Q&A: Veteran Rolex Three-Day Event Groom Emma Ford

Emma Ford (right) leads Mighty Nice as they walk with team manager Joanie Morris during the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Photo: Shannon Brinkman

Behind every high-performance rider is a support team that helps keep his or her horses healthy, sound, and ready to compete. For U.S. Eventing team member and 2016 Olympic individual bronze medalist Phillip Dutton, that team is led by Emma Ford, who serves as his head groom and barn manager at True Prospect Farm in West Grove, Pennsylvania.

Ford’s tenure with Dutton began in 2005, and she’s since groomed for him at two Olympic Games, two World Equestrian Games, and two Pan-American Games. In 2007, the U.S. Eventing Association named her Professional Groom of the Year, and she won the Professional Riders’ Organization Liz Cochran Grooms Award in 2012. Ford took a year off in 2013, thinking she wanted a “quieter life,” she says. “But that wasn’t the case!” In 2015, Ford and Cat Hill co-authored World Glass Grooming for the Competition Horse.

Ford is currently grooming at her 14th Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, underway at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. She’s busy caring for Dutton’s three entries—I’m Sew Ready (“Jackson”), Mr. Medicott (“Cave”), and Fernhill Fugitive (“Jack”)—but took time while traveling to answer our questions about the groom’s role keeping horses healthy at Rolex.

The Horse: What’s your role in prepping horses for Rolex?

Emma Ford: I have to know everything about each individual horse. This includes eating habits and sleeping habits, which saddles fit best, turnout regiment, etc. A content, happy horse will perform to his best ability. It's my job to try and make sure all his needs are met to peak at the right time. 

TH: What professionals are involved in keeping the horses healthy? How do you coordinate this team to ensure the horse is getting everything he needs?

EF:  It takes a village! Our team includes farrier Steve Teichman; Kevin Keene, DVM; and massage therapist Joanne Wilson. The grooms include Julio Colin and me.

The easiest ones to coordinate are the farrier and masseuse. We have them on a schedule that works best for each individual horse. 

The vet is a little trickier, although we’re very fortunate to have our vet live two minutes away from the farm, and he rides out of True Prospect. The horses get evaluated on a regular basis, and then any required treatments must comply with FEI (Fédération Equestre Internationale) drug rules and withdrawal times. Because of this we work back from Rolex, and then Dr. Keane and Phillip make decision about treatments and timing. 

Triple Crown Nutrition sponsors Phillip. This gives me access to their great nutritionists whenever I need help with a picky eater or diet problem. 

TH: How big is your team on the ground at Rolex? Are you responsible for managing them?

EF: There will be three of us on the ground working with the horses. I’m responsible for managing them. Phillip needs to concentrate on the riding, and he shouldn’t have to worry about his horses being kept healthy and happy throughout the competition. Our vet, farrier, and masseuse will all be on hand to do whatever is needed. 

TH: How do you keep the  horses healthy and sound during the travel?

EF: For long trips, we like to provide oral fluids before travel. We either tube or provide IV (intravenous) fluids.  Having well-hydrated horses at the start of competition is paramount. 

TH: What your biggest secret to staying organized during Rolex?

EF: For me, having a plan and writing it down. I have a white board on which I write down ride times and anything specific that needs to happen throughout the day. 

TH: What’s the most important thing you can do to keep the horses healthy during competition?

EF: I personally think sticking to a routine, not rushing around the horse in a stressful manner, and getting them out of their stalls as much as possible are all key for competition horses. Remaining continually observant—noticing the smallest change in attitude or physical issue—can make or break a successful finish.  

TH: Cross-country day: What is your top priority for caring for the horses?

EF: I don't have a top priority, it's all important to ensure a successful outcome. 

TH: You don’t leave the farm and head to Rolex without ...

EF: Correctly completed horse passports! Everything else you can borrow or buy!

About the Author

Michelle N. Anderson, TheHorse.com Digital Managing Editor

Michelle Anderson serves as The Horse's digital managing editor. In her role, she produces content for our web site and hosts our live events, including Ask the Vet Live. A lifelong horse owner, Anderson competes in dressage and enjoys trail riding. She's a Washington State University graduate (Go Cougs!) and holds a bachelor's degree in communications with a minor in business administration and extensive coursework in animal sciences. She has worked in equine publishing since 1998. She currently lives with her husband on a small horse property in Central Oregon.

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