“Stay Calm” is the bottom line for Denise Moriarty, Kent Farrington’s longtime groom.
As the long-time groom for US Olympic show jumper Kent Farrington, Denise Moriarty has been thriving at the highest level of the sport for several years.
Tips from the Top:
The tips and tricks she’s learned, though, are applicable at every level of equestrian competition. And even for those of us who don’t compete but appreciate solid horse sense when caring for our horses traveling to and visiting new environments.
Toward that end, here are some of Denise’s top tips:
Horses are athletes. They are sharp and sensitive, so it’s really important that you are calm, not aggressive, not rushing. Especially when you are loading them into an unfamiliar truck or a pallet for an airplane.
If your horse is already a bit nervous and you rush things or are anxious, they’ll pick up on that. Before you do anything, take a deep breath, calm yourself down and remind yourself not to rush.
Know your Horses
At this stage, I’ve done so much travelling with horses and I understand and know the horses so well. I know that Gazelle likes to have the partitions in a trailer a little more open. Even though she will fit, she has it in her mind that she won’t fit, so you need to give her a little extra room. Versus Creedance and Austria, they will squeeze into a test tube if you ask them to.
The place to learn each horse’s sensitivities is at home. Our mare Orafina is sensitive to changes in the floor -- like a change from gravel to rubber matting. When she steps onto the rubber, she wants a half second to look at the situation. We let her drop her head so she can study the situation. The horse will stay pretty much the same as they are at home if the handler is calm.
No matter where you’re going or how you’re getting there, the whole trip starts a little bit easier if you know your horses well. You don’t want the horses tense before you’ve gone anywhere.
When horses arrive from the trailer or plane, we let them settle in. We watch if they drink, eat and poop – all the normal stuff. Once they seem settled, we give them their grain at whatever time we normally do and we leave them be to settle in a little on their own.
Lay of the Land
Depending on the demeanor of the horse, we normally hand walk them to introduce them to the venue. We walk them on the path to the arena and in the warm-up ring and let them chill for a little bit. It depends on the horse. For Creedence, it’s best to be on his back for the first exposure to a new place. Hand walking first thing just makes him crazier because he tends to get over excited.
We’re always conscious about how much the horses are drinking. If one isn’t drinking enough, we’ll add some apple juice or a product called Thirst Quench, which we use a lot in Florida when the weather starts to change.
Again, it comes back to keeping the horse calm, because a stressed horse is not going to drink. One of our mares is not good about drinking, so I often give her fluids before we travel. Unless there is an obvious concern about drinking, I generally don’t like to give fluids because I feel it might discourage them from actually drinking.
Of course, we always offer water on the truck or plane.
We also steam the horses’ hay before hanging their nets in the trailer. We do it to reduce the amount of dust that is right in the horse’s face during travel. The Haygain steaming process increases the moisture content in the hay which helps with hydration.
Ensuring the quality of hay when we’re traveling is hard. A lot of times, we have to go with whatever is provided at the show. If I know from experience that the hay may not be particularly good, we try to bring our own, when possible.
At home, Kent’s horses are on Haygain Steamed Hay all the time. When we’re on the road, we always try to bring the Haygain. Steaming doesn’t change the nutritional content of the hay, but at least you can ensure that it’s clean and appetizing. Some horses just don’t like the hay at shows. If we steam it, we know they’re going to eat it.
Clean hay is an issue everywhere. You can find anything from coke cans to rats and a dead rabbit in hay. It all depends on where the hay is sourced from. In Florida, we source our hay from a farm whose sole job is making hay for horses.
Over 13 years of caring for a top horseman’s top horses all over the world, Denise has developed a rock-solid calm core. No matter how tense the circumstances, she gets Kent’s stars to the in-gate in top form with methods and a mindset we can all adopt.