Monday, April 20, 2009

It's a Groom's Life: Emma Ford in the Streets of Rio, about Phillip Dutton, and Her Favorite Horse. (Psst, it's Connaught!)

Emma Ford was born and raised in England.  She came to the US in 1998 to work for top eventer Adrienne Iorio.  She currently grooms for Phillip Dutton, winner of Rolex 2008 and 10-time USEA Rider-of-the-Year.  She keeps his True Prospect Farm going as well as speaking at the Dutton Eventing Academy.   In 2007 she won the US Eventing's Professional Groom's Award.  She knows her stuffs and shares that and more below.

Q.  How did you come to the US?
A.  It was March '98 and I had finished my degree in England and had never traveled.  Well, I had been to France for two days.  I wanted to go and travel and not go to the real world right away.  I went through an exchange agency and they hooked me up with Adrienne [Iorio].  Basically I filled out an application with what I had done and what I wanted to do.  They had employers on the other end with what they could offer.  I interviewd over the phone and ended up with Adrienne.  After eight months she checked in and was like, " Do you want to extend your visa?"  Yup!  Eighteen months in, "Do you want to extend your visa?"  Hell yeah!  Now I'm here with a Green Card.  Still not in the real world.  I don't see myself going back to England to work in the event circuit.  The weather is way better here!

Emma Ford with Connaught (right)--photo credit to

Q.  Who have you worked for since being here?
A.  Adrienne and Phillip [Dutton].  I have been with Phillip since August 2005.

Q.  What made you make that switch?
A.  I sort of got the bug.  Me and Adrienne went to the Blenheim 3-star.  I thought it was pretty cool and thought it was very neat.  I just wanted to do more of the international stuff.  I knew Phillip was looking for a groom so went that way.  it expanded from there.

Blenheim Palace--photo credit to www.

Q.  What does your daily life look like?
A.  95% is with the competition horses.  Turning out, tacking up, medical needs, grooming.  It's the same at any barn.  It's all the same.  Everyone has to take care of every horse.  No amazing difference.  I hardly ride.  I'm pretty much on the ground all the time.

Q.  What's your favorite thing about the job?
A. I enjoy being on the road.  Going to the big competitions and seeing the horses run, especially the upper level horses.  The barn is so busy we joke that being on the road is my downtime.  The actual competing is what I enjoy seeing.

Emma Ford (far right) on the road in Hong Kong
photo credit to Mark Hart

Q.  What's the hardest thing?
A.  Keeping it all together!  Keeping the barn going and keeping on top of things.  One of the things different from Adrienne to Phillip is that there's so many more people involved like working students, farriers, etc.  I have to delegate to make sure everything works smoothly.  That's definitely what I find the most difficult.

Q.  How would you describe Phillip Dutton as a person?
A.  Anyone who knows him would say "quiet" comes first hand.  He's very quiet but all observing.  He definitely sees everything and is one for a good story.  He loves a good story.  Adrienne was very hard working too.  I've worked for two people that are so hard working.  How he juggles everything including his family is amazing.  His wife is a big part of the famr keeping the office running.

Phillip Dutton  aboard Connaught in Hong Kong
photo credit to Mark Hart

Q.  How would you describe his work style?
A.  He is always on the go.  If he's not riding he's on a conference call.  If he's not on a call he's teaching.  It's unreal how he fits it all in.  He's one of these people that wants you to work hard but you take away what you put in.  If you don't make an effort why should he bother?

Q.  What is the atmosphere like at his farm?
A.  People are coming and going whether it's farriers, vets, students, boarders--it's very busy.  Work needs to be fun but it can get stressful.  Especially with this run up to Rolex.  We've got four horses going so it's the final gallops...There are days when you think you'll pull your hair out but we all pull together.  We make it fun but it can be high stress.

Q.  Who is there from day to day?
A.  Me; Phillip; his wife; three riders: Jenny, Boyd [Martin], and Ryan; 2 working students: Nate and Charlotte.  Then Bea who rides and is learning and helping me to manage the barn.

Q.  How many horses do you work with?
A.  From anytime we can vary between 35-40 horses on the property.  We oversee all of them and work together to take care of them.  Coming up to big competitions my priority is the upper level horses (off the top of my head we've probably got, including student's horses, at least 12 Intermediate through Advanced horses on the farm).  But you can't just not take care of the others either!

