Denise Moriarty has been head groom for top US showjumper Kent Farrington for 11 years and she has developed a wealth of knowledge in her role. She takes us behind-the-scenes to reveal some insights into her globetrotting career as a showjumping groom, as well as sharing plenty of top tips.
“We know each other so well,” Denise says of her working relationship with the world number 11. “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.”
Speaking about the huge amount of travelling she does with the horses between America and Europe, she says: “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 to 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,” she reveals. “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.”
“It helps them understand there is nothing to worry about”
If Denise has a horse that does not like to travel or is new to it, she will try pair them to travel with a more experienced and laid-back horse.
“[The inexperienced horse] can learn and feed off the more experienced horse’s energy,” she explains. “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 to 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.”
Denise says a lot of the horses she looks after in Kent Farrington’s barn are “big characters”.
“But we like this, and we let them be themselves – they are all very different,” she says. “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.”
“What these horses do for us is unreal”
Talking about the showjumping Majors – The Dutch Masters, the forthcoming CHIO Aachen (23 June-2 July), Spruce Meadows Masters and CHI Geneva – Denise says it is the “prestige and respect” that sets these events apart.
“You get all of the best horses and riders competing there and the facilities for everyone including the grooms are incredible,” she reveals. “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,” says Denise. “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.”
Among a glittering list of career achievements, Kent Farrington won a double of Rolex grands prix with the brilliant recently retired mare Gazelle, now 17, at Aachen in 2019, two years after landing the equivalent at CHI Geneva.
“Gazelle was amazing, she just kept on fighting and wanting to win,” she recalls. “To watch your rider and the horse that you look after everyday win – it is something words can’t describe.
“With Gazelle, we try to keep everything the same,” she adds. “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.
“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 watched her highs and lows,” Denise explains. “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, 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.”
Showjumping groom’s top tip: ‘Watch and learn’
Denise describes the favourite part of her role as a showjumping groom as “just being with the horses”, but she considers herself very lucky to get to work outside all day.
“We are always moving, which is great because we are active and healthy,” she says, adding that the best part of the job is “getting to go to some of the nicest places in the world”.
“There is always a chance just to take a deep breath and appreciate what you do,” Denise says. “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.”
She says grooms coming into the profession need to “watch and learn”.
“You must also have a passion for horses and love what you do,” she says. “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.
“We are all in this job for the same reason – we love the horses,” she concludes. “We all share the same passion and we 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. Someone is always willing to help – it is a great community to be a part of.”
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Autor Jennifer Donald