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A Day in the Life as a Taco Groom

Hey all! So often you hear from Alanna on what it takes for her to show, how her training is at home, and the amazing team that supports her through it all. But what about Taco’s side of life during these horse shows? I’m Taco’s show groom and wanted to give you all a look into an average day at a CPEDI and what it’s like to be a part of the Alanna Flax-Clark Para-Dressage team.

6:30am - Wake up: depending on the venue and the show day will establish what time I truly get up and leave for the day. When we show at the Global Dressage Festival in Wellington I will stay with Sara and have access to my own transportation to the show grounds. But when we attend the Tryon CPEDIs or Caledon CPEDIs we all share one vehicle so we all typically go in together in the morning.

6:45am - Human coffee run: this is one of the most important stops of the day for me. Without my coffee I won’t function, so it is imperative that I block time out to find access for coffee. When we show at Global there’s a Dunkin Donuts across the street that I stop at while in Caledon I spent the first night finding the closest Tim Horton’s and timing out my commute from the Airbnb to Tim Horton’s to the show ground.

7:00am - Taco Feeding and quick groom: When I get to the show grounds the first thing I do is feed Taco and any other horses that might be in my care for the show and then give him a quick groom to make sure nothing happened overnight and he still has all four shoes. Taco can get weird about eating all of his breakfast grain at the start of horse shows so I have to add a little sweet feed and leave him alone so he doesn’t get distracted.

7:15 - 7:30am - Lunge/Hand walk: Depending on the day of the show I usually am allowed to hand walk from 6:30am - 7:30am or have lunging available from 7am - 9 am. We try to get a lunge spot around 7:15 or 7:30am so most mornings we end up lunging. Because Alanna is a Grade 2 and competes at the walk/trot and Taco gets tired as the show goes on we do very little canter work with him. So the early lunges give him a moment to stretch his back and get more settled at the showgrounds. Taco loves his lunges! He goes straight to work and is always a gentleman. He and I both like watching the show grounds wake up as more competitors arrive and start warming up and hand walking their horses.

If it’s a hand walk morning I’ll grab two carrots and bring Taco down to the competitors ring and walk around it for about 15 - 20 minutes. Most handwalks involve taking breaks to munch on carrots, coffee clutch with whichever FEI stewards are watching the ring, getting pets, and I’ll tell him his morning plan.

7:45am - Morning chores and confirm schedule for the day: After our hand walk or lunging session I’ll quickly get his stall mucked, water buckets cleaned, and give him some fresh hay before reviewing the schedule we made the previous day. Because we don’t know Alanna’s ride times until the draw we typically create a rough idea of a plan and then confirm everything once we have the ride times.

After morning chores I’ll give Taco some type of a bath. He gets one really good bath right before coming to the show and then I’ll typically give him two more shampoo/conditioner baths throughout the show. He’s really good about staying clean, so I can get away with a really good grooming session and only washing his whites some days.

8/8:30am - Alanna and Sara show up. If it’s a morning I didn’t have to bathe Taco then I’m typically giving him a good curry grooming session or cleaning tack by the time they come over. I’ll also set up our ring side bucket during this time.

Once all the tack is cleaned and Taco is groomed we enter into the hurry-up and wait phase of showing. If we have more than just Taco at the show it’s now that I’m doing the same thing to the other horse. Last season Sara was showing HB Dschafar in the medium tour so I’d do the same routine with him or this past winter season in Florida I groomed for Maire Vonderheyden at the two CPEDIs in Wellington.

When all of the morning chores are done I’ll typically finish my coffee that I forgot about or go check and see if Sara wants me to braid Taco. Some shows Sara will braid Taco because she likes to spend that time together during show prep.If Sara is braiding him for the day she’ll start braiding him about 30 minutes before I start tacking him and I’ll stand there and hold him for her. If I need to braid Taco I either will do him 60 minutes before I start needing to tack him, or if Alanna has a late afternoon ride I’ll braid him when I get bored and have nothing left to clean and don’t want to read.

11am - Lunch time for Taco! Most shows Alanna’s classes will run around 1pm so Taco gets fed his lunch at 11 and I plan on tacking him up around noon. Taco’s normal warm up will be around 45 minutes give or take. Sara gets a maximum of 30 minutes of schooling before Alanna can mount.

