A lost art: Grooming at a long format three-day event

A few days ago, I stumbled across something I had written back in 2008.  I had just attended the Virginia Horse Trials, which at the time also ran a long-format CCI1*.  If you’re ever planning to groom or ride at a long format event, this may be a handy guide for you.

May, 2008

I was competing at VA 3D/HT this weekend, riding in the horse trial. I agreed to “help out” in the 10-min box, and offered a few pointers to the Groom on Friday night. I should have been a little worried when I had to explain the purpose/contents of the “steeplechase bucket,” but I knew this groom had ridden one CCI1* full-format (Young Riders a few years prior), and has done multiple short CCI2*s. Additionally, two other riders/grooms in our group had ridden a couple one-stars (though I think steeplechase was cancelled for them?). Point being, they all had three-day experience and seemed capable. It did strike me as troubling when they admitted, “We haven’t brought the pitchfork to the box yet.” What?! “Well, we brought the muck tub, but we had buckets in it and we didn’t take the fork. That’s why the muck tub is there, right, to pick up poop so the horse doesn’t step in it in the Box?” Trying not to laugh too hard, I explained that the muck tub was for ice water, not excrement…! 

Saturday morning, I offered to go early to the 10-minute box and fill the buckets with ice water, since the Groom was following the horse from A to B to C. I was a bit annoyed when I arrived to find none of the gear laid out, but I set it up for them. I put down the tarp and started methodically placing the extra equipment and necessities, only to end up with a LOT of empty space on the tarp; there many things missing. Important things, like extra whip, spare gloves, our own thermometer, extra reins…. I had been dropped off at the Box, had no transportation back to the barns, and had limited time before the horse started on A and the Groom left. I had no way of getting all those missing items, all I could do was PRAY that we didn’t need them! The groom was totally unaware that such things were needed for the Box. (I don’t completely blame the groom, though, it’s the RIDER’S responsibility to have all things prepared.)

Luckily everything was fine, and we didn’t need any of the missing stuff. But, it made me aware of the skills and knowledge needed to groom for a REAL three-day. I won’t get on the soapbox about Long Format vs Short Format in relation to horses and riders; it really hit me though, how our next generation of grooms (some riders-to-be) will be missing the experience of working The Box. It takes incredible preparation—all the extra equipment, the organization, time management, and choreography of a team. It takes focus, the ability to handle pressure and stress, while remaining completely calm for the sake of the horse, the rider, and the rest of the team. 

For a groom, there is no comparison to a real three-day. It’s such a rush, an adrenaline high, for those 10 minutes—get that horse in, TPR, check shoes, halter on, stirrups up, loosen the girth, weave through traffic to your pre-determined station, towel on the saddle, reins to the ears, sponge and scrape and walk, sponge and scrape and walk (big circles not small ones!), change studs if needed, minute-four TPR and jog, back to station, sponge and walk, scrape, “TWO-MINUTES!” do up the girth, overgirth, check the noseband, towel the reins, rider up, rubber glove, leg grease shoulder to ground, stifle to ground, “ONE-MINUTE!” rider leaves, take a breath and cheer. It’s such an accomplishment to work as a team, get that horse down and send him out to run the course of his life. 

I saw more confusion, and general lack of understanding than I expected that Saturday morning. Yes I know it’s a one-star; at this level it’s many riders’ or grooms’ first time, and you gotta learn somewhere! But there seemed to be less experience than ever. Used to be, there was still a lot more “been there-done that” from a coach, or among the riders and grooms—one to exhibit a feeling of calm assurance per team. Looking around the Box, I felt very lonely and almost antiquated… to sooo many riders/grooms/helpers around me, it was their very first time and they had no clue. (Again, some degree of cluelessness is standard for CCI1*, but this was more). 

I don’t profess to be a master three-day groom. Actually, I’ve only groomed at 3 long formats, since 2001 (and competed three, myself), and at least four short-formats (riding in two more). But I was very, very well “schooled” in the process of Endurance Day—my (very experienced) rider made darn sure I knew every small detail of preparation and execution of our plan. I dearly miss the long format three-day… not just from the saddle, but from the ground in the 10-minute box. We’re losing horsemanship with the loss of the long-format. God Bless Brian and Penny Ross for all their effort to host the VA CCI1*, it was so important for so many reasons.

And for anyone out there hoping to do a long format, please keep supporting it! Go and groom first, for an experienced rider if you can, so you have a good idea of what to expect. That’s the best way to prepare… that way you can be there for *your* grooms!

For any potential grooms out there, here’s my personal Endurance Day list of stuff. Keep in mind every rider has a few particular items they like/don’t like, but these things have served me well: 

STEEPLECHASE BUCKET: (to travel With Groom following Horse, will go to 10-minute Box)

  • Halter (numbered) with lead rope, chain shank if your horse is rank
  • Rag
  • Water (bottle for rider)
  • Extra shoes (WITH STUDS IN, prepared Fri night, know L/R, F/H)
  • Duct tape
  • Electrical tape
  • Hoof pick
  • Sponge/scraper (for possible C-halt)
  • Vetwrap (optional)
  • Extra studs (copies of what you use, maybe something diff if rider chooses), wrench
  • I like to carry the extra studs in a small baggie, with wrench, in my pocket

10-MINUTE BOX: (label and/or stripe EVERYTHING)

  • Large tarp, to place everything on
  • At least 4 buckets, 5 to 6 is better (one for drinking); muck tub
  • 2 quart-size pitchers or jugs, for pouring water on horse (better than sponges for immediate cool down!)
  • At least 2 sponges and 2 scrapers
  • Appropriate clothing: irish knit, scrim sheet, thermatex cooler
  • Several large towels and rags
  • Halter (numbered) and lead rope
  • Chain shank (even if you think you won’t need it)
  • Chair (for rider)
  • Water/Gatorade (for rider)
  • Boot jack, boot pulls if your rider’s boots don’t have zippers
  • Hole punch
  • Powder
  • Grease (and rubber gloves!)
  • Electrical tape
  • Duct tape
  • Stud kit (you may leave this at the barn, if multiple horses competing, but be sure to have spare stud options!)
  • Stick spray/saddle tite
  • Woof boots (for walking horse home)

Extra Equipment:

  • Bridle (fitted to horse, with similar bit; or different, if rider is prone to bit-change)
  • Girth (make sure it fits!)
  • Martingale
  • Breastplate
  • Reins (unattached to spare bridle)
  • Stirrup and leather (usually just pull it off the dressage saddle)
  • Boots (horse) front and hind, bell boots
  • Helmet
  • Gloves
  • Whip
  • Watch

First aid:

  • Bandaids
  • Triple antibiotic ointment
  • Eye drops, saline, especially if rider wears contacts (extras!)
  • Aluspray/wound dressing
  • Bandage, wrap, gauze
  • Vetwrap (2+ rolls), diaper/hoof boot (in case of lost shoe)
  • Thermometer (don’t *always* trust the vet’s!)
  • Electrolyte paste (optional)
  • Stethoscope (optional)
  • Alcohol (optional, add to ice water for evaporation cooling)


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