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Rolex 2014 – A Groom’s Perspective

By now anybody who follows the eventing results know that for team dutton, Rolex this year was a roller coaster ride of ups and downs.
My personal journey started early Monday morning, loading the horses and getting on the road by 3am. With Kaitlin Spurlock as codriver we were hoping to make the trip in 11 hours. All went well but with those couple of gas stops it took us 12 hours. Phillip and Dr. Kevin Kean (our amazing vet who was competing this year in his first four star!) beat us to the park even though they left two hours after us.

Phillip always walks and grazes the horses on arrival which allows the rest of us to set up the stalls so the boys can arrive to a fresh bed of straw and clean water. More often than not the boys will take a roll as soon as they are stabled. I like to use straw because I feel you can make a really deep bed that acts as a cushion without too much shifting. It’s also a lot quicker to groom off a wool cooler or groom out a tail if covered in straw and not shavings!

Happy taking his daily nap!

Happy taking his daily nap!

Phillip hacked all three boys Monday afternoon just to stretch their legs after the long drive. Tuesday morning the stables were a hive of activity, a few stragglers were yet to arrive but for most people the competition had started. Phillip hacked the boys again in the morning and in the afternoon had lessons with David O’Connor. Both Happy and Oscar were laid back however Cave knew exactly where he was and what he was meant to do. It always makes me smile to see these more experienced horses show their competition side. Maybe not Phillip as sometimes it means more work for him to get the horses to focus on the job at hand!

On Wednesday morning the horses all got jogged for Kevin and then Phillip rode his horses in between coaching some of his students. With the jog beginning at three, myself, Luis and Lindsey (Boyd’s top notch groom taking care of Oscar), spent the morning cleaning, washing, braiding, re-shining and yet more cleaning of the horses and tack in preparation. All three horses passed and Happy managed to hold it somewhat together whilst jogging down the strip this year. Two years ago he gave me a heart attack when he badly spooked and preceded to fall over on the strip. He was definitely nervous this year but kept all four feet moving in the direction they should have been! I think he feels a little closed-in when the crowd gathers, especially with so many standing at the far end of the strip, it makes him worry a little when asked to jog towards all of them.

Cave made front page of the local paper!

Cave made front page of the local paper!

Thursday was an early start with Phillip going in the first group. He likes to pre-ride the horses before his tests to help get them relaxed and focused. It was fun for me to hang out with Oscar and get to know him more. He is quite grumpy in his stall and would rather not be brushed, Lindsey has a great soft approach with him and always gets him looking his best no matter what fuss he try’s to make. It was an odd feeling because I really didn’t think I would be so nervous for Oscar considering he is not ‘my’ horse, however heading down to the warm up I found myself getting wound up as if it were Happy or Cave going to the ring! At the end of the day all I want is for Phillip and the horse to do their best, under these circumstances with Phillip having only ridden Oscar a handful of times I felt the pressure was on. I can’t even begin to think of the pressure Phillip was feeling.

Oscar produced a workman like test, that had a few small bobbles and tense moments. Overall everybody was happy with the outcome knowing that the horse has so much more to offer in the future in this phase.

Spedy (Expedience), Oscar and Cave all out for a long hand-graze Thursday evening.

Spedy (Expedience), Oscar and Cave all out for a long hand-graze Thursday evening.

Friday was another early start with Phillip wanting to sit on both Cave and Happy before going to do his first test.

Happy getting prepared to go and do some flatwork with his yellow kinesiotape all in place.

Happy getting prepared to go and do some flatwork with his yellow kinesio tape all in place.

Kinesio tape is an alternative form of therapy which has seen a major increase of application since the track athletes using it in the 2012 Olympics. Its use on our equine athletes ranges from helping tight muscles to relax or helping to alleviate pain where necessary.

Cave started out a little excited in his warm up for the test, it didn’t take long for Phillip to get him to settle down and focus however it always makes me a little more nervous when you see your horse run sideways in the warmup because he felt he could! Once in the main warm up Cave had his game face on and knew he had to go to work. David O’Connor helped to warm them up. I haven’t had much opportunity to watch Cave in the ring due to normally having multiple rides. I was so proud of them, I felt it was the best test I had seen Phillip do on him. I was a little surprised they didn’t score closer to the mid 40’s however I’m no dressage judge!

