A Day in the Life of Dressage Groom Kerri Coufal
By Terisé Cole
Just what does it take to get one of the United States’ top dressage horse and rider pairs into the show ring, impeccably turned out and ready to win? Allison Brock’s groom, Kerri Coufal, takes us behind the scenes on a typical show day with the Olympic groom and her Hanoverian steed, Rosevelt.
Kerri Coufal starts her day like every hard-working barn girl—with a grain scoop and a pitchfork. While Rosevelt (or Rosie as he is affectionately called) munches on his morning meal in a clean stall, she gets him ready to start the day off right. “I groom him up, always check his temperature, and then put his magnetic on around 7:00 a.m. He goes in a magnetic blanket for 30 minutes before he is ridden.”
“Anyone who knows Rosie knows how friendly and amazing he is! Although he is mostly polite, he is not always the easiest horse to hand walk as he likes to use it as a play time,” says Coufal. Because of this, Brock tack walks the stallion around in the morning to let him stretch his legs, giving Coufal some time to get her stuff ready for the rest of the day. “I use this time to sew his number on his pad, cut my string for braiding, pack my backpack for the show ring, and make sure I’m organized,” she says. “If Allison is riding late in the class, I’ll bring a pair of wraps for awards, a towel to clean Rosie off, a hoof pick, the video camera, headsets for her and her coach Michael, extra gloves, a sweat scraper, a bucket of water and a sponge if it is hot, and anything else I may need.”
Like many horses, Rosie needs time for his meals to digest before going to work. While he normally has lunch at 11:00 a.m., his meal is adjusted based on Brock’s scheduled ride time, as he needs to eat at least an hour before he works. According to Coufal, schuffling the schedule around is a common practice and timing begins to vary throughout the rest of the day depending on when Brock is scheduled to show. “My day is centered around Allison and Rosie’s ride time, which is normally in the afternoon.”
Before he can trot down the centerline, Rosie needs some sprucing up. “I start braiding him two hours before Allison wants to get on him so that I have plenty of time. He has a super thick mane and it ends up taking me almost an hour to braid him,” Coufal says of her favorite activity of the day. “It’s usually quiet and just the two of us, so I really get to enjoy his presence. I leave myself plenty of time, so I don’t feel rushed and he’s always patient. It’s nice having that time to just enjoy the horse, plus I don’t think he minds having his mane braided!”
“I’ll groom him again after he is braided and then stick him back in his magnetic blanket for another 30 minutes.” As for tacking up, Brock takes care of that all on her own. “I put boots on his legs for the warmup because they are easier to pull off than wraps, and then Allison tacks him up herself.”
It is show time! “I follow Allison and Rosie down to the arena, help her get on, and then watch while she warms him up. When she’s on deck to go into the show ring, I will pull Rosie’s boots, clean him up as needed, take Ali’s head set, and make sure they’re ready to go in the ring,” explains Coufal. “All of this is usually done in one minute—if I can be that fast!”
For the time that Brock is in the ring, Coufal’s only job is to hold a video camera—and her breath. “Once the bell rings I start videoing. I’m usually standing right in the gate and can only see what I’m filming, so I’m not visually aware of what is going on around me. I’m usually pretty calm up until this point but tend to hold my breath through their test because I want them to do well!” After the test is over, and assuming that Brock and Rosevelt rocked it, if there is no time to go back to the barn before awards, Coufal will wrap Rosie’s legs and stand back while the pair walks around until the awards ceremony.
When all the riding is finished and with ribbons in hand, Brock and Coufal will return to the barn with Rosie for his celebratory post-ride roll and some more pampering. “His reward is always a nice roll in his stall and bundles of carrots,” says Coufal. “Then I will take him to the wash rack and clean him up. We like to use copper cuffs and an oatmeal shampoo on his legs after every ride at the horse shows to help keep his legs clean and kill any bacteria or fungus that may have been in the dirt at the show grounds.”After a nice bath, the stallion has some time to dry off while having his legs iced.
Once he is all cooled off and back in his stall, it is time for Rosie to get his dinner. Coufal leaves him to eat in peace and uses the time to clean tack and put away everything. “I let him be because he likes his space.”
A few hours later, Coufal checks on the stallion one last time for the night. “This usually consists of making sure he has hay in his slow net feeder, water buckets filled, and I will put standing wraps on his legs for the night.” Goodnight, Rosie!