One hour before show time: Groom Taco, fix any braids he might have pulled, pick out any shavings in his tail, and set up his tack. Alanna has several show pads so I’ll ask her which show pad she prefers for the day and will also grab whatever show coat and stock tie she wants to ride in during the day because as I’m getting Taco ready, she’s getting herself. This is the busiest and craziest moment of the show

50 minutes before show time: Taco is all tacked and ready to go, I’ve secure a colored velcro strip onto the stirrup to signal that the able-bodied rider will be mounted on the horse, given Taco some extra cuddles and grab my ring-side bucket as I leave to meet Sara and Alanna down at the ring.

45 minutes before show time: Sara is on Taco schooling so I stand somewhere near Alanna if she needs anything and somewhere near to ring ready to adjust anything that might need to be adjusted. After Sara’s warm-up time we lift Alanna on and get her all set up on Taco. I double check the girth and re-fly spray Taco while Sara and Alanna check the rein length. While Alanna is starting her warm up I move her wheelchair near the bit check station so it’s ready for after her test.

5 minutes before show time: Alanna gets a water break, we do any last adjustments that might need to be made, and I re-fly spray Taco. He really doesn’t like the bugs!!

Test time!! I get to wish Alanna and Taco luck while I stand on the side lines and watch them ride. Being able to watch them grow and improve is probably my favorite part of it all! If I’m the only other one at the show then I’m also taking video or pictures for Alanna. My professional method is I just click the button a lot of times and hope a good picture comes out.

Bit check and Post-Test care: When Alanna’s ride is finished she comes over to the bit check area where she dismounts and I hold Taco while the bit check is going on. Once we get the all clear from the steward Taco and I head up to the barn with me telling him what a good boy he is while Alanna and Sara wait to hear the results. I quickly untack Taco and give him a good hose off before returning him to his stall to pull his braids. Because para-dressage doesn’t do mounted awards, I pull Taco’s braids right after his ride. Alanna and Sara are typically back at the barn after I’m done hosing Taco off so Taco gets more carrots and praise.

Once Taco is cooled down and settled in his stall I clean his tack and Alanna’s show boots, reorganize the tack stall, and set up Taco’s dinner and night check.

2pm - Human lunch time! If we didn’t eat before Alanna’s ride now is when we head off and eat lunch, figure out what we want/need to do for the rest of the day, and make the plan for tomorrow. Sometime after lunch and before awards there is typically a team meeting. During the team meeting, they talk about how the day went, anything the riders need to know about upcoming events and will announce who is riding for Team USA at the show. Alanna’s awards are typically around the end of the day so we have some time to kill. It’s during this time when Sara can convince me to play a game or two of cribbage. This is how we pass the time while waiting for awards. Sara taught me to play two seasons ago and I have still yet to skunk her!

3pm - Feed Taco dinner, pick out his stall again and top off his waters. Once Taco’s dinner is fed I set up the hay for night check and breakfast. Most of the time Alanna will hire the night check person at the shows so I don’t have to go back late at night and someone is checking on him hourly, so all I have to do it put his hay and grain out in front of the stall and labeled for night check and breakfast and they’ll feed him!

5pm - Awards/Time to go home! After Alanna’s award ceremony we’ll swing back through the barn check on Taco one last time, say goodnight and then head home! When we’re in Tryon or Canada we will end up in an Airbnb.

6pm - Dinner! Somenights Sara or Alanna will cook and let me tell you they are both amazing cooks! I might also hold lower standards as a student finishing grad work chances are I either just made ramen in my microwave or ate a salad. There is no fancy cooking happening in my house so to have someone cook even something as simple as sauteed veggies in a red sauce and pasta (Sara made this ths first night at Caledon and I still talk about how amazing it was) excites me and makes the long days worth it.

9:30pm - Night Check or bedtime! If I don’t need to do night checks then I’m heading to bed around this time. If I’m doing night checks I’ll head to the barn around now. When I get to the show ground I’ll pick out Taco’s stall again, top off his waters, feed him his night time snack, give him some cuddles and then head back home. If we’re at Wellington then I’ll bring Sara’s dog Willy with me, Sara lives close to the show ground so I’ll actually walk there and back. Willy likes helping me around the barn at home and at night checks during shows.

Once night checks are done then I’m done for the day and get ready to do it all again the following morning!


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