What would it be like to experience the last three Kentucky Three Day Events and the past three Burghley (England) events not as a rider, but one walking the barns and caring for a top-level event horse as a groom? There are only a handful of 5***** Eventing competitions in the world, so the opportunities are few. Yet, Lexie Thacker has now become very familiar with the behind-the-scene activities at several world-class events.
Lexie, a resident of Lompoc and a graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, takes us behind the scenes as a top-level event horse groom at world-class events. She gives us an up-close and personal look into being the groom for Indy 500 a top-level event horse – the top ride of SLO County resident Andrea Baxter of Twin Rivers Ranch in San Miguel, California.
Lexie Thacker Jumped at the Chance to be a Top-Level Event Horse Groom
“I jumped at the chance to go with Andrea and be the groom for Indy 500 at their first Rolex,” exclaimed Lexie regarding her first opportunity to groom at the most prestigious a 5***** US event. “That’s a really big deal!” Formerly known simply as “Rolex”, it is now called the “Land Rover Kentucky Three Day Event” and is held every April at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY.
“I did a lot of free-lance horse grooming in college,” says Lexie as she begins to tell her story of how she got called up by Andrea. “I would work at shows on the side and groom multiple horses for a rider, sometimes while competing my own horse.” Her direct connection came from grooming for Bec Braitling, Andrea’s friend. Lexie soon learned that grooming for one horse at a top-level event is a different experience all together.
Going from Several Horses to Grooming One Top-Level Event Horse
“You never stop moving all day!” explained Lexie regarding her experience grooming several horses as a free-lance groom. “At the big shows I braid, groom, tack-up do the stable work, and clean tack. Sometimes I also braid on the side.” This pace is somewhat slower at the top-level shows but the atmosphere is big and there is much more at stake.
“I get to meet a lot of the top-level event horse grooms at the big venues,” Lexie began to relate how she settles into the pace at a top-level show. “They are all nice and super helpful.” She gets to work along side some famous eventing riders too. “We’re all here for the same purpose, to compete and do what is best for the horses.”
Figuring out Indy 500
Catering to Indy’s personality and keeping her happy so she can perform her best is Lexie’s biggest challenge with Indy 500. “Indy can be dramatic while traveling which can be stressful,” relays Lexie. “Ensuring she arrives safely and in one piece is the first battle.” Andrea has devised a fly sheet with pool noodles attached to help keep Indy from bumping herself in transit. “My main job after that is to keep her happy and healthy.”
Indy’s personality changes when on the road. “She’s pretty laid-back at home,” explains Lexie, “but can be dramatic on the road.” For instance, she can get attached to the horses she travels with and loose her mind when they leave. Lexie’s challenge is to bring her back to calm so she can perform.
Grass Walks Keep Indy 500 Happy
One of the soothing tactics is to take Indy for grass walks, which is a calming environment found at Kentucky and in England, but not found at her San Miguel home. If Indy doesn’t travel well then taking care of the bumps and bruises becomes a constant job. “Indy is a full-time job!” exclaims Lexie. Andrea has friends along to help her stay calm and focused, but Lexie is tasked with keeping Indy calm.
“Indy is tough and resilient,” relates Lexie. “She’s a little unassuming horse but can get around these big, tough cross-country tracks with the best horses in the world. She’s a bit of an underdog, but she can get it done. It is so cool!”
Special Grooming Technique the Quarter Mark
All three phases require some special grooming techniques. A quarter mark, which is a pattern brushed into the horse’s coat, is seen in all three phases. “You can pick your own pattern for the quarter mark,” says Lexie. “I do bars on the rump and shark teeth around the stifle.” This is Lexie’s signature mark on all the horses she grooms.
Dressage Phase Grooming
The horse’s mane is braided for Dressage and Lexie and Andrea both like the look of a braided tail. Indy’s tail is a bit sparse so a false tail is added to her existing hair. “I taught myself how to put in the false tail,” explains Lexie.
A sound-canceling ear bonnet is used in dressage. “The stands are full at these top-level events,” explains Lexie. The ear bonnet helps keep Indy focused on the job at hand and not so distracted by the environment with a lot of spectators.
Hoof polish finishes off a top-level grooming presentation. This is done before the dressage ride and for the mandatory horse inspections, which occur at the start of the event and before the stadium jumping.
Cross-Country Phase Grooming
White grease is used on the forelegs and the front of the hind legs and stifle area of an event horse. This grooming technique is used to help the legs slide over fences and through the brush jumps. The brush fences can be stiff and scratchy. The grease makes brushing through more comfortable for the horse. Leg wraps, bell boots, horse shoe studs and a nasal flare strip are all additional elements needed for the cross-country phase.
Lexie Watches Andrea and Indy Tackle the Course
After the rider and horse leave the start box, the groom goes and watches the ride. At the big events there are screens showing all parts of the course. “I’m so nervous for them, my stomach is in knots!” expressed Lexie regarding what she is feeling while Andrea and Indy are on course. “I can see where they are on course. I breath a sigh of relief when she gets through the big stuff.” Lexie then meets the pair at the finish line, already knowing how most of the course rode.
Cools Down the Horse
Lexie gathers Indy from Andrea at the finish line and begins helping the horse cool down. The pair has been galloping for 12-15 minutes on course so both need to recover. “Indy cools down quickly, she is a good sweater. Her body dissipates heat efficiently,” Lexie comments. Keeping Indy walking and cool with water sponge baths is Lexie’s primary job at the end of the course.
Stadium Phase Grooming
The quarter mark bars are again brushed into the shining coat and the forelock, mane and tail are braided. Jumping boots, bell boots and horse shoe studs (if riding on grass) are all used for this phase. A different saddle pad, one with an American flag, is put under the saddle. A wipe for the boots and the horse’s coat are brought ring-side. The atmosphere is celebratory as the riders close out the final phase.
The final result is truly a team effort and Lexie relishes in triumph as the horse and rider conclude the event with a top placing. Andrea knows how important Lexie’s role is and so appreciates her vital work.
What Does Indy 500 Love?
Spending a lot of time with a horse (or person) enables a groom to discover what a horse truly loves. Lexie knows what Indy loves. At the bigger events Indy gets body work done before the dressage phase and after cross-county. This massage time relaxes her and softens her muscles to relieve tension. Indy loves these massages.
Indy is also hooked on Baileys Tasty Treats! At Burghley a tub of these tasty treats (produced in the UK) is given to each competitor upon finishing the dressage phase. Lexie reports that Indy is obsessed with these treats. So much so that Andrea chips in extra money for freight to ship tubs of these treats back with them!
Bigger Dreams for the Team
“The first time I walked down the ramp at the Kentucky Horse Park, it was a dream come true,” relates Lexie as she looks back on her journey as a a top-level event horse groom. She had grown-up watching this event on television so was thrilled to be there in person.
“The big venues are my favorite places groom at,” remarks Lexie. “I love Burghley for the amazing grounds and the people are all so nice.” The Kentucky Horse Park is a classic venue where so many top horse and rider pairs from the US and beyond come to build exposure. “It’s a riding lesson in itself to watch these top riders. I always come home inspired in my own riding.”
Lexie’s big dream is to groom at Badminton in England. “The horses are housed in the old stable and the grooms sleep above them.” This California team just may see this dream come true as they look at next year’s plan. So, keep your eye out for more from this fantastic SLO County Eventing team.
Cover Photo: Lexie Thacker walks out Indy 500 after completing Cross-Country JJ Silman Photography
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