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Denise Moriarty Prioritizes Her Horses’ Happiness

U.S. Olympian Kent Farrington’s long-time groom Denise Moriarty discusses her beginning, her secrets to staying in the business (especially with one employer) and her philosophy to grooming. She was awarded the 2024 Karen Golding Memorial Perpetual Trophy at the conclusion of the Winter Equestrian Festival. This trophy is awarded yearly to an FEI groom who received the greatest number of votes from stewards, who each week select two grooms that exemplify the qualities of the legendary Golding.

Top show groom Denise Moriarty has been working for Olympic show jumper Kent Farrington for 11 years now, and she has cared for many of his top five-star grand prix horses, including Creedance, Gazelle and Austria II. Born and raised on the west coast of Ireland, she now calls Wellington, Florida, her home base; the remainder of the year she spends traveling with Farrington and his horses to top horse shows throughout Europe, Canada and America.

We sat down with her to discuss her extensive grooming experience, her daily routines with Kent’s show horses and any tips or tricks she may have to share about horse care.

How old were you when you started working with horses?

My family does not do horses at all, so I started when I was 13 years old at a local riding school. I would do everything from mucking out to breaking and riding the young horses to trail riding out in the countryside. We did a little bit of everything there. When I finished college, I wanted to travel. But I didn’t have the money to travel on my own, so I wanted to go to America to groom in order to travel and make money. 

How long have you been professionally grooming for, and who have you worked for besides Kent Farrington?

I have been professionally grooming since I was 22 years old; I’m 36 years old now. When I was still in Ireland, I worked for Duffy Sporthorses for Alex and Michael Duffy and their parents–it was a big operation. At the time, I was in college, so I just worked the weekends, holidays and traveled to shows with them as they needed. When I moved to the States, I worked for show jumper/eventer Marilyn Little for a short time, and then I started working for Kent.

Denise Moriarty has worked for U.S. Olympic show jumper Kent Farrington grooming his horses, including his 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic silver medal mount Voyeur.

What is your current job title working for Kent?

I call myself a “groom-anager”: I groom and manage Kent’s sporthorses. I do a little bit of everything: tacking up, untacking, bathing, go to the shows–whatever I’m told needs to be done.

Do you ride currently?

Every so often I ride, but my main job is to be on the ground caring for the horses. If I do ride, I just try to stay on and not fix or create any problems—if you’ve seen Kent’s horses, they’re a little hot!

Who would you say has influenced your horsemanship skills the most?

When I was younger, it was Catriona Fallon. She taught me the basics of horsemanship and that the horses come first. When I came to Kent’s barn, Alex Warriner taught me a lot. Alex helped me a lot with the national grand prix rules, and she taught me about showing at a USEF (U.S. Equestrian Federation) show and the different rules for medicating, entries and things like that. When you’re on the road, you watch the other grooms and ask your friends, and your knowledge grows along the way. 

How does your grooming routine at home differ from at a horse show?

It depends on the show—the routine for the horses at home is very much the same every day. At the shows, they don’t get turnout, so I try to get them out of their stalls for three 20-minute handwalks so they’re entertained and happy. They’re used to going out a lot at home, so when we’re at a show series, or we’re spending many weeks at a horse show, I want them mentally stimulated and not bored. When we show at Spruce Meadows (Canada), we rent paddocks there so the horses can go out. They’re not huge paddocks, but at least the horses can go roll and have their own space.  

At home, the horses get turned out every day, and they stay out for as long as they want, whether that’s many hours or 40 minutes. If they’re getting ridden in the afternoon, they get turned out in the morning and vice-versa. We base out of New York and Belgium in the summers and Wellington, Florida for the winters. It’s harder to do turnout in Florida because it gets very hot quickly. 

How do you get your horses looking and feeling their best, both at home and on the road? Is there something specific you do, or is it a broader approach?

