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 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.
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.
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!