Grooming at Kentucky: Paige Ansaldi, Groom to Favian, Reflects on a First Five-Star

As the fan-voted runner-up in our “Flyest Horse at Kentucky” contest in partnership with Ecovet and Horse & Rider Books last month, Paige Ansaldi was happy to oblige us and answer a few questions about her experience grooming at her first five-star. While her charge, Favian, and pilot Valerie Vizcarrondo Pride sadly ended their weekend early with an untimely fall on cross country, they’d pick themselves up and redeem themselves with a fiery completion at Jersey Fresh a few weeks later. We also caught up with the contest winner, German groom Ayleen Stuhr, who you can read about here. Go Eventing!

The Blue Clover Eventing team at Kentucky. Photo courtesy of Paige Ansaldi.

EN: Tell us about your experience traveling to Kentucky – is this your first 5* grooming? What were your feelings leading up to it?

PA: This was my first 5* so even arriving at the Kentucky Horse Park felt surreal! Leading up to it, I was full of mixed feelings; half of me was taking it day by day making sure Favian (“Faves”) was feeling 100%. The other half was just thankful to be part of Val’s journey.  Prior to Kentucky, the highest level I had groomed at was The Virginia Horse Trials at the 3*L. That was a good opportunity to be exposed to the expectations and environment of the upper level shows. Still, nothing can truly prepare you for the energy that surrounds Kentucky!

EN: What are some things in Favian’s routine that you take care of at home?

PA: My main responsibilities involve his upkeep and therapies to help Favian feel his best.  This includes therapy blankets, liniment gels, daily stretches and much more. I also have the responsibility to be present for all of his critical rides such as schooling, training sessions and all of the shows that lead up to Kentucky.  On a day to day basis, it is a true team effort to ensure Favian maintains his strict routine so he is healthy and happy.

EN: Do you get nervous as the caretaker, on cross country day or any other day?

PA: Thankfully Faves has always been such a great cross country horse, but I honestly get nervous for all three phases. You see all of the hard work they’ve put into this sport together every day and you just hope it shines at a show.

EN: What was your routine at Kentucky?

PA: Lots and lots of hand grazing!! Thankfully we only had one horse going so any free time was spent keeping him out of his stall, and moving. Besides that, we try to keep our away show routine as close to our home routine as possible so we’re not adding any unnecessary stress. We made sure to have his little shadow come along as well. “Theo” is Fave’s mini and also his best friend! He definitely helped keep Favian calm and made my life easier in Kentucky.

Paige with Favian and his road-trip buddy, Theodore – who, yes, made the trip to Kentucky with the crew!

EN: Do you have a favorite moment from the trip?

PA: It’s hard to pick just one, but I think watching Val do her dressage test in the Rolex arena surrounded by our team and seeing the smile on her face at the end was pure joy. Just finally seeing all of her hard work payoff to be competing at Kentucky, I couldn’t have been prouder. In contention with that moment, I think the hand grazing conversations with our group of girls, Alex Peterson and Molly Koch, was next to it. We all have believed in Val and Faves from the start and don’t always have the same schedules at home so to be able to be together at an event like this was great.

EN: What is most important to you as the groom? Either at home or at shows.

PA: I think my top priority is making sure you’re keeping your horse as calm and as happy as possible. I try to minimize going in their stall, but just enough so they receive everything they need and have a chance to relax by themselves before their ride. Faves definitely likes to have his down time before he gets ridden at a show. Then of course after having them feel their best, making sure they look their best! Presentation is everything, and I think it demonstrates the pride you take in your job and the love you have for the horse. Thankfully,  Faves being black, which makes my life a bit easier! There are definitely some tools that I really rely on like my L’Apogee sheepskin mit and Premier Eqyss Spray to help him really shine!

EN: How long have you worked with Valerie? And what is your background?

PA: I’ve been with Val for five years now. I started as a client and began helping here and there. As time went on, Val gave me many opportunities to learn as much as I could about eventing including working as her groom. I am currently a junior at the University of Maryland studying Criminology and Criminal Justice, so I haven’t always been able to work as much as I’d like but I do as much as possible! As far as riding, I started eventing when I was 7 and currently am the president of the eventing team at my school and also have a young horse named Boomer going training. He is such a talented horse and has already topped a handful of USEA leaderboards in his 3 years in the sport, so I’m definitely looking forward to what we can do this year and achieving our goal of competing at the 2* level in the future!

EN: In your opinion, what is the most important thing for a groom to know how to do?

PA: I would say knowing how to read your horse! Every horse is different and has unique things that work just for them. I think being able to tell when there’s been a change in your horse’s behavior or demeanor is key to keeping them happy and on a routine fit for them. Other than that I would say to take pride in your work and trying to stay in the moment!