We just try to keep them happy; we keep it calm and quiet at home. We don’t play any music in the barn; it’s very quiet for the horses. The horses really do learn to relax at home. The best thing for their bodies is turnout. Creedance, when you see him at the show ring, you would think he would never turn out because his personality is very hot. But he loves his turnout! Our horses can switch off of “sports mode” at home and relax. Kent is really big on turnout, and that all of his horses learn to turnout. 

Are you a “stickler” about leg care?  Is there anything specific you do for your horses’ legs on a daily basis/at the shows?

We keep it simple—we ice after jumping, and we don’t use poultice. We mostly use Traumeel liniment on their legs after jumping or a hard workout. The big thing for us is their feet; we take very good care of them. We use the foot pad; we ice feet; and we pack their feet. Honestly, pay attention to the feet and the legs will follow. 

How do you keep their coats and skin looking so shiny and free of dandruff/scrunge/Florida crud?

We feed them well, and we make sure the horses have the right oils in their feed. Coat shine comes from the inside. Fatty oil helps with coat and topline. We try not to bathe too much, especially in Florida. We will bathe if they need it, for sure. We curry them a lot. If the legs need to be washed, we wash them. We always make sure the horses’ legs are dry before they go in the stall. If we see crud, we take care of it before it spreads. We would use Betadine on the crud at first—don’t use too much because it dries out the skin. And then I would choose to use an SSD (Silver sulfadiazine) cream to soothe skin after that. 

In your opinion, what makes a good groom?

They have to like the job. They have to enjoy what they’re doing; you could teach them everything, but if they don’t like what they’re doing, they’re not going to get better. The passion has to be there to have the drive to do this job. 

What advice would you give to someone who has just started their professional grooming career?

Ask questions, be humble and make some friends along the way. Each barn runs differently; you may have the basics starting out, but each barn is different, and you need to be able to adapt. You can’t get too stuck in your way of doing things because there may be a better or easier way. 

What is your secret to being with a top rider like Kent for so long?

You have to enjoy working for the person you’re with; you have to be on the same page. If you don’t like how they train the horses or their attitude, it won’t work long-term. You have to have the same drive, goals, and expectations—that keeps you motivated to do your job. There’s a huge amount of trust and communication involved in the job.

We noticed that you had several top horses retire recently—which horses were they, and how do you personally deal with top athletes retiring?

Gazelle, Austria II and Creedance all retired recently. It’s sad to not have them at home—to see their stalls have another horse in it, that’s hard. You get used to them being there, and it’s sad when they’re not at the show too. We’re lucky that Kent listens to his horses and retires them in good health. They retire on a high and still enjoy their job instead of being sour at the end. We’ve been lucky—a testament to Kent—when it comes to retiring a horse, we have a new one coming up the ranks to fill the spot. When you have another horse to step into the open role, it makes the retirement a little bit easier for the team. 

When you spend so much time traveling to the big shows, how do you take care of your mental health? Do you do anything specific at home to stay sane?

Know yourself when you’re tired or frustrated. You might need a break so you don’t get mad at the horses. That knowledge comes with time and age, I think. I’m lucky that we have a very good team at home, so I know when I’m at the show, I can focus on the horses there and not worry about the ones at home and vice versa. That takes a lot of pressure and anxiety away; you can enjoy the show more. I think it’s also important to do other things outside of horses: gym, go to a friend’s house, read a book, go for a run, etc. 

Do you get some time off/downtime when the schedule allows?

I go to a lot of shows every year. It depends on what we’ve been doing—for example, when I got back from CHI Geneva last year, I made sure everything was set with the horses and unpacked, and then I took that Sunday and Monday off. And that was fine. If I’ve come home from a show, I make sure the horses are good and unpacked, and then I’ll take some time off. If I turned to Kent and said I needed a week off, he would be okay with that. 2023 was exceptionally busy—I feel like we flew around more than usual. 

Do you have a life outside of grooming? If so, what are your interests?

I like to run, and I go hiking. I read a lot of books. I try and go visit friends, even if it’s just going to watch a movie with them. All of that is good for the soul.

Featured photo courtesy of Matt Turer/US Equestrian.

March 31, 2024

Nicole Mandracchia 🇺🇲

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