Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How I Became A Professional Groom by Pamela Nunn

From being a keen but not exceptionally talented amateur rider all my adult life, I made the transition in 2000 from a successful career in sales to training and working with horses professionally. I trained in England, close to childhood home at the renowned Yorkshire Riding Centre, under the watchful eye of Olympian and Badminton winner Christopher Bartle and his team. A well structured working student programme and a wide variety of horses to ride enabled me to obtain my British Horse Society Groom’s Certificate and Preliminary Teaching Qualification. This experience gave me a taste for working at professional stables and a particular interest in the care and management of upper level Event horses.

Meeting up with Morag and Selena O’Hanlon in 2004, was the start of a match made in heaven. I started working for them as a working student. I was rapidly promoted to barn manager and competition groom. My first experience grooming for Selena was a hectic day at a horse trials, where we had four horses in two trailers parked miles apart with Selena having to do all three phases with all the horses in one day.
Surviving that was like a light bulb moment. Hurrah!  I had found my new niche. I could use all my organisational skills to care for the horses and ensure my rider had only to worry about riding.
Luckily for us all, at about the same time as this great revelation, Colombo came into our lives. 

Mr. and Mrs. Davies, who owned the farm where we were based brought back a horse that was recovering from surgery. He came to Hawkridge with the understanding he was to be rehabbed and then sold once he was fit and going again. He had competed at the higher levels, but had developed issues with water and so it was felt that he wasn’t cut out for the upper levels. Colombo seemed to be a rather grumpy sort of horse who could be a bit awkward with people working with him. Selena started by hacking him all over the property and would walk him through the water every time they went out. Eventually, they started schooling and jumping. Gradually his attitude towards work changed, flying changes were no longer a source of anxiety and he would happily jump in and out of the water. As Selena was without an advanced horse at this time it was fun for her to work with Colombo and when she did take him out to compete he did well. The Davies changed their mind about selling him and agreed that Selena would compete him and see how far they could go.

Colombo showed us he had a long way to go. I had the thrill of grooming at Rolex for the first time. What a blast! I was now more than ever convinced that this was what I wanted to do. Unlike the majority of young working students who see the experience as a stepping stone in their own riding career, I was totally focussed on grooming as a way of fulfilling my desire to be involved in top level eventing.
When Selena and Colombo were named to the Canadian Team with me to go as their groom our excitement knew no bounds.

Training camp and going to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics were an amazing experience. I learnt so much about the care and preparation for a major competition, especially the treatments and therapies for maintaining optimal fitness, as well as the travel including flying across the world. Being part of the support team for a rider representing their country was a thrill. It was also interesting to realise just how much the huge support team of grooms, vets, farriers, physiotherapists, masseurs, stable manager, and the coaches and national federation people all contribute behind the scenes to a rider's success. After years of  packing for the horses to go to Florida and other big competitions, I thought I had packing down to a fine art, but I was sorely challenged trying to get all the tack, equipment and supplies into two trunks to be flown to Hong Kong.

Standing on the podium inside the big ring wearing my team uniform, watching Selena and Colombo do their best dressage test ever, at their first Olympic Games brought tears of pride to my eyes. Cross country day was tough as they has some mistakes, but they were able to complete all three phases which was a great achievement. As a groom, I have seen serious accidents were riders have been hurt, or sad times where horses have died or been injured whilst competing, so my measure of success is simple, that both horse and rider finish the day sound and well - placings are a bonus.

Pamela Nunn is a freelance groom, who worked for Selena O'Hanlon during both the 2008 Olympic Games and the 2010 World Equestrian Games. Pamela is BHS trained and certified, an experienced barn manager and is available as a freelance competition groom or for full time short term contracts to provide emergency barn staffing.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What I Learned From Mary King by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is from Bristol, Tennessee. She is a novelist and training level adult rider who is lucky enough to train with the wonderful Cathy Wieschhoff and the CW Event Team. Photo courtesy of Katie Bradley.

