We’re excited to share week two in our Eventing Tips and Tricks series! Last week, we caught up with Courtney Carson, barn manager for 5* eventer Doug Payne, and this week, we’re sharing insight from Emma Ford, the incredible top groom and manager who has been behind the scenes for Olympic gold medalist Phillip Dutton for more than a decade!
Meet This Week’s All-Star Barn Manager
Emma Ford – Emma Ford has been an integral part of the team at Phillip Dutton International since 2005, including traveling with the two-time Olympic gold medalist to multiple World Equestrian Games, Pan American Games, and Olympic Games. She took a year off in 2013 thinking that she was ready to slow down, but she missed the action and soon returned in 2014 and has been a top go-to for eventing grooming tips and tricks ever since!
Q: What’s one thing that you don’t go to the ring or start box without?
For the dressage and show jumping phases a towel, hoof pick, and fly spray are always in my backpack in case dirt needs to be wiped off. For horses that don’t like to be sprayed, I use the towel to apply fly spray to their heads and ears.
When heading to cross-country at the larger competitions, I always have spare studs and a wrench in case studs need to be changed in the warm-up.
Q: What’s the most rewarding part of the job?
Truly bonding with each horse. Knowing them well enough that a slight change in attitude or eye alertness means catching a health problem before it becomes too big.
I like to know what makes each horse tick. Each horse is an individual; what they need to perform their best at championships is paramount. Some horses love the individual attention, whilst others want to be left alone. I have one horse that has to be hand-grazed first thing in the morning otherwise he is anxious for the rest of the day. Another horse gets very nervous before cross-country, and taking him out for a hand-walk prior to tacking him up seems to relieve some of his tension.
Q: What do you consider to be the biggest challenge of the job?
Learning to delegate and communicate. I am on the road with the advanced horses a lot through the show season. Being able to establish an at-home team that can keep the barn running smoothly is key. Over the years I have had to learn to trust people within the job to take care of the horses as I would – but also to not micro-manage!
Q: What items do you use most often in the barn?
My Multi Radiance M4 Cold Laser. I use this to help heal cuts, address sore muscles and acupuncture points, and rehab soft tissue injuries.
The Posture Prep Cross Fiber Groomer. It’s a grooming tool that allows me to massage the horse’s body to help release fascia whilst lifting dirt and bringing out the natural skin oils.
Towels! I’m endlessly drying horses’ legs, applying sprays, removing dust, and cleaning boots and surfaces – there are never enough towels!
Q: What is your biggest time-saving trick in the barn?
Thinking ahead! We have a training log book. Each day I try to list everything that needs to happen, lesson times, medications, icing, wrapping. This helps the staff to look at the day “as a whole” and be more efficient. Knowing these things ahead of time helps us to do day turn-out effectively and determines when horses are to be ridden (i.e. night turn-out horses get ridden earlier in the day). Rather than continually having to ask me what needs to be done, staff can go to the book and work it out for themselves.
Q: What’s your best grooming tip?
Allowing your horse to dry in the sun after bathing. This could be hand-grazing or letting them rest on cross-ties outside to dry. We are fortunate enough to have a horse walker. Many skin issues are caused because horses are put in stalls while they’re wet and without good airflow. The skin remains warm for a long time and provides a great environment for fungus and bacteria to grow and cause havoc wherever micro-abrasions might be present.
For more from Emma and clinics on horse health and management visit www.worldclassgrooming.com!
Photos courtesy of Emma Ford