Q.  Do you have any favorite horses you work with?
A.  I do, though I probably shouldn't!  Connaught, he is extremely quirky.  When I first started he hadn't really come into himself.  I am drawn to quirky horses.  If you asked anyone they'd be like, "Yup, he's her favorite!".  I love the way he tries.  At competitions he wants to please.  If he was a child, he'd be the nerd in the class.  He always comes out on top.

Q.  Where have you traveled with Phillip?
A.  We went to Germany for the Worlds in 2006; 2007 to Rio in Brazil for the Pan Ams.  Obviously England.  Last year to Hong Kong.

Emma Ford (first row, center) at the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong
photo credit to Mark Hart

Q.  What does your to-do list look like to travel internationally?
A.  Once you're on the road it's everything to do with making sure the horse is happy within himself.  Simon [Connaught] is the main one I've traveled with.  It's individual care of the horse.  He's a finicky eater so you want to keep his stress level down so you're forever hand grazing him.  Just keeping them happy.  Extreme care of their legs and knowing what they're looking like.  You've got time to do that.  You've got to know your horses.  Simon does best when you're not at him all day.  If you can leave him alone then that's when he eats.  He doesn't want you grooming and massaging and putting on the magnetic blanket.  He can't stand that!  You have the time to take the proper individual care of them.

Q.  Do you have any grooming tips?
A.  For me it's time management.  If Phillip has seven horses at an event then time management is key.  I have them ready 5-10 minutes before he needs to get on.  If I haven't had time to go over tack again then I put babby oil on my hands and go over the bridle to bring out the shine.  We use lots of oil sprays for African American hair.  We put it in their tails and make them shiny.  A product called Super Grow is good for blanket rubs.  Another good one is, especially with the economy, witch hazel.  If you can't afford Sore-No-More use witch hazel to tighten up legs.  It's less hard on their skin than rubbing alcohol but has the same benefits.

Q.  What are your favorite products for grooming or tack cleaning?
A.  Equinature products are a must for my grooming kit.  The antifungal shampoo is a must for any horse with a skin condition.  It rebalances the pH of the skin therefore improving the overall health of a horse's coat.  Devoucoux tack cleaning cream for saddles is amazing.  You can put one or two layers of cream on it and it's back to normal after a downpour.  I also like Leather Therapy products for bridles.

Q.  When you have time off what do you like to do?
A.  I ballroom and Latin dance.  I'm looking for a new [studio] in Pennsylvania.  Any weekend we're home they tend to have socials and stuff.  I've done it for nine years.  A good friend of mine used to work for Adrienne's sister and took me to a place down in Wellington she used to go to and I got hooked.

Q.  Who's better: American or British eventers?
A.  I'm not going to say!  I do think for the Americans to know how good they are they need to be competing with European riders.  Because the Europeans can travel more to more competitions.  We need to be up against them to knew where we're at.

Q.  Any crazy, wild stories?
A.  I'm not the biggest party groom but one that sticks with me is when we were in Rio [for the Pan Ams].  The base of the venue was an hour from where the riders were staying.  The riders had a van to take them back and forth.  They had that van take us into the city for dinner and we had to take a taxi back.  The driver said they knew where he was going but he didn't.  They guy pulls up outside this army barracks and one of the girls jumps out.  The guard was like, "Who are you?!" and pulls a gun on her. Everyone is like, "get back in the car!"  All is well but looking back on it, it was a funny moment in our lives.  Luckily the driver did eventually sort it out.  The funny thing is that we were literally one street away from where we wanted to be.  One of our more entertaining evenings.

Q.  Do you have a favorite competition?
A.  I love Stuart Horse Trials. One: it's a beautiful area and, two: they have good parties!  But Rolex is on its own, really.

Q.  What are your future goals?
A.  Grooming-wise I wanted to do the Olympics, Burghley, Pan Ams and the World Games.  So I've just got to get to Badminton.  I would like to go to another Worlds.  [The World Games] in Kentucky next year will be amazing.  Hopefully the stars will align and we'll make it.  I would like to get into sport horse rehabilitation when I move on.  I would like to hang in there for the Olympics in London but that's still three years away.

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