EN is delighted to welcome Stephanie Simpson of Schramm Equestrian as our newest guest writer. As a longtime groom and barn manager at the highest levels of eventing, Stephanie will utilize her insight to bring us in-depth interviews with her fellow unsung heroes who keep top barns running smoothly every day. Know of a super groom you'd like Stephanie to interview? Tip us at [email protected].
If you have spent any time eventing on the East Coast, be it Aiken or Pennsylvania, you have most likely seen the faded green sweatshirt of Ryan Wood galloping by on what appears to be a horse that neither you or I could ever dream of owning. Although he rides for Australia, Ryan is based next door to Phillip Dutton’s True Prospect Farm in West Grove, Pennsylvania, where he has established a very successful competition and sales program.
Ryan moved to the United States in 2008, working for Bruce Davidson before settling in West Grove. It wasn’t long after Ryan started his own business that he was joined by his now long-term head groom and barn manager Stacey Driscoll.
Since becoming the head honcho at Woodstock Eventing, Stacey has been a key player in a team that has produced many top 10 finishes at FEI events around the country, which landed Ryan a spot on the Australian High Performance Squad. In typical fashion, Ryan shared the spotlight of a great 2014 season with Stacey, nominating her for the PRO Liz Cochran Memorial Groom’s Award, which she received at the USEA Convention in Fort Worth, Texas.
I had the chance to catch up with Stacey at Red Hills and talk about this new feature that I am doing for EN. We were talking about grooming as a career, and she referred to us as “in-betweeners,” meaning that we weren’t necessarily going to be lifers but also had no immediate plans of doing anything else.
Within this series of interviews, I am hoping to shed some light on those of us who are grooming at the top level of the sport, answering questions related to how we got here, where we see ourselves going and what we do to stay motivated.
EN: How did you get your start at Ryan’s?
Stacey: “I came to Ryan’s in October 2011 and have been here ever since. I had just graduated from Delaware Valley College with a major in Animal Science and a minor in Business. I started riding when I was 7 and mostly did hunter/jumpers, so eventing was very different to me.”
EN: How much grooming experience did you have prior to joining Ryan’s team? Who have you looked to for advice?
Stacey: “When I first started at Ryan’s, the team was just him, me and eight horses. That was our team. It wasn’t for a few months that we got our first working student. I was lucky enough that a few of the people from Phillip’s would come over and help for the first few weeks I was there. As far as advice goes, I would have to say Emma (Ford), mostly because she is right next door and would help me with any questions that I would have.”
EN: In the nearly five years that you have been at Ryan’s, what has been your most rewarding moment?
Stacey: “I would definitely have to say when Classic (Fernhill Classic) got second in the CCI2* at Fair Hill in 2013. Everyone was so excited. Ryan was so excited. Classic can be difficult, which is why it was even more rewarding.” That year Ryan’s other mount Frankie finished ninth out of 69 starters in the same division. That was the first CCI2* attempt for both horses.
EN: Out of all the events that you have gone to, which one is you favorite?
Stacey: “I’m going to choose two. Red Hills and Bromont are both my favorite. I like Red Hills because of the whole Southern hospitality thing; everyone there is so nice. I also like Bromont for the same reasons, but Bromont is like a whole other world. The people at Bromont are always really great.”
EN: Is there an event that you’ve always wanted to groom at?
Stacey: “I’ve always wanted to go to Rolex, but have never been. I’m really excited about getting to go this year. Its going to be a lot of fun.” Ryan currently has the Fernhill Classic Syndicate’s Fernhill Classic, Steven and Karri Guy’s Frankie, and Heather Sinclair’s McLovin entered to run at Rolex this year.
EN: Having seen a lot of people come and go, what would you tell someone that is interested in becoming a groom and/or working student?
Stacey: “It is one of those things that you have to stick with. If it is something that you truly want to do, you can’t let the commitment scare you away. You also can’t let others steer you away; you can’t let them talk you out of it. You have to make it work.”
EN: What are qualities that you look for in a potential addition to the team?
Stacey: “We always do a trial period before hiring anyone, which helps a lot. I want people to think of things to do without having to be told. If someone finishes with what they were doing, I want them to be able to look around and see what else needs to be done without me having to tell them all of the time. Throughout the trial period, Ryan will ask me how it’s going and what my thoughts are. Ultimately it is up to him, but he asks for input from me.”
EN: Are there tasks around the barn that you dislike? Something that you might pawn off onto a working student?
Stacey: “Studs. Definitely.” Amen, sister.
EN: What are your favorite tasks?
Stacey: “I really like braiding. I like jobs where you don’t have a bunch of things to think about; it’s kind of a mindless task.”
EN: I know you’re not supposed to, but do you have a favorite horse?
Stacey: “I can’t choose. All of ours right now are so different, and they all have very different personalities and quirks. If I absolutely had to choose one, I would say Frankie.”
EN: Where do you see yourself going? What do you see yourself doing in the future?
Stacey: “One day I would like to have my own place and business training horses. I’m not the biggest people person, so lessons wouldn’t really be my thing, but I would like to have horses in training. I have no plans of doing it any time soon, but eventually.”
I hope this provides some insight into the reserved, yet talented mastermind behind Ryan’s team.