it or not agree with it, then you’ll never stop learning. And you’ll find many different ways to deal with people and deal with the horses. Not one staff member is the same; not one horse is the same. The more tools you have in your box, the more versatile and better you can do your job.”

Pony hugs… the best kind. Photo courtesy of Sally Robertson.

4. When the job gets stressful or tiring, remember why you started.

“In the past, if I’ve been in that situation, I just try and take a moment, take a breath, remember why I’m doing it. At the end of the day, everything’s going to get done because it has to get done.”

Sally also said that preparing for what comes next and staying organized helps reduce those stressful moments, which leads us to her next point…

5. Stay organized and think ahead.

Typically, Sally thinks and plans as much as two months ahead of time.

“I’m actually like that on a daily basis and weekly basis. So I don’t have the surprises, but then when the surprises do pop up, I generally find it pretty easy to deal with that. I think just grounding yourself again, for a moment, and remembering to breathe, and the most important thing is making sure the horses are taken care of properly. So if that’s your number one priority, then the rest will fall into place. You might not be finishing at the time you want to but that’s horses. It’s any animal.”

That smile says it all! Photo courtesy of Sally Robertson.

6. Witch hazel is your best friend.

Sally’s go to product is witch hazel, especially because it can be useful for so many things.

“That’s a thing daily in our barn. Once we’ve done our afternoon grooming and they’re curried and brushed off and whatnot, they all get a spray with witch hazel. I just find it helps the coats a lot. I won’t ever at shows put fake stuff on them to make them shiny. I’m not big on that. I think sometimes it interferes with the tack, then you can end up with a slippery saddle pad or something. But I find that witch hazel can actually help with that, a bit of an extra shine if need be without making their coats yucky and greasy.”

Thank you Sally for passing some of your wisdom on to us!

Go Sally and Go Eventing.

#Supergroom Conner Ann Clark Balances Training Clients and Producing Her Own Horse up the Levels

We love celebrating and learning about the #supergrooms who make this sport go around — quite literally! — so we’re on a mission to interview as many grooms as we can to learn about their journeys. Catch up on the other interviews from this series here and nominate a #supergroom of your own by emailing [email protected]!

Conner Ann and Hawley at her farm in Idaho. Photo courtesy of Conner Ann Clark.

Conner Ann Clark, originally from Emmett, Idaho, has spent the last six years producing her own horse up through the levels, along with teaching lessons to her own client base that she’s been building since graduating high school. That busy schedule is no accident: Conner Ann began working for Hawley Bennett-Awad in 2020 as a working student, which eventually turned into a groom position. Since the program was on the smaller side, Conner Ann was lucky enough to be able to bring two horses along with her and says that Hawley “pretty much helped mold the idea that my horse and I are capable of doing more than just Training or Preliminary, and she was in his corner for that aspect.”

Even now, working for Valerie Pride in Maryland, Conner Ann is still able to balance riding her horse, Second Chance McFly, aka Chance, along with teaching lessons. “She’s really good about making sure that our horses get on the schedule early enough in the day; that it’s not going to be 4 or 5 p.m. by the time you’re swinging your leg over your own horse,” Conner Ann says.

When you’re managing to ride your own horse as well as teaching others, it’s important to remember what got you to that point in the first place. “The reason you’re doing this is the horses you have, so don’t let them get the short end of the stick just because you’re wanting to fill up a schedule of lessons or schedule of horses,” she says sagely.

Conner Ann coaching her student around her first recognized event at Galway Downs in 2021. Photo courtesy of Conner Ann Clark.

Although Conner Ann’s title is Assistant Trainer, that doesn’t stop her from being at the barn at 7 a.m. with the rest of the girls taking care of the horses. She has always prioritised putting in the work, which has helped her get to where she is today.

“I don’t come from a wealthy background and I don’t have the most expensive, well-trained, fancy horse. I got here by working my butt off every day for the last 10 years,” she says.

One of the keys to success in the tough, often relentless horse world is a hunger to learn and get stuck in, and Conner Ann has never passed up an opportunity to get involved with horses. “I fed, cleaned, tacked, groomed, anything I could for the opportunity to swing my leg over anything and everything I could. This is what opened all my doors for me to get where I am,” she remembers.

While Conner Ann is teaching clients– both in Maryland and back home in Idaho – she also manages to compete her horse at the CCI1* level. Some weekends she travels back to her hometown in Idaho to teach lessons to loyal, day one clients, and some weekends she’s competing at an event herself, which gives her a unique perspective on what her clients need from her.

Chance and Conner Ann through the CCI1*-S finish flags at MDHT. Photo courtesy of Allison Green with SDH Photography.

Conner Ann and her OTTB have been partners since 2016. Although her mother didn’t like the idea, Conner Ann and her dad went to look at the skinny rescue horse who they would later call Chance. They’ve undeniably come a long way since then, winning the CCI1*-S at The Maryland International Horse Trials this July among their accolades.

