Eventing Nation: Max Corcoran talks horsemanship

As a longtime groom for the O’Connor Event Team, Max knows her stuff. Colleen Hofsetter sent us this report from a recent horsemanship clinic Max conducted.

Top photo: Max holding court with all the pony clubbers (photo courtesy of Mary Beth Herbert)

From Colleen:

“For want of a Nail the Shoe was lost; for want of a Shoe the Horse was lost; and for want of a Horse the Rider was lost; being overtaken and slain by the Enemy, all for want of Care about a Horse-shoe Nail.” ~Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack, June 1758

The venerable Ben Franklin certainly knew what he was talking about on many subjects; if he had been a horse show groom I am sure he would not have missed a loose nail or any of the other myriad number of details of which a good groom is aware.  Peek around a top show barn or training facility and it quickly becomes apparent that behind every great horse and rider stands an indispensable team of people, and none is more valuable than a good groom. Eyes and hands all over the horse, a remarkable repertoire of practical skills, a good bag of little know tricks, a work day of 12 to 14 hours, and without further ado a star of a groom is born. The names of a few top notch grooms come to mind and one of the outstanding ones would be Max Corcoran, long time groom for Karen O’Connor.

Area 8, specifically the western PA area, was fortunate to have her come to Hidden Field Farm in Valencia PA on Tuesday June 25th to present a clinic to local pony club organizations as well as, ahem…. “older” pony clubbers, and anyone who wanted to expand their knowledge of how to properly care for a horse. Why the need for this kind of clinic? Welllllllll……….Max is so tactful!

“It’s not that people don’t want to know, it’s that people are so busy. Kids show up for their lesson at a boarding barn or a lesson barn. Their horse may already be tacked up for them; they ride, get off, and someone takes care of the horse for them. Parents hustle them out of the barn to keep up with the daily schedule, which could include activities for their siblings. Also, some adults are learning to ride later in life so they have not had the exposure to years and years of horse care and ‘barn life’. And then there is the problems of leadership – kids need to have strong leaders and excellent examples of proper care. There ARE all-around trainers and coaches and they are teaching kids more than just riding – they are teaching horsemanship too. But sometimes an instructor needs to get to the next lesson or get on the next horse. Time is a premium factor.  It’s not that people don’t want to learn, sometimes there isn’t an avenue to learning.”

Hence, the USEA has tossed around the idea of gurus such as Max and Katie Thorton who worked for the Pollards for many years, to share their wealth of knowledge to ensure that these valuable skills are not lost. In an effort to get this kind of program off the ground, Hidden Field Farm and Brush Run Pony Club in Western PA decided to sponsor a Horsemanship Clinic with Max.

Hidden Field Farm is owned by Joan Goswell, owner of two famous Karen O’Connor rides: Worth The Trust, winner of the Rolex Kentucky CCI*** in 1997,  as well as Mandiba, Karen’s ride at numerous international events including the Hong Kong Olympics, Badminton, Burghley, and the 2010 World Equestrian Games – so she and Max go back a long time. Max was Mandiba’s groom from when he arrived at Karen’s barn in 2005 until she left in 2012.  The local sponsoring Pony Club, Brush Run Pony Club, Karin Burchiantti DC, invited neighboring clubs. There were attendees from Harts Run, Lost Hounds, Western Reserve, and Bath, Ohio, Pony Clubs. Approximately 25 people attended and Mother Nature graced everyone with a beautiful Western PA summer day.

Max and Joan Goswell with Jazz (“Another Song” – a former KOC ride.) Photo courtesy of Mary Beth Herbert.

I was able to chat with Max before her clinic began – it was only an 8 hour day so a short day for Max! As one might predict, Max grew up as a “barn rat” and has worked for many notables, her early years being spent in the notable area of Hamilton MA. Coming from a non-horsey family didn’t distract Max and at age 12 she became a working student for Bobby Costello and then later she also worked for Mike Plumb. After high school she took a hiatus to attend college at Northeastern in Boston where she majored in sociology and “playing hockey”. But as it goes with most “it’s in my blood” horse people, after 5 years of 9 to 5-ing it, she found herself back at the hallowed grounds of Hamilton, MA and Jim Stamet’s farm; her main charge was Bally Mar who ended up with KOC after the untimely passing of Mr. Stamets, and Max went along to help the mare settle in. It wasn’t long until Max decided to stay and a long term partnership started.

Fast forward several years: thousands of miles traveled in the US, hundreds of venues, and more than a decade of being an O’Connor right hand woman.  Max’s passport now looks like a stamp pad on steroids! Uncountable times to the UK, continental Europe, and Asian and Pacific areas, all with million dollar babies in tow – Karen O’Connor’s mounts. So just how does one learn to care for such valuable creatures? “I just kept asking questions, kept listening; I have had the added advantage of working with top grooms, top vets, top farriers. All these people have such store houses of skills and knowledge.”  However, it is not only the monetary value at stake: the partnership that builds between the horse and its significant people is a hard one to describe, but ask a good groom to describe their charge and there would be no loss of words.

