Grooming At The Top

Top notch grooms are crucial to the success of upper level riders, doing everything from providing day-to-day care for hundred thousand dollar horse-flesh, to ensuring riders are on time for their horse show classes. Rarely in the limelight, grooms are the essential but unsung heroes of horse sport - the behind-the-scenes pit crew that make the magic happen for well-known riders. But who are these magicians that care for horses that fly overseas on jets, while ensuring that every piece of equipment needed for a barn full of world-class animals makes it to a show? And what do they actually do every day? Better yet, why do they do it at all?

Kelsey McDonell, who grooms for show jumper Brian Morton, says Spitfire is her favourite horse. Her most memorable experience so far was when the pair won the Purica Recovery EQ World Cup Qualifier at Thunderbird Show Park in 2014. Photo: Kelsey McDonell collection Kelsey McDonell works for Canadian show jumper Brian Morton, looking after the feeding, veterinary program, farriers, horse show scheduling, logistics, and day-to-day care of 16 horses. When the horses are at home, McDonell says, “I usually work six days a week, sometimes seven, approximately six to eight hours a day. In the morning, I make sure the schedule is up-to-date, all the staff know the plan for the day, and I check on any horses that have issues.” She continues, “When we’re on the road, the schedule is different and days are much longer. We usually start at 5 am with feeding, unwrapping, and hand walking. Then the horses get hacked in the morning before they show. Our day usually finishes around 5 pm, but we always do a night check around 9 pm. “I really enjoy grooming. I’m always keen to bath horses, roll wraps, clean tack, clean stalls, and do all the hand walking. It’s very important to know your horses - know how much they’re drinking, what their legs look like, what’s normal and what’s not normal. “My most memorable experience so far was grooming for Brian when he and Spitfire won the Purica Recovery EQ World Cup Qualifier at Thunderbird in 2014. Spitfire’s my favourite horse and had a lot of issues, so I was always trying to keep him in top form. It was the perfect day and everything fell into place.” But McDonell says it’s definitely not all roses. “I really dislike the ‘hurry up and wait’ aspect of horse shows. Things don’t always run on time and I would much rather be busy all day. Teardown day is also not my favourite. It can be chaotic. Horses are still showing but you have to pack everything up and be ready to load the horse trailer.” However, long-time grooms like McDonell genuinely enjoy their jobs. “My favourite part of my job is seeing people reach their goals. Whether it’s winning the grand prix or a young horse successfully jumping around their first course at a show, I really enjoy seeing it all come together. I also really enjoy working with amateur riders - it’s so nice to see them come out of the ring with a big smile on their face.”