Two of U.S. eventing’s top grooms are leaving their posts after many years on the job. Max Corcoran, longtime groom for Karen O’Connor, is moving on after 11 years, while Phillip Dutton’s head groom, Emma Ford, is leaving after seven years.
Corcoran made the decision to leave O’Connor about a year ago, but she wanted to finish out 2012 with the Olympic Games and the fall season. “I mean, at 40 years old, there are only so many stalls you can keep mucking!” she joked. “It’s time for me to do what’s next. At the moment, I’m just trying to take a deep breath. It’s time to refocus and see what else is out there.”
In her time with O’Connor, Corcoran groomed at two Olympic Games, two Pan American Games and two FEI World Equestrian Games, as well as countless international events including the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials CCI**** (England) and the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials CCI**** (England).
While she couldn’t choose a top charge, she fondly recalled horses like Bally Mar, Joker’s Wild, Upstage, Theodore O’Connor and Mandiba. “I’ve been to every one of [Mandiba’s] competitions. I was there when he had his first saddle put on him and watched him jump his first jump. I watched everybody, including myself, get bucked off of him as a young horse. There’s been very, very highs and very, very lows with him, but to have been a part of his career has been amazing,” she said.
“Of course, ‘Teddy’, just being around during that time, and for a lot of people, when eventing was so bad, he brought such hope for everybody that it was going to be OK. Just the adventure of being around that little horse was pretty amazing,” she continued.
“[And] I knew from the moment I first looked at [Mr. Medicott] that he’s just an amazing horse. A lot of these horses teach you so much. And a lot of the horses that never get there teach you a ton too,” she said.
After a vacation with her family to Spain, Corcoran plans to work with Joanie Morris, who was just named the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s Managing Director of Eventing, on communications and public relations for top riders. “Riders just want to ride and not have to deal with anything else in between. [Joanie] set up her own LLC, doing everything from entries to social media to press releases to organizing trips and syndicating paperwork,” Corcoran said. She already has her first client, upper level rider Lauren Kieffer, and plans to take on a few more, including her old boss.
She’s also looking forward to settling down in Ocala, Fla., with her boyfriend, Australian show jumper Scott Keach, and catching up with old friends. “My last paycheck was last week. It’s a little weird,” she said. “I’m so lucky to have worked with two of the best horsemen in the world and have gained so much knowledge and experience and met so many incredible people. They’re family, and we’ll always be that family, which is nice to know. I’m sure the first time I watch those horses go out of the start box without me, I’m going to be inconsolable. But I’m proud to have been able to call myself a member of that team for so long. It’s been a great journey.”
Like Corcoran, Ford traveled the world and has groomed at multiple international competitions, including two Olympic Games, two WEGs and one Pan American Games. Originally from England, Ford worked for Adrienne Iorio before starting at Dutton’s seven years ago. She’s decided to move on to a less demanding position, managing fewer horses and people for Jim and Sarah Wildasin, who own Dutton’s 2012 London Olympic Games mount Mystery Whisper. “I think any professional groom will tell you that you end up giving 110 percent to the job, because that’s what it takes for the horses to perform. You sort of end up putting your life on hold, but not in a bad way,” she said. “It will be nice to still be on the show circuit, but just at a different level.”
Ford, 36, recalled TruLuck’s individual silver and team gold at the 2007 Pan Am Games in Rio de Janeiro, Woodburn’s cross-country round at Burghley in 2008, and Connaught’s 2008 Rolex Kentucky CCI**** victory as top moments in her career.
“If you asked any of my friends, they’d say Connaught was my favorite. We sort of came up through the levels together, and he was the one I did my first championships with. He was a very quirky horse, and I kind of took him under my wing, and we came through it all together. He was a very special horse to me. Obviously they’re all special to me. I just have so much respect for what we ask them [to do],” she said.
While Ford is sad to leave her “second family,” she’s excited to start a new chapter in her life, including living in a home she bought in Aiken, S.C. two years ago. “I’m looking forward to actually living in my house now. I’ve never actually lived in it!” she joked.