“I think that just being his person from day one of this journey has been really gratifying; I know him like the back of my hand, if not better than that. And I feel like he knows me just as well,” says Conner Ann. You can read more about their tight-knit partnership in the story that Conner Ann wrote for EN here.

It’s becoming more and more common for aspiring equestrian professionals to take a gap year after school to work as a groom or working student. Although hers is an unconventional approach, and one she was conscious might be looked down upon by some outside the industry, Conner Ann opted to follow a different route: she began her business straight out of high school.

“It’s definitely, I think, worth going and taking that year or two or three or however many years you want it to be because you’re not going to be 18, 19, or 20 forever,” she says. “A lot of people that I know, I do think that it’s something they wish they would have done when they were younger because it’s harder to do once you have a family or have a nine to five office job; you can’t just sneak away. I definitely think that school is always going to be there; I think that school is very important and I think that you definitely should go.”

Conner Ann’s advice to any young rider hoping to pick up a working student position?  “Be a sponge,” she says,  and absorb anything you can from the people you work with.

Go Conner Ann and Go Eventing!

#supergroom Madelyn Gibbs Got Her Start with Tennessee Walking Horses

Madelyn and Scout. Photo courtesy of Mustafa Photography.

Madelyn Gibbs grew up driving from Chattanooga, TN to Atlanta, GA two weekends out of every month with her parents. It was there in Atlanta where family friend Roger Brown let Madelyn spend the weekend riding at his barn. As a typical kid infatuated with horses, she took that opportunity.

“I would ride Friday night and then I’d spend the night and ride all day Saturday, and then ride Sunday morning, and then I would come home,” Madelyn said.

Madelyn got her start with horses when she was around nine years old when a woman her mom knew taught Madelyn the basics of riding on her Tennessee Walking Horses.

“It kind of started because I was never really good at other sports and riding was always something that was super interesting to me,” she said.

Since Chattanooga is not a very horsey area, Madelyn and her family made the commute to Atlanta for her to gain more riding experience with Roger. When riding every few weekends wasn’t enough for her anymore, Madelyn met Caitlin Randolph at Mystery Dog Ranch in Ringgold, GA.

“I basically became a total barn rat and I grew up there, made all my childhood friends there, and that’s where I got introduced to the sport of eventing,” she recalled.

During her time at Mystery Dog, Madelyn leased Caitlin’s horse, Scout, a Quarter Horse. “He always gave me the best feeling and I couldn’t wait every day to get home from school and go to the barn and ride Scout and he really became my heart horse and my best friend,” Madelyn said.

Out of high school, Madelyn got her first working student gig, and although she said it was not the greatest experience, she learned a lot from it. When Madelyn came home from her working student position, her first horse, Yaya, was retired. She was at a point where she didn’t know exactly where to go next. It was then that her current horse, King’s Ransom, aka Arthur, came into her life.

Madelyn and Yaya. Photo courtesy of Pamela Hammonds.

“He is such a genuine and kind-hearted horse and he was exactly what I needed when my mare retired because I just felt a little bit lost,” she said. While Madelyn and Arthur were building their new partnership, she also began grooming for the hunter jumpers. “A local rated horse show hunter jumper barn was looking for someone to muck stalls on Saturdays and I reached out and one thing led to another and I became a show groom.”

When Madelyn wanted a change of pace, she encountered a post from Courtney Cooper of Excel Star Sporthorses / C Square Farm in Nottingham, PA seeking an event groom. “It had been a while since I’d been on the eventing scene, but I’ve always loved it and knew I would somehow find a way back to it,” she said.

So she reached out and less than a month later, she moved to Pennsylvania to start her job with Courtney. “I’ve been here since August of last year and it’s a dream come true.”

Madelyn and King’s Ransom, aka Arthur. Photo by Amy Dragoo.

Madelyn works with around 30 horses at the farm, including “a bunch of babies that are coming up the ranks.” She enjoys helping with bringing the babies along especially since it’s something she’s never done before, as the hunter jumper horses she’s had experience with were already made.

“I’ve gotten to watch two of our horses – David and Griffin – both win their first Intermediates and I got to see them go to their first three-stars,” she recalled fondly.

Working with Courtney is unlike any job Madelyn has ever worked before. “Courtney is always right there in the barn, right beside you working just as hard. She really cares about the horses in a way that I have not seen anyone else care,” she said.

Courtney encourages Madelyn and pushes her to learn more and try harder. “Everyone we meet says that I am Courtney’s ‘mini me.’ Basically, we’re really similar in the fact that we are strong willed and we have ways we like to do things.”

Madelyn and Briarhill Excel Star Take 2 aka Maeve, one of Courtney’s horses. Photo courtesy of Madelyn Gibbs.