Happy in warm up.

Happy in warm up.

Happy has quite the personality. At the barn he will lead you to believe he is a Labrador puppy; eats whatever you give him, always has to play with whatever is near his stall, loves his handgrazes to the point he refuses to come back to the barn and walks very slowly wherever you might need to be going! However put a saddle on and head towards dressage warm up and the true eventer comes out: fighting fit! Phillip did an amazing job of getting him to settle and focus on his job. Happy is comparatively green at this level compared to Cave so getting him to focus on such a large atmospheric stage can take more time. As with Cave we were all extremely pleased with the test Happy put in. There is still a lot more to work on that will hopefully all come with experience.

Saturday was quite the day. Because Happy was going late in the day Phillip wanted to take him for a quiet canter before heading out on Oscar. Having him return to say Happy was a little off in front was not something I expected. Whilst Lindsey got Oscar ready for XC, myself and kevin (our vet) went off with Happy to see the farrier. (You have to realize here what an amazing vet Kevin is, whilst riding in his first four star he still made time to make sure all our horses were feeling their best, if a problem cropped up he was there to assist. Even though it was not a great Rolex personally, to be a part of Kevin’s, fulfilling his dream made it all worth while.) After hoof testing slightly positive, the shoe was reset and the decision was made to let it all settle whilst Phillip ran Oscar and Cave. As you know, when we reassessed Happy later in the day, he was still not perfect therefore the decision was made for him to be withdrawn.

Both Oscar and Cave ran amazing around the big track. Phillip brought Oscar home bang on the optimum time which gave him the keys to a Land Rover for the next two years.

Cave getting led around by Luis at the start box.

Cave getting led around by Luis at the start box.

Cave was his usual brilliant self, it actually brought tears to my eyes because he runs very similar to how Woodburn would attack each course. It must be the crazy red head thing! In the cool out area they have a live TV tent, I actually find it very hard to watch as my boys go around the track. I watch for the first two minutes or so and then end up going close to the finish and pace around until I see them coming home and thru the finish.

Sunday morning was an early one, Cave was not sound to present at the final jog which was was very disappointing for all involved. With only Oscar moving forward to the show jumping, I had a little time to actually visit the trade fair. Something that hasn’t happened much in the past! The show jumping proved to be influential, with the scores so close it was exciting to see it all unfold. William Fox-Pitt yet again proved himself to be the amazing competitor that he has always been, to see Lauren Kieffer maintain a cool exterior to produce a beautiful clear SJ round and maintain second place was awesome to watch. Oscar and Phillip did not disappoint, with only one rail they finished in eighth place, not too shabby for having only ridden the horse a handful of times.

Since being home, we have found out that Cave aggravated an old injury. He will return to fight another Rolex. Kaitlin can not say the same for Spedy who sustained a fracture to her P1. With amazing handling of the situation from the event staff, Spedy went into surgery Saturday night of XC to have pins put in to stabilize the fracture. She is currently enjoying a quiet recovery in Virginia with Kaitlin’s parents.

It is these moments within our sport that you are thankful when you get to take your own horses home. Maybe the competition didn’t go to plan but still being able to load both horses Monday morning for the trip home means more to me than any completion ribbon. Both Happy and Cave will go onto to fight more competitions, Oscar proved himself to be a quality four star horse and Kevin got to live out his dream of completing a four star.

Emma Ford

Emma Ford is one of the most respected grooms in US Eventing. Born and raised in the UK, Emma came to the US in 1998 to groom for top eventer Adrienne Iorio. After seven years with Adrienne, Emma moved to True Prospect Farm to work with five-time Olympian and 13-time USEA Leading Rider of the Year, Phillip Dutton. During her tenure with Phillip, Emma cared for many famous equine athletes including Connaught, TruLuck, Woodburn, and Mystery Whisper. She’s groomed at Burghley, Blenheim and Boekelo, cared for horses at the 2006 and 2010 World Championships, 2007 Pan Am Games, and 2008 and 2012 Olympics, and groomed at Rolex Kentucky and Fair Hill International every year since 2001. And now she’s here to help you! Submit your grooming questions and Emma just may be able to teach you a few of her tricks!

Posted in Ask The Groom

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