Max Corcoran: Care and Management of Equine Athletes

Max Corcoran and Mr. Medicott at Pau.

Good morning from the USEA Convention! I kicked off my morning with Max Corcoran’s session on “The Care and Management of the Ultimate Equine Athlete.” Max ran the O’Connors’ program as head groom for 11 years and now is doing a variety of freelance work for other riders and organizations. In the past year, she said she’s noticed some gaps in riders’ programs as she’s worked in other barns, and her session focused on how riders — both pros and amateurs alike — can close those gaps.

Know Your Horse

  • Always know what is normal for your horse — i.e. Does he normally rest a certain leg in his stall?
  • Know how to trot up your horse — It’s a good horsemanship skill to have too.
  • Observe — Always be looking for anything out of the ordinary.

Keep a Journal

  • Keeping a journal can be one of the most important aspects of being successful.
  • Organizes your horse’s shoeing, vet, lesson schedule, etc.
  • Instant resource for answering questions about your horse

Work Backwards

  • What is your yearly goal? Monthly goal? Weekly goal? Schedule your horse’s routine based on those goals.
  • How fit do you and your horse need to be? Set fitness schedules for both you and your horse based on your goals.
  • Shoeing? Make sure you know when your horse’s feet need to be done for any shows, clinics, lessons, etc.

Know the Rules

  • You can ask your vet for advice, but it is your responsibility to know the rules. They do keep changing, so be aware.
  • Example: William Fox-Pitt was eliminated from the 8/9-year-old class at Blenheim this year due to the horse wearing illegal boots in the show jumping.

Rest Your Horse

  • Max said: “Since the introduction of the short format, riders do not rest their horses enough. Full stop. It used to be when horses did a long-format three-day, they would come home, get their shoes pulled and go out in a field for a month. Then they would walk for a month after that.”
  • Even at the lower levels, horses are consistently getting micro-tears in tendons and ligaments. We can’t see those because we can’t scan for them.
  • Horses do not lose much fitness in one month. Once they have a good base fitness, studies show they can maintain their fitness.
  • In winter, pull the horse’s shoes and let them be barefoot for awhile. That allows them to rebalance their own feet.
  • Reduce the energy portion of the horse’s grain. Or if they are underweight, use that time to try to get more grain into them.
  • We have the ability now to have our seasons continuously go, and we need to be good to our horses and think about their longevity.


  • At the end of the day, horses can survive on just good hay and grass. Horses need 1.5 to 2 percent of their body weight in hay per day.
  • PSA: Stay away from Coastal/Bermuda hay. It dehydrates horses terribly and leads to impactions.
  • Chaff: Max fed it at OCET for many years. It helps horses that eat too fast to slow down. Great for hard keepers when you don’t want to put more grain into their diet.
  • Feeding hay cubes on the road is a great way to get water into the horses.
  • Max loves Speedy Beet — a non-GMO beet pulp soaks in just five minutes — and Alfa-Lox — a very good chaff for horses that have ulcers. It’s great for putting weight on hard keepers too
  • If you have good grain and hay, there’s no need for supplements.
  • Horses that are involved in high-stress work deplete body nutrients more rapidly. Sometimes supplements are needed.
  • Use in conjunction with good care. Supplements are not a fix all.
  • Many oils are high in Omega 6s, which should be avoided. As a side note, rice bran is also high in Omega 6s.
  • Linseed and flaxseed oil are high in fat and tough for horses to break down.
  • Research shows Omega 3 fish oils are great for horses.


  • Worming — Worms are becoming really immune to a lot of wormers, and a lot of horses don’t need to be wormed every 6 to 8 weeks. Fecal testing is very inexpensive and easy and can tell you what your horse needs to be wormed with. Keeping your horses paddocks picked and rotating fields can also help.
  • Finding a good vet can sometimes be very difficult. You need someone you can trust and can have a conversation with, or if you’re a pro someone your staff can talk to. Ask around. Some people have a sports medicine vet and also have an internal medicine vet — someone who can take care of colics and vaccinations.
  • Preventative joint help — There are a lot of medications that can help your horse that you might not know about. Sometimes people aren’t proactive enough to get their horses help. When Max researches joint help or any supplements on the internet, she stays away from forums because everyone is an “expert” on those forums. Stick to reading articles by veterinarians.
  • Magnetic blankets help reduce pain and increase blood flow.
  • Acupuncture helps releases endorphins. Some horses love it and some horses don’t.
  • Magna-wave therapy helps with blood flow and muscle soreness
  • Avoid chiropractic work right before a competition. Because your horses already have the muscles where they need to be for the competition, you don’t want to go in and loosen things up right before.
  • Lasers are fantastic and great to help blood flow and treating individual problem areas.
  • Kinesio tape — A great, non-invasive way to alleviate pain.
  • Massage therapy and chiropractor is great, but make sure you have a qualified individual to work on your horse.

What should be in your vet kit?

  • Vet’s phone number
  • Thermometer
  • Betadine solution
  • Betadine scrub
  • Gauze/Telfa
  • Vet wrap
  • Espom salts
  • Alcohol
  • Diapers
  • Furazone/Silver Cream/Biozide
  • Saran wrap

Important Medications

  • SMZs
  • Banamine
  • Naquazone
  • Bute paste
  • Dorm/Ace
  • Biozide — great for cuts/scraps

Cross-Country After Care

  • It doesn’t matter if you’re going novice, intermediate or at a CCI4*. You need to have a good plan.
  • Stay calm when the horse finishes cross country, which helps keep the horse calm.
  • Max likes to make sure the horse’s stall is clean with two clean water buckets for when they return from cross country.

What happens after you finish cross country?

  • Pull up slowly
  • Keep walking
  • Quick assessment — Are there are cuts or bumps to attend to?
  • Loosen girth/noseband
  • Untack — get to work as soon as you pull up.
  • Scrape right away — leaving water on acts as an insulator
  • Offer water right away
  • Keep boots on until studs come out, especially on the hind legs
  • Plan ahead — where are you and what do you need? Is there water available at the event? Do you need to bring ice with you?

Other tips Max has collected from upper-level riders

  • Surround yourself with good people — trainer, vets, farrier
  • Focus on basics — Sometimes you need to slow down and fill in gaps in your education or the horse’s education.
  • Ground manners — Horses are looking for leadership. They are looking to you to tell them what to do. Mike Plumb once said to Max, “If your horse won’t stand still in the cross ties, how can you expect it to stand still at X?” You have to continuously remind them.
  • Human show turnout — “There should be a color coordination limit on cross country,” with a noted exception for cute kids and ponies.
  • Farrier tools — Have them in the barn so you can pull a lose shoe.
  • Clean your tack — You’d be amazed at how many people don’t clean their tack regularly.
  • Make sure take fits properly — Especially nosebands. People wear their flashes too low, which means the horse can’t breathe properly.
  • Evacuation plan — Know where everyone will meet, which horses can go in which field, etc.
  • Always have a groom at a 3-day!
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