Madelyn thrives off of the constant energy that her job has. “There is never a day that goes by without something interesting or funny or totally random happening here. We always have something to do whether it’s cross country schooling or showing horses for sale or getting new horses off of a trailer at 3 a.m.”

Some people would be intimidated by that unpredictability, but Madelyn feels just the opposite. “It’s always an exciting day; you never know what’s going to happen when you wake up in the morning,” she said. Her process as a groom has shifted as she transitioned from working in the hunter jumper world to the eventing world.

“I was very used to going somewhere for a whole week and setting up the barn at the horse show,” she explained. “It took me a little while to get used to working off of a trailer at one days.”

Madelyn also had to transfer her focus from working with clients, making sure that kids and horses got to the ring on time, the horses were ready on time, and everything else you’d expect in a mixed training and sales program. “It’s a lot of the same stuff especially with us working with sport horses and imports,” she explained. “It’s kind of the same routine just done a little bit differently, which I really love.”

Madelyn leading the Midsouth Region at Pony Club Championships. Photo courtesy of Pamela Hammonds.

She finds value in being part of Pony Club for the past eight years, which has greatly helped her in her position now and recognizes the importance of becoming involved in the like to be prepared for the inner workings of the equine industry. “I think whether it’s finding IEA or 4-H or Pony Club, anything like that where you can get involved and you can be hands on with animals and with people, it’s really important to have good people skills,” she said.

Madelyn said that many people think that as a groom, you just deal with horses all day, but in her experience, that’s far from the truth. “We have clients in and out of the barn three or four times a week; this week we have horses being shown for sale every single day. I have to be able to put on my customer service voice and cater to them.”

When her former boss first approached her about coming to a show and grooming, Madelyn was nervous to do it, but took the opportunity anyway. “Never turning down an opportunity is a really big proponent of it,” she said. To make the most of every opportunity you don’t turn down, Madelyn’s advice is to take bits and pieces from each opportunity and keep those tools in your toolbox.

Madelyn grooming in the hunter jumper ring. Photo courtesy of Madelyn Gibbs.

It is because of her support system that Madelyn is able to put all her effort into her work. “I have a huge support group back home in Chattanooga who are always checking in on me through my mom and asking me how I’m doing and I just wouldn’t be able to do the job I’m doing without them.”

Most of all, she understands the importance of giving the job your all. “If you take the time to learn and you take the time to care for every single horse as if it’s your own, people start to notice and people want you to work for them.”

Go Madelyn and Go Eventing.

“It Gives You a Really Great Community”: Get to Know Auburn Eventing

Auburn University. Photo by Shelby Allen.

As the Auburn Eventing Team is fresh off their win at the USEA Intercollegiate Championships, we wanted to get to know the team and how it started. Auburn’s team is just one of 28 USEA Intercollegiate Eventing Teams in the country. The intercollegiate program is continuing to grow and it’s a wonderful way to continue eventing in college and experience the sport in a team-oriented sense.

In 2013, Mary Atkins Hunt founded Auburn’s eventing team, which started with just a few childhood riding buddies. Along with Mary, Carley Whetstone, Claire Robinson, Betsy Kaywood, Kyndal White, Lucia Menozi, Sally Colbert, Meagan Baker, and Casey Driscoll were the founding members of the team.

Fun fact: Auburn was actually one of the founding teams in the USEA Intercollegiate Eventing Program, which officially started in 2015 after Leslie Threlkeld and Claire Kelley brought their ideas to life. In May of 2016, Auburn earned third place at the inaugural USEA Intercollegiate Championships at Virginia H.T. where eight other schools were competing.

Photo courtesy of Auburn Eventing.

“We are really fortunate in that the area we are in at Auburn is surrounded by a lot of big events and venues, so there were already several girls at the school who were eventing,” this past year’s president, Gabrielle Yashinsky said.

The team really began to grow as the intercollegiate program in general is becoming more popular within the U.S. “We have girls visiting Auburn and looking at the school specifically because of the program, so it’s really cool how it’s developed from just a few members to now we have 41 girls on the team,” Gabrielle said.

As the team continued to grow, they became more well-known within Auburn, garnering more of the school’s support. Aubie the Tiger, their mascot even showed up to cheer the team on at championships this year!

Auburn University’s mascot “Aubie” was out cheering on the team at Intercollegiate Championships last month. Photo by Shelby Allen.

The team meets once a month and the executive members talk about upcoming events and they host clinics once or twice a month. Outside of horses, the team comes together for events like football watch parties, tailgates, and team dinners.

“We also do team workouts twice a week where we are fortunate enough to have personal trainers within the Auburn Rec Center that we get to work with who have helped us focus on specifically what will help with our riding skills,” Gabrielle said.

Most members board at H&G Horse Quarters, Silver Lining Equestrian, Bright Farms, or Flint Hill Farm. “Everyone gets to choose what they want, where they want to put their horse depending on their needs, at various distances from campus, and different coaches and stuff like that,” Gabrielle said.

