National Finals Survival Guide

Rachel Theriault sending away her horse at the in-gate
Photo courtesy of Rachel Theriault

Three Top Grooms Share Their Ultimate 10 Tips

Let’s be honest, we all wait impatiently for October to arrive, just so the indoor season can begin. Indoors are a few weeks at the end of the show season, when sleep becomes more rare and the stakes are higher. From the Pennsylvania National Horse Show to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair (RAWF), riders, trainers and grooms focus all their effort and energy towards one goal: becoming a champion.

Now that we have acknowledged the challenges and rewards of indoors, three grooms whose horses and riders have dominated the national finals in recent years, share how they survive the frenzy of indoor season.

The Players:

Photo courtesy of Mackenzie Clark

Rachel Theriault

Rachel Theriault is the barn manager at Hayes Ltd (Ontario, Canada), winner of the 2016 ‘Groom of the Year’ Award, and three-time RAWF survivor. From organizing farrier visits to finding the missing glove “that was JUST on that tack trunk over there”, Rachel makes sure everything in the barn runs smoothly. Along with many other horses, Rachel oversees the care of ‘Say When’, Canada’s top derby horse over the past seasons, with rider Darcy Hayes.

Carly Sutherland

Carly Sutherland is a groom and exercise rider at Kelianda Farms (Connecticut, USA), and two-time Equitation indoor finals survivor. Her 2017 season was filled with emotion as Mckayla Langmeier and ‘Skyfall’ were USET Finals champion and reserve champion at the WIHS Equitation Final. Additionally, Jordyn-Rose Freedman and ‘Finnick’ placed 4th at the Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final and were reserve champion at the ASPCA Maclay Final.

Danny Ingratta

Danny Ingratta, famous for his unmatched grooming abilities as well as for his notoriously stylish outfits, has been a member of the Millar Brooke Farm (Ontario, Canada) team since 2011. Danny takes care of Amy Millar’s Olympic mount, ‘Heros’, who was crowned 2017 Canadian Champion the opening week of the RAWF. Danny has been named ‘Groom of the Year’ in 2014 and won ‘Best Turnout’ in 2017. He accomplished a long-time goal of grooming at the Olympics last year.
He is the veteran of our group with a total of 7 indoor seasons under his belt.

The Ultimate Survival Guide

1. Elbow grease

Carly: “Curry ahead of time! Start weeks or better yet, months in advance. My goal is an hour a day. Not only will your horses’ coats be dapple-y and gleaming by the time you body clip for indoors but your arms will be TONED too!. You don’t want to be worrying about a dull coat at 2am after lunging in Washington or at 4am after the Maclay warm-ups.”
Danny: “You should be even more meticulous in the way you turn-out your horses during indoors. With the artificial lighting, everything is more noticeable, so have them in top form!”

2. All About The Snacks

All of the grooms agree, an endless supply of snacks in your grooming stall is what will get you through the day.
Carly: “Anyone that knows me, knows that I live off sour candy. Mckayla will leave treats in my wall box and they just keep me going. Also, beef jerky. My favourite is the Mingua ‘Hot’ that you find at the National in Kentucky. The protein gives me energy at all hours of the night or morning!”

Danny: “Have a stash of snacks, both healthy and junk food options. My favourites are bananas (easy on the stomach for those stressful situations), nuts, popcorn, and of course chocolate (good for all situations). Being “hangry” during indoors is inevitable and never good.”
Rachel: “Whenever you can, eat! Preferably real food, but sour keys will do.”
*Note here that sour candy seems to be a recurrent theme in a groom’s life.

3. Don’t Forget To Hydrate

Everyone agrees on that point. Water is your best friend…. But coffee and energy drinks might be an even better friend…

4. Emergency Naps

At Hayes Ltd, not only is their set-up at indoors beautiful to look at, it also serves a purpose. Rachel says: “we always take the time to set-up a cot for emergency naps” A 20 minute snooze between 2 classes WILL make a difference at the end of the day!
Danny adds: “Hammocks are the best! They are quick and easy to set up so that you can catch some much-needed sleep during your down time.”

5. Fight The Virus

Anyone who has worked during indoor season knows about the ‘indoor-flu’. The lack of sleep, the colder weather and the stress eventually catches up with all of us but Danny has the solution: “I always start a regime of vitamins a week before indoors starts. It helps battle the plague that usually comes at the end of the season.”

6. Adaptable Wardrobe

Danny: “Have a variety of shoe options. Being on the concrete for hours everyday is hard on your feet. I would start with Tom’s, then change to my Nike running shoes, then to Sperry’s, then to rubber boots for bathing, then back to Tom’s… or dress shoes if I’m heading out on the town. I actually have a few pairs of Nike shoes for the finals that I managed to get at a really low price thanks to a promo code that I found on the Raise website. Accordingly, if you are thinking of investing in some new shoes for the finals, I would recommend shopping around as there are some amazing discounts to be found online.”

7. Time Management

Rachel: “Indoors are great in the sense that everything is run on a tight schedule, so it is really easy to plan things to the minute. We use our white board religiously to keep everyone on track, so things run as smoothly as possible. It’s also one of the most satisfying feelings to be able to check things off the board when they have been done. We’ve been known to fight over who gets to do it!”

8. Keep Calm And Carry On

Rachel: “In an indoor environment, the constant noise and lighting can be startling for the horses. ‘Say When’ isn’t really phased by the hustle and bustle but others can be more sensitive to the action. In that case, I make sure they stay in a calm environment by keeping them away from the crowd and the screens that can grab their eyes. In their stall, I want them to have quiet time, so I give them lots of hay and toys to keep them busy and happy. It’s true for any horse, but especially for hunters!”
Danny: “Fresh air is simple yet often forgotten, not only for your horses but for you as well. Take the time to go on relaxing hand-walks, outside if possible.”

Skyfall enjoying the fresh air in Washington
Photo courtesy of Carly Sutherland

9. Faith In Your Horse

Carly: “‘Skyfall’ and ‘Finnick’ are the most unique, special horses I’ve encountered. Even with the hours of equine therapy and preparation, once you brush out their tails and splash the hoof oil at the in-gate, it’s out of your hands. Trusting your horse and rider to take it from there and do their best is the ultimate driving force behind surviving on slivers of sleep”

10. Surround Yourself With Supportive People

Carly’s secret weapon? Her fellow indoors-groom boyfriend “who’s shoulder you can cry on when you’re overjoyed with your horse and rider’s success”. Aww..

Bonus Have Fun

Enjoy yourself! Laughter goes a long way…