So what all does Max cover in her seminar? Well that would take many EN pages but in a nutshell, she covers everything from nose to tail. Starting with nutrition, tack fitting, and boots and bandages, on to conditioning, care at a show, show turnout, and ending with veterinary care, Max’s ability to convey the importance of each area is more than impressive. She should write a book! Brush Run Pony Club member Dana McDonald commented that she felt she always took good care of her horse but will now “get to know my horse inside and out, take it to another level, pay more attention to the basics and have a better understanding of what is ‘normal’ for my horse.”  Other pony club members pointed out that there are some perceptions that a groom just brushes off a horse and puts on tack, but after listening to Max she now has an understanding of how knowledgeable grooms need to be in areas such as tack fitting, veterinary care, conditioning, and post competition care. Harts Run Pony club member Rebecca Francis stated she now feels the need to re-evaluate her horse’s tack fit as well as buffing up her conditioning schedule and pre and post XC routines. “I always thought I did a good job of caring for my horse, but Max’s emphasis on details has highlighted how important small issues can be. She has inspired me to do an even better job of caring for my horse. She’s a remarkable woman!”

In her talks Max confesses to some things she can’t do without: witch hazel, baby powder, Ivory soap, Head and Shoulders, rubber gloves, towels, duct tape, and a Western style rope halter – yes a rope halter. “A rope halter is indispensible when walking back from XC or hand grazing at shows.  Sometimes I think the chain shank is overdone. People start yanking on it at bit too much for me”. In terms of horse nutrition Max studiously avoids high carbs and high starch feeds. “That kind of grain is really hard for a performance horse to break down.”

Angel Martin-Dias, Dana McDonald, Rebecca Francis, Max Corcoran. Photo courtesy of Mary Beth Herbert.

Pairing her horse sense with a few stories of her travels makes for an interesting day:

Favorite memory –“Teddy (Theodore O’Connor, a pony) winning the Pan Ams. Watching the expression change on a young Mandiba’s face as he first took in the Olympic Stadium in Hong Kong. I have memory snapshots of so many horses. Some of my favorite moments have been ones that the public doesn’t see or experience… the quiet time with my horses, the chats, the hugs, the tears, the smiles. These animals give us so much!”

Most sentimental memory –“Hacking around Ms. Mars’ farm inVirginia and passing the resting place of Teddy.”

Favorite major venues – “The London Olympics because we were so close to everything; we were right in the mix with everyone else. Aachen, Germany. It so historical.”

What she does with all those USA jackets – “Wear them till they get tired!” Max has six all together. “Some I have kept and some I have traded out with people from other countries.”

Current horse she is riding –“Walk on the Moon,” one of David O’Connor’s horses on whom Max won the Training Level three day event at Waredaca in 2006 and they also qualified for the American Eventing Championships.

What people don’t know about her – “I am a sentimental sap! Secretly I get emotional over the littlest things–lol!! I am especially grateful for all the amazing people that these horses have allowed me to meet.”

As evidenced by the attention level displayed by the pony clubbers, Max’s presentation was worth giving up a day of fun in the sun. Some pony clubbers traveled 2 hours or more to attend and all came prepared with the notebooks and pens. It was generally agreed that the information gleaned from the seminar will help with passing the next PC test. Dana McDonald, a C2, felt that the information presented will greatly assist her with questions related to horse management, nutrition, and conditioning. Adult participant and preliminary rider Angel Martin Dias stated that she has read a great deal of the information presented but to see the practical application confirmed many of her routines, and will make her “more anal about horse care, if that’s possible!” (Her words not mine!)

While the USEA is not officially sponsoring these horsemanship clinics there have been discussions about formalizing the process of clinic presentations. In the meantime Max’s personal goals for attendees would be “to be able to apply what they have learned once they walk away – to dig in a bit more, spend more ground time with their horses, make their horse’s life better.” And what is typically the topic of least understanding – “leg mechanics – basic structures – tendons, ligaments, suspensories. Sometimes when I start talking about mechanics I get the ‘deer in the headlights look’. And it shows up differently for different areas of the country. Some areas are weak on their knowledge of vaccines, some on shoeing. But that look is a good indicator that learning is happening and that’s what it is all about.”

In the immediate future Max and Scott will be traveling to Chagrin Falls in Ohio on the 16th for a week and then to Lexington, KY until the first of September then back to Ocala.  There’s some time on the road! She also has a full summer of free lancing at events and working with riders at the Rebecca Farms Training Level 3 Day Event. If your group or Pony Club would like to schedule a horsemanship clinic with one of the all time greats, you can contact Max at [email protected] or on her Facebook page.  C2 Pony Clubber Rebecca Francis stated that she would recommend the clinic for people of all ages and also wanted to credit Joan Goswell for her continuing support of events like this seminar and always opening up her beautiful farm to host learning experiences. In the meantime, thanks for reading and go EN!



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