Lindsey Lanier, owner of Flint Hill Farms, is generous enough to allow the team to host their clinics at her property. “It has nice cross country and a dressage arena, so we all come together for that at this one specific barn whenever we’re bringing someone in or hosting a clinic,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Auburn Eventing.

Even if students don’t have their own horse, they can still participate in team activities. Members who aren’t able to bring their horse to school with them, their horse is injured, or they don’t have a horse can be part of the team as non-competing members.

“They’ll do things like audit clinics, cheer us on at all the team challenges, do all the social events, and meetings so it allows them to still participate even if they don’t have a horse at the current moment,” Gabrielle said.

Since the team doesn’t receive funding from Auburn, they put a lot of effort into fundraising. They focus on funding championships, clinics, and shows. Fundraisers like selling t-shirts and sweatshirts, hosting an auction, or opening their clinics to the public helps bring in more funds. “We’re always adding new things to help us raise money so that we can support the team even more,” Gabrielle said.

Photo by Shelby Allen.

Auburn’s eventing team has been fortunate enough to be sponsored by Fairfax & Favor and they recently started a new partnership with Lululemon. “It’s really cool that some of these brands are starting to see what we’re doing and want to be a part of it and we get great deals out of it.”

Gabrielle has enjoyed being part of the team throughout her time at Auburn, even though she was worried about having enough time for it at first. “I think most of our girls say that having a horse at school has been very therapeutic for them in a way because it’s a way to escape off campus to hang with other people who have the same love for horses that we all do,” she said.

Photo by Shelby Allen.

“It just gives you a really great community and especially at a school like Auburn where it’s really big and intimidating, it’s super nice because you’re meeting all these people with similar interests right away,” Gabrielle continued.

The team has worked hard all season to bring home the win at championships this year. “To bring home the national championship and the spirit award was just a really amazing feeling I think that everyone will remember for a long time,” Gabrielle said.

Having a team-like atmosphere in eventing is becoming increasingly valued, thanks to the founding of the intercollegiate program. “Everyone’s always there to support each other and help out, so it’s just a super close-knit group of girls who all share the same passion,” Gabrielle said.

“I’ve loved my four years on the team and wouldn’t change anything about it,” Gabrielle said.

War Eagle and Go Eventing.

Check out more scenes from Auburn’s eventing team and follow them on Instagram to keep up with more:

#supergroom Janelle Fleming’s Journey from Birthday Parties to Barn Manager

We love celebrating and learning about the #supergrooms who make this sport go around — quite literally! — so we’re on a mission to interview as many grooms as we can to learn about their journeys. Catch up on the other interviews from this series here and nominate a #supergroom of your own by emailing [email protected]!

Janelle and Sara Kozumplik at Tryon last fall. Photo courtesy of Janelle Fleming.

Janelle Fleming, from Dallas, Tx., started taking riding lessons when she was 10 years old, but never thought it would lead her to the position of Sara Kozumplik’s barn manager.

At a young age, Janelle’s dad took her to the barn down the road to pet the horses and when her friends had birthday parties at barns, she rode the horses there. Her passion for horses was ignited, but at the time she couldn’t afford to take many lessons.

When, at age 10, Janelle wanted to start taking lessons and she took it into her own hands to make it happen. “My dad opened a restaurant, so I decided that I would get a job there to pay for riding lessons,” she said.

Years later, after switching to online school for her senior year of high school and becoming a working student for Ellen Doughty-Hume, Janelle still wasn’t completely sure if she wanted a career in the equine industry. She decided to keep following the path she was on to see where it would lead; Sara Kozumplik needed help at the time, so Janelle took the job as a working student.

Janelle at one of her first summer camps with Cheyenne, who was the first horse she consistently rode at her first lesson barn. Photo courtesy of Janelle Fleming.

“I was supposed to take a gap year, but I’ve been here for almost three years. I decided that this is what I wanted to do and not to go to college,” Janelle said.

After about a month of working for Sara, Janelle began grooming her show jumpers and from there began taking on more responsibilities. Eventually, she kept gaining more responsibility which has led her to the barn manager position. She didn’t think she would end up being the barn manager when she first took the job, but she has just the right personality and attitude for the position.

“I have a very strong personality; I like to take charge. If I see something that needs to be done, I’ll just go ahead and do it and I like having responsibility,” Janelle said.

Janelle and Ellen Doughty-Hume. Photo courtesy of Janelle Fleming.

She enjoys working with Sara because she is able to bounce ideas off of her and they can collaborate as a team. “I like that she doesn’t micromanage us in the barn every day. She trusts us and she knows that she hired us for a reason,” she said.

Janelle appreciates that Sara’s main priority is for the horses to be happy. “I know some people just want to come in and ride; that’s all they want to do,” she described. “It’s really nice that she’s there and just wants the horses to be happy.”

