Can you introduce yourself, tell us who you work for, and what your role is?
My name is Denise Moriarty, and I have been the head groom for Kent Farrington for 11 years now. Our relationship is great – we know each other so well. Kent is very good at involving us all in every step of the horse’s journey, he wants us to understand why he is doing something. For example, if he is trying a new bridle or bit, he shares his feeling as a rider with us so that we can better understand. There is a lot of communication and trust.
You often make the long journey across from America to Europe, how do you ensure that your horses travel well so they can continue to perform at their peak?
We like to make sure that they are extremely fit so that they can handle the travelling and recover quickly after the journey. For example, before CHI Geneva, we would fly and land in Europe on the Monday before the show. They would then trot-up on Tuesday, with their first class taking place on Thursday. The biggest thing during their transportation is to make sure that they stay calm, and that they are eating and drinking properly. We try and make the experience enjoyable for them.
I fly with the horses and honestly, it is much nicer to fly with them than on a normal commercial flight. You do not have to queue or wait for the stewards to come around with food and drinks – you can just help yourself. With the permission of the pilot, we can walk around and go and check on our horses, which is really nice. Each of the planes that we fly on is different, for example Qatar Airways has a huge upstairs area for us, but some of the domestic flights are a lot smaller and we sit on the jump seats – but these flights are only a couple of hours, so it is okay.
If there is a horse that doesn’t like to travel, what can you do to help it?
If I have a horse that does not like to travel or is new to it, I will try and pair them with a more experienced traveller, as they learn and feed off the more experienced horse’s energy. If an anxious horse sees the other horse not reacting, it calms them down and helps them to understand that there is nothing to worry about.
I also like to make sure that everything is laid out for them properly – so the ramp is safe, and the partition is open – I try and make sure that everything is totally clear to them. It is important that their first travelling experiences are positive, sometimes we will use earplugs to take away the sharpness and help it be an enjoyable experience. I have found that if they have a good experience the first couple of times, then they will be good travellers in the future.
Can you tell us about the horses that you currently look after and what their characteristics are like?
There are a lot of big characters in our barn! But we like this, and we let them be themselves – they are all very different.
Creedance is just happy about everything, and is excited about every day, even though most of his days are the same. He loves getting his halter on and going out for a ride or a jump. Landon is very much the same way. He is excited to do his work, but he can be a bit cheeky and become quite stallion-like at the shows, even though he is not one! For the most part, they are great horses, of course, they have their little quirks just like people do, but they are sweet horses.
How much do you enjoy coming to the Majors – The Dutch Masters, CHIO Aachen, Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’, and CHI Geneva? In your opinion, what sets them apart from the other shows?
I think it is just the prestige and the respect for the Majors. You get all of the best horses and riders competing there and the facilities for everyone including the grooms are incredible. They are the best of the best.
The shows are held in venues where everyone who attends understands horses and has a connection with them. The crowds’ involvement and all of the hype and energy that they create add to the unique atmospheres. You just don’t see that at other shows.
I have always loved CHI Geneva – it is one of the pinnacles of our year. The atmosphere at CHIO Aachen is just unbelievable, and the size of the fences at Spruce Meadows makes it such an incredible competition. Then, The Dutch Masters is filled with such knowledgeable horse people, and the staff there are amazing. Each of the four shows have something so unique and special about them.
How special was it being part of Kent’s team when he won at CHIO Aachen and CHI Geneva?
They were both such special moments. Gazelle was amazing, she just kept on fighting and wanting to win. As I have mentioned, these shows are the best in the world and to watch your rider and the horse that you look after everyday win – it is something words can’t describe.
Did you do anything differently?
Honestly, with Gazelle, we try and keep everything the same. She will let Kent know once he gets on whether she is in a winning mood – he will be able to feel it. As long as everything works out, then it is normally a good day.
What has been your proudest moment as a groom?
It is hard for me to pick just one. We have had Gazelle since she was seven-years-old and so we have built her up into the horse that she is today, seen her grow, and watch her highs and lows. To look back at her win at CHIO Aachen, and to remember watching her jumping three of the biggest and testing rounds in the sport, and to still see her fight to clear the last fence and gallop to the finish line, wanting to win as much as Kent did, it was amazing. It was an incredible feeling – what these horses do for us is just unreal. That win meant a lot.
Of course, watching Kent and Voyeur win the team silver medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio was another incredible moment.
What are your favourite and least favourite parts of the job?
My favourite part is just being with the horses. As grooms, we are very lucky, we get to work outside all day, and we are always moving. It is great because we are active and healthy. We get to go to some of the nicest places in the world, and there is always a chance to just take a deep breath and appreciate what you do. For me, the travelling is the hardest part – there can be a lot of long days and it can be quite tiring, but it is just part of the job.
What advice would give to someone who would like to get into this career?
To watch and learn – you must also have a passion for the horses and love what you do. If it is not something you enjoy, then you should not be doing it. Even now, I still watch other grooms and how they do different things or how they deal with a difficult horse – you always keep learning in this job.
It is a great industry to be in – I have made lifelong friends from all over the world. You just have to leave yourself open to be social and take all the opportunities that you can.
What is the grooms’ community like? Do grooms support one another?
We are all in this job for the same reason – we love the horses. We all share the same passion and all work hard. A lot of my friends who are grooms have been with their riders for a long time, so it is like a small family on the road together. There is always someone that you can call to get advice from, even the other day I had to call Sean because I couldn’t get the electricity in the lorry to work! Someone is always willing to help – it is a great community to be a part of.