Imagine traveling half way around the country, driving through three countries and arriving at the World Cup Finals in Paris, France. To many this sounds like an amazing journey, and for Sarah Hickey this was her trip. The Barn Rat was able to catch up with Sarah who groomed for second place finisher Devin Ryan and his ride Eddie Blue.
TBR: How did you start working for Devin?
Sarah Hickey: "I've known Devin for the past 11 years. I started riding with Devin when I was 16 and brought up two young ones with him. I worked for him in and out of college so we've always had a great relationship. He called me up in January, he didn't have anyone to go to Ocala with him. So I spent February and March down there with him and when he qualified for Paris he invited me to come along.
TBR: How was prepping to go to Paris?
SH: We got home from Ocala the end of March and for the next week Devin rode Eddie. Then, Eddie and I left his farm April 4th and Eddie was in my hands from then on. I flew with him, we went to the arc in JFK and we waited there for a few hours. I flew with him to Amsterdam, when we landed we had to wait and go through customs. And then we took a lorry to a farm in Holland, we went to Allan Waldman's farm, Waldman Horses, for a couple days. From Wednesday to Monday morning we were there. Monday morning we took another lorry, it was a six and a half our trip to Paris to get to the horse show. Schooling was Tuesday and the warm up round was Wednesday.
TBR: What was grooming for an FEI event like? Had you done that before?
SH: So I was totally excited for Paris, this was my first big FEI competition that I had done. I had some experience going to Live Oak in Ocala and that was really it. So when I talked to Devin, he said it's just another horse show. For Devin it was just another show, but for me I really had to make sure I had my stuff together and be on my A game. When we got to Paris it was like nothing I'd ever experienced. We were stabled with US team, so you have Beezie Madden, McLain Ward, Richard Spooner, they were all in the same aisle as us. And there was a great level of professionalism everyone got along, we all just knew what we had to do and got it done. It was very different from a regular horse show when you are dealing with clients. This was totally different level, which was really exciting for me and a lot of fun and I learned a lot and I got to talk to the other grooms.
TBR: How was dealing with FEI? Were there any additional hoops you had to go through that you don't at a regular horse show?
SH: There was definitely security, you had to go through security any time you left the stabling area, so you had to have your credentials on you 24/7. There were rules that I wasn't aware of until I got there having not been in the FEI world before and not knowing but it didn't feel like there were too many hoops to jump through. You just had to be on top of your game and detailed oriented, there were always FEI stewards walking up and down the aisles making sure nothing was going on. Of course, nothing ever was but before Eddie left to go compete and they would hold up a heat sensor cameras to his legs to make sure they weren't too hot or too cold. To me it was just fun, like "cool, what are you guys doing? what do you need from me?"
TBR: The warm up class was Wednesday, what days and classes did Devin and Eddie show?
SH: So Devin's plan for the warm up was to do the first five jumps if Eddie was feeling good, or if he wasn't really behaving he would complete the course. So he did well and only did the first five jumps on Wednesday and Thursday was the first round of the final. He came in third. Friday was round two, and he got a time fault and did not continue to the jump off. Saturday was a day off and Devin just hacked Eddie around to school. And Sunday was the final with two rounds each. Eddie was great and never had a rail the whole time, what I think set them back was that one fault. For Devin's first World Cup Finals ever and Eddie's first international show at nine years old I don't think you could ask for that horse to perform any better.
TBR: So, what is Eddie Blue's personality like?
SH: I'd be lying if I said he was the easiest horse to work with. He is a bit snarkey. If he didn't like what you were doing he would maybe try and nip you. He's not a fan of his ears being clipped or when you have to braid up by his ears. But, after two weeks of taking care of his every need I really got to know him and I love him. I would groom for him again anytime.
TBR: Was there anything unexpected that happened or a time where things didn't go as planned?
SH: So the braiding would definitely be one of them. I had braided a little before but then I get this job where he has to be braided every day and I was worried he would look terrible going in to the World Cup Finals. By Sunday his braids looked great!
One of the other things I wasn't expecting was to develop really good relationships with the other grooms. They have all become really good friends now. At any point in time I could reach out and ask questions. I grew closest to Jamie Barge's groom Sarah Griffen, we did everything together. Without those relationships I think it wouldn't have been as much fun.
TBR: If anyone wanted to be a groom, FEI or just in general, what advice would give someone wanting that job?
SH: Right off the bat I would say you need to be 110% devoted to the horses. Most horse people understand that it is long days, but I don't think you truly understand a long day until you've been at a horse show for ten straight weeks. Or being at these FEI competitions were the rounds don't start until 8pm at night. You are devoting endless hours of your day. You have to want to love it and want to be in the barn doting on these horses and just be there for them. I was the constant person for Eddie, and that made it worth it to me. The relationship that we built made those long hours worth it for me. Everything else will fall in to place, if you really into it and love it, being organized and detailed oriented, that will sort of fall into place.
Devin Ryan owns River Run Stables in Long Valley, NJ.