Janelle rides Sara’s former 5* horse, Fly Me Courageous aka “Ziggy”. He spent some time out in the field after a suspensory injury in 2016. “About two years ago, they decided that he’s going to come back into work and start rehabbing and kind of see where he’s at,” she said.

Janelle took Ziggy through his rehab process beginning with walks and eventually started jumping him and going to events. Ziggy was feeling comfortable and spry, and Janelle was having the time of her life: in the last two years they’ve methodically moved up the levels, completing Janelle’s first FEI events including the 2*-L at Tryon last fall. Now, Janelle and Ziggy are headed to her first 3*-S at Virginia Horse Trials this coming weekend.

Janelle has been able to travel to various venues, but she says she most enjoyed going to the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event with Sara last year.

Janelle and Ziggie. Photo by Ella Detwyler.

“We didn’t have the result that we were hoping for, but still, I think it was a really fun experience,” Janelle said. “I’ve only been to Kentucky once before, and that was probably five years ago and I just went as a spectator. So it was really cool to get to go as a groom and to help her actual groom [fellow #supergroom Sara Kelson] out.”

Janelle’s journey to this position was unexpected, but she’s glad it led her to work with Sara. “She is probably one of the most selfless and caring people that I’ve met,” she said. “She really wants the best for everyone and she really wants us to do well.”

While Janelle may not have expected she’d go from taking riding lessons at age 10 to becoming the barn manager at a top barn, but she is thankful for the experiences she has encountered through her journey.

Go Janelle and Go Eventing.

#SuperGroom Series: Sara Kelson’s Journey from Pony Club to Professional Groom

We love celebrating and learning about the #supergrooms who make this sport go around — quite literally! — so we’re on a mission to interview as many grooms as we can to learn about their journeys. Catch up on the other interviews from this series here and nominate a #supergroom of your own by emailing [email protected]!

Sara at the Pony Club Quiz Championships. Photo courtesy of Sara Kelson.

Sara Kelson was looking for a change in her routine during the Covic-19 pandemic and wound up working for Sara Kozumplik in Berryville, Va. It was a big change for Sara, who grew up in the Bay Area in northern California and did a variety of Pony Club activities during her childhood.

“I didn’t have my own horse so I just catch rode and I was really big into doing the quiz rally in Pony Club, which I think for me started my whole thing with horse management and learning about things that were not just riding,” Sara said.

Since Sara didn’t have a horse of her own, competing in the Pony Club quiz rally was a way for her to be involved with horses without needing to have her own horse.

Sara began working for 5* rider Jon Holling out of high school and learned all about horse care and management from his head groom, Katy Long. Soon after, she spent time in England working with Beth Burton, who currently rides for Cooley Farm in Ireland.

Jon Holling teaches Sara on her first horse, Ebony. Photo courtesy of Gary Kelson.

Sara liked seeing the differences between the culture of ownership in England compared to the U.S. “People owning horses for people is so much more normal there; normal people want to get involved and support riders,” she said.

After she went to college for a year, Sara decided that she enjoyed working with horses more, and began working at Chocolate Horse Farm, a large client barn in California.

Sara was still in contact with Katy Long, who told her about the job opening with Sara Kozumplik. “I was only planning on staying with Sara for a year,” Sara said. “I ended up falling in love with her program and her horses and we really clicked professionally.”

Sara enjoys working with a boss who is fair when it comes to the horses, and Sara Kozumplik embodies that concept. “She treats both the horses and the people the same: with a lot of kindness, a lot of compassion,” she described.

Instead of jumping to conclusions with the horses, the team at Sara Kozumplik’s farm, based in Virginia in summer and Ocala in winter, look at how to help them first. The team evaluates factors like if their feet are hurting, if they need massage therapy, or if they need acupuncture before associating it with merely bad behavior.

Sara being a superstar groom! Photo courtesy of Katie Trafton.

Sara Kozumplik is always learning, and Sara enjoys watching her lessons because she is open to feedback and even criticism. “She’s also incredibly humble — she has done so much and knows so many people but she always has that student mentality,” Sara said.

Although Sara enjoys going to big events, she likes getting to know the horses and their personalities better. “The day to day is why I like doing what I do,” Sara said. Since she puts so much emphasis on getting to know the horses on a day-to-day basis, when they get to high pressure situations like competitions, Sara knows exactly what they need to stay relaxed and happy. “Just being able to spend quality time with them and really have that relationship is what keeps me going,” she said.

Sara knows how easy it is to get caught up with setting big goals, but understands that horses are still emotional animals. It’s fascinating for her to understand how each horse is unique and how they react individually to the competition environment. “I think that still letting them be horses and be normal, be real is so incredibly important,” she said. “It’s also cool because they are all so different, seeing how Sara will adapt her riding or her approach to the different horses too.”