Wow!  After meeting Mary King, that was just about all I could say.  Wow!
     Other than my 13-year-old daughter, Katie, who rides Beginner Novice, I’m the only event rider in Sullivan County, Tennessee.  Along about the middle of January I usually start feeling like the only event rider in the entire world.  So when Cathy Wieschhoff posted on Facebook that she’d invited Mary King to speak at the Area 8 annual meeting, I grabbed Katie and went.  (Katie was a little doubtful.  Sure, after Rolex last year and the WEGs the previous autumn, she knew about and admired Mary King.  But sitting in a conference room for 10 hours listening to her?   Really, Mom?)

     Really.  Several times throughout both days, Katie and I poked each other—pay attention here, she’s talking to YOU.  You do that with your hands, Mom.  That’s what I’m trying to tell you about your leg position, Kate.  Etc.  We took notes, and on the way home we discussed changes we were going to make in our riding, starting the very next day.

     Here’s what I learned from Mary King:
1.  Expect at least as much from yourself as you do from your horse.  Her training philosophy is ridiculously simple.  Tell the horse exactly what you want it to do, then don’t accept anything less.  If you ask it to walk, be sure it walks straight, round (as round as it is capable of), and forward.  Don’t accept less.  Ever.  What this requires is discipline—self-discipline. 
2.  Be honest with yourself.  Understand not only your goals, but what is preventing you from achieving them.  If your dressage is bad, why is it bad?  The answer is not, “Because I’m bad at dressage,” but it may be, “Because I consistently fail to keep my horse in front of my leg.”  The second answer—the honest one—lets you move toward a solution.  Videotaping can help you understand exactly what is going wrong.
3.  When things go wrong, find reasons, not excuses.  Mary King has always watched video of her falls.  She figures out where she screwed up (she says that it is almost always the rider’s fault, not the horse’s) and plans how she will ride similar fences differently in the future.  Instead of saying, “Oh, now I’m afraid of Normandy banks,” she says, “I can’t wait until my next Normandy bank, so I can get it right this time!”
4.  Understand that things will go wrong.  Eventing is not a sport for pansies.  Every one of us at some time will face a difficult situation.  Move on.
5.  Decide what matters most to you, then make those things your priorities.  This is something I’ve read before, but Mary seems to live it:  not taking students so she has more time for her family; having only 6 competition horses so she can train them all herself. 
6.  Dream hard; work harder.  How many of today’s young riders dream of the Olympics?  And how many would be willing to scrub toilets for two years in order to afford to keep two young horses, that they might someday be able to sell so that they could buy better horses, that might someday—might—be able to go advanced?  Yep.  If you really truly want to do something, don’t just sit on the couch and think about it.

A fair bit of learning, that.  I got home late Sunday night; on Monday morning it was time to put it into practice.  I had writing deadlines, a business luncheon requiring dressy clothes, no clean dressy clothes, dirty laundry up to my hips, no groceries, and a Christmas tree forlornly shedding needles in the corner.  The dogs were at the kennel and it was pouring rain.
What Would Mary King Do?  Put a load of dressy clothes in the washer, get the dogs, wrestle the tree onto the porch.  Notice that the rain is stopping.  Make plans to write at the coffee shop after the dressy luncheon, but before picking my daughter up from school; pack laptop accordingly.  Dressy clothes into dryer.  Horse in from field.  Dressage saddle; arena soggy but safe. 

Walk.   Horse lifts head.  Halt, re-establish contact.  Walk.  Horse lifts head.  Halt, re-establish contact.  Walk.  Horse goes forward on bit.  Halt.  Horse lifts head.  Re-establish contact, walk, halt.
Twenty minutes later, horse (an opinionated but established training-level eventer) throws a hissy fit.  Wait.  Re-establish contact.  Walk.
Twenty minutes later, horse is doing pretty damn good dressage.  Because I accepted nothing less.  Hmmm.  Interesting. 
Forty minutes later, wearing clean dressy clothes, I head for my lunch.  I spend the afternoon writing hard.  When I pick my daughter up from school, she asks if I’ll videotape her riding.  Sure, I say.  As soon as we pick up some groceries.

Thank you, Mary King.