Sara with the horses. Photo courtesy of Sierra Lesny.

Sara knows that there is major pressure to be “successful” in the equine industry today, but says that “you don’t have to fit into every box. There’s nothing wrong with you if you don’t.” She can see herself staying with Sara Kozumplik for a while, but noted that being a groom is not always considered as prestigious or as long-term of a plan as being a rider. “The only thing that’s kind of acceptable in the horse world is if you are a trainer or you have a lesson program.”

“So many people will ask me ‘What’s the next plan?’ and I think it’s a lot of times because people don’t really think about being a professional groom as a legitimate career option,” she said. Sara believes that people’s outlook on a groom’s role in the industry is changing for the better. “It’s a really cool, really rewarding career. That’s something that I’m really loving riding the wave of.”

Go Sara and Go Eventing.

Land Rover Rookies: Booli Selmayr and Millfield Lancando

Booli Selmayr and Millfield Lancando. Photo by Abby Powell.

When Booli Selmayr is looking at horses, she doesn’t carry a list of specific qualities that need to be fulfilled — instead she goes with her gut. That’s exactly what happened with her partner, the 15-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Millfield Lancando (Lancer II – Fancy II, by Langata Express xx).

Booli, who hails from Westchester, NY, grew up in a family who loved animals. Her childhood consisted of Pony Club and trail riding with her brother.

Booli bought Millfield Lancando, or “Lance”, from Kevin Keane, a equine sports medicine vet in Pennsylvania, six years ago. Lance was already going Prelim when Kevin called and asked her to try him out. “I can’t tell you exactly what it was that made me go ‘yes’ but there was definitely something that was like ‘yep, this is the horse that I’m going to be dedicated to and take as far as he can go,” Booli said.

Booli’s gut feeling proved to be advantageous, as now the pair is headed to make their debut at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event this year!

Although Booli’s goal with Lance was to go up the levels, she knew she needed to build a relationship with him first. “Even though the horse was going Prelim, we definitely had to take some time to develop a partnership and train him to be more my ride versus a very tall man’s ride,” she said.

Lance stands tall at 17.1 hands and “if you were to see Lance in person, he’s built kind of like a bus. He is really tall, but he’s also just really long,” Booli described.

Booli and her Connemara pony, Maggie, at a hunter pace in North Salem, NY in 1996. Photo courtesy of Booli Selmayr.

He also carries a lot of tense energy, and since he’s a big horse, Booli has worked with him to channel that energy. “It was just teaching him to sort of use that tense energy in a more manageable way so that I didn’t feel like I had to be really strong on him,” she said.

But although Lance may be a large, strong horse, he is also a gentle giant. “He’s actually quite sensitive, which is why I think he is more of a woman’s ride even though his size would say otherwise!” she said.

Another part of Lance’s size is the fact that he can be a bit claustrophobic and is ““very bashful about that,” according to Booli. “He actually makes me think of how big dogs really wish they were small.”

Anna Ciampaglione, who works for Booli, says that Lance often gets intrigued when he’s in new spaces and “gets this expression on his face like he’s just hatched.”

Lance and Booli on cross country at Pine Top Horse Trials. Photo courtesy of Logan Fontana.

When Lance has to conquer new environments, he gets really tall, pricks his ears, and almost gets cross-eyed. “He’s like ‘oh my gosh, the world is so big and bright’ even though he’s 15 years old and has seen everything there is to be seen,” Anna said.

Lance and Booli’s partnership has had its fair share of ups and downs, with both of them dealing with injuries between the start of their partnership and now.

“Dealing with things that you couldn’t foresee having to deal with – it takes some time,” Booli said. But once the pair moved up to Advanced two years ago, Booli knew Lance would be able to go all the way. “This is so easy for him, still, and I thought he should definitely get up there in the next couple of years,” she said.

The pair has had a successful season in 2022 so far, fresh off of top three finishes at Pine Top, Carolina International, and Pine Top again to keep the confidence bubbling ahead of the big 5*. When Booli saw her name on the entry list, she felt a rush of emotions, but she’s not letting that get in the way of properly preparing for the event.

“I’m trying to stay very monotone about the whole thing just because I’m trying to sort of keep a clear head and not get super anxious about how Lance is going,” she said. Her top priority is keeping Lance comfortable leading up to the event, like she would do for any other competition. “I’m just trying to keep myself channeled so that the routine stays the same and he stays happy and healthy and doesn’t feel any anxiety.”

Since the cross country track will prove to be the most challenging that Lance has seen thus far, Booli knows he needs to be extra prepared regarding his fitness. “I’m trying to keep it so that he’s feeling good in his body, good in his mind, and happy; again so it’s not overdoing anything, not underdoing anything,” she said.

Even though Kentucky is a major event, Booli still stresses the importance of the everyday aspects that everyone should have in their training.

“Just working on the little details that we should always work on: transitions, stretching, suppleness. When I’m jumping, making sure that we’re straight and basically all the everyday training things that we should be doing everyday, regardless of a competition,” she said.

Booli Selmayr and Millfield Lancando. Photo by Abby Powell.

The pair’s strongest phase is cross country, having a consistent record of no jump penalties and just a little bit of time. “I’m very comfortable out cross country and he’s an incredible cross country horse,” Booli said.

Having a spot on this year’s entry list was something Booli has been wanting to achieve since she was young, but the journey has not always been easy. “I feel like in the process of trying to get there one can get aggravated and frustrated and that’s normal,” she said.

If Booli could give her younger self advice, she would say to trust the process — a challenge for any driven individual! “What will be will be,” she said. “Learn from things not working out.”

EN wishes Booli and Lance the best of luck at their first Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event! Stay tuned for much more from the #BestWeekendAllYear and, as always, Go Eventing.

#Supergroom Series: Will Coleman Equestrian is Hailey Burlock’s Home Away From Home

Hailey and the team. Photo courtesy of Shannon Brinkman.

Hailey Burlock went from helping her cousins with barn chores as a kid to grooming for Will and Katie Coleman– and I had the pleasure of getting to talk with her about that journey.

Hailey grew up in Fredericton, New Brunswick and her involvement with horses began as a kid by lending a helping hand at her cousins’ draft horse barn on the weekends. As she grew older, she started taking weekly lessons with Zoe Erichsen-Meesters, and eventually leased “Fantasia,” a horse that was shortlisted for the 2008 Olympics.

“I was so lucky to be able to ride and compete a horse like that. She was amazing and we shared a special bond, as well as an exact same birth date,” Hailey said. “Fantasia” got Hailey hooked on the sport of eventing and began her appreciation for and dedication to horses as high-performing athletes.

As an integral part of the WCE team, Hailey’s work behind the scenes is a major help to the team’s consistent international success.

While this respect for the horses and the sport would eventually be her career choice, Hailey studied forestry at the Maritime College of Forest Technology.

“It wasn’t always clear that a chance to work with horses was a viable option for me, but I was always really interested in just being outside and working outside,” she said. “Studying forestry and going down the path towards becoming a park ranger was really formative for establishing myself as an independent, self-motivated individual.”

Hailey’s chance to work with horses on a daily basis arrived partly by chance. Growing up in Eastern Canada, she had ridden in several clinics with Rob Stevenson, the Chef d’Equipe for the Canadian Olympic Team. After crossing paths with him later, he offered her a job running his barn in St. John, New Brunswick. She worked with him for about two years and groomed at international competitions like Bromont and Foshay International.

Hailey and Dondante. Photo courtesy of Alleyn Evans of Shannon Brinkman Photo.

“It gave me a taste for running a barn and maintaining a standard of horse care that I could really embrace,” Hailey said.

Hailey soon found herself back at school, but within six months, she was itching for another opportunity in the horse world. “I just missed horses, and I missed working with them. The classroom all of a sudden seemed very boring and unfulfilling, and I began desperately looking for opportunities as a groom,” she said.

Will and Katie Coleman were looking for some help, so Hailey seized the opportunity and applied for the job. “As soon as Hailey arrived, I could see that she was exactly what we were looking for in a professional groom,” Katie Coleman said.

“Traveling from New Brunswick to Ocala is an exhausting, nearly 24 hour journey. When Hailey arrived at the farm, it was at the end of the day and the girls were sweeping and finishing up the barn. Hailey had probably not slept in a day, but without saying a word, she just instantly grabbed a broom and started sweeping alongside them. I remember so distinctly saying to myself, ‘I like this girl.’ She has an unbelievable motor, and a work ethic that is second to none. She leads by example, and that’s what we admire most in her,” Katie said.

Grooming is not an easy job, and people are often shocked by the time commitment it requires. “It’s an all-consuming job and lifestyle,” Hailey said. “People don’t realize all that goes into it, but I love all that.”

Top eventing and equestrian programs around the world are like Formula One teams, and grooms are the epicenter of maintaining and optimizing these incredible equine athletes that are part of top equestrian programs. They communicate with vets, farriers, coaches, and their riders in ways that require them to be very knowledgeable about all of these various fields.

“There are no medals or major performance goals reached without a truly world-class groom in the barn, and Hailey has become that person for us,” Katie said.

In almost two years of working with Katie and Will, Hailey has seen firsthand that the number one priority for WCE is the horses and their care, and she has embraced that approach.

Hailey Burlock riding her cousins’ pony when she was little. Photo courtesy of Hailey Burlock.

“Everything is meticulously well thought out, and there’s a reason why we do everything. Will and Katie hold everyone to a very high standard. Their expectations are that the whole team is constantly striving to get better in the way that we manage and support the horses in fulfilling their potential, and I think that’s what makes us a successful program,” Hailey said.

WCE’s success in 2021—which include multiple internation wins, a top five finish at the Maryland 5*, a reserve horse for the Tokyo Olympics, and the first American winner of Aachen CHIO 4*– can be attributed in part to the team behind the scenes.

“Success for our program — the rider is just the cover,” Will Coleman he told EN after a recent win at Stable View. “It is as much about everybody else: my coaches, my wife, my family, our girls home at the barn, the team behind us, vets, farriers. It’s really a victory for all of them, I’m just the cover of the book, but they’re the ones making up the full story.”

Aachen winner Off The Record and recent Carolina 4*-S winner Dondante are Hailey’s top two favorites at the barn – credits to their vibrant personalities for being so high up on the list! Just don’t tell the other horses…Hailey can’t play favorites, “I love them all to be honest.”

Since Will and Katie are based out of Ocala during the winter and Gordonsville, Virginia the rest of the year, it is difficult for Hailey to see her family in Canada. “I feel very fortunate that Will and Katie treat us like family – that certainly helps with being away from home for extended periods of time.”

But despite the long hours and hard work, Hailey says, “I love all of those ins and outs. Those small details and extra efforts are really what makes our successes so rewarding.”

Hailey is thankful for the support and opportunities that Will and Katie have given her and looks forward to another exciting year in 2022. With three horses aiming to contest the Land Rover Kentucky 5*, another trip to Aachen CHIO and their sights ultimately set on representing the U.S. at the FEI World Championships for Eventing in Pratoni, Italy this fall, it will be another busy and exciting year of competition for Hailey and the Will Coleman Equestrian team.

Go Hailey and Go Eventing.

#Supergroom Series: Nowhere Else Anna Lawson Would Rather Be Than with Sharon White

Anna and her horse, Cinder. Photo courtesy of Anna Lawson.

There’s nothing else Anna Lawson would rather be doing than grooming for Sharon White.

Sharon White’s farm, situated on the border of West Virginia and Virginia, is like a second home for Anna Lawson, who has been working there since the summer of 2021.

“I know in my bones this is where I’m supposed to be and everything about it feels correct and right. There’s really no one else I’d rather work for honestly,” Anna said.

Anna moved from Georgia to Virginia when she was 17 years old to gain more experience in the equine industry. She started reaching out to people and one of Sharon’s first working students, Christy Hill, introduced Anna to Sharon.

Anna wanted to work for Sharon, but she knew she needed more experience before stepping up to that position. “ I wasn’t quite qualified for the job. I’d never been anywhere at all. I’ve been home my whole life, taking little riding school lessons,” Anna said.

 

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Before working for Sharon, Anna gained experience with Natalie Hollis at Destination Farm in Maryland for about three years. Anna started riding with Sharon when she was at Destination Farm to teach clinics and later trailered to Sharon’s barn for lessons about once a month.

“There was something about the way she taught me, I really liked it and I appreciated the effort she put into my riding,” Anna said.

Anna’s mom ended up working for Sharon as her barn manager, so Anna visited Sharon’s farm more often, which encouraged her to work to prove herself to Sharon.

“I didn’t think I was good enough so I kind of made it a point to prove myself to her and get her attention,” Anna said.

While Anna was working off lessons, Sharon needed more help around the barn, and the groom position was open. “She asked me, and I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity; it’s a fabulous opportunity!”

Anna appreciates the attention to detail that Sharon has for her horses and students. “She’s a visual learner. And in that she also teaches for people who are visual learners.”

Sharon holds a high standard for her barn and Anna makes sure to uphold that standard.

Claus, Anna and Sharon at Tryon last fall. Photo by Sally Spickard.

“I’m a very detail-oriented person. The kind of care I like to give is very personal, like how amateurs spend time with their horses, they spend four or five hours at the barn, or like most people do. I like to do that with each and every horse, and it gets hard when there’s as many as we have,” Anna said.

Luckily, Anna has the support of Sharon’s working students to help around the barn. “I really couldn’t do it without the working students we have here: Lea and Olivia. They’re all very, very wonderful and they’re very good about everything,” Anna said.

Anna’s favorite horse around the barn is Claus 63. “He reminds me a lot of myself; he’s very anxious and nervous. But he tries his hardest in everything that he does.”

The best part of Anna’s day is riding her own horse, Little Red Corvette aka Cinder, who she’s had since she hit the ground. They are currently competing at the training level, with the hopes of moving up to preliminary and eventually running a 2* this season.

 

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Their first event back this season was at Rocking Horse and “It was very productive. I went entirely too fast and blew past two fences and a combination, but she was having the time of her life. So it’s okay,” Anna said.

Anna has felt at home since she started working for Sharon and sees herself doing that far into the future.

“There’s no one I can depend on– whether it’s as a boss or a coach– no one who is as invested in her students as Sharon is in all of us,” Anna said.

Go Anna and